Alcoholism is a chronic condition in which the body is dependent on the consumption of alcohol. According to the Alcoholics Anonymous website, alcoholism is 'a physical compulsion, coupled with a mental obsession.' It's classed as an illness rather than an aberration, because medical experts are now much more knowledgeable about the condition. While alcoholism is a self-inflicted disease, it's also perceived as something that sufferers have no control over.
In its early stages, alcoholism, like many illnesses, may not be easy to identify. Those nearest and dearest may not even realise that a problem exists, and the alcoholic, if challenged, would probably deny there was a dependency problem. However, the reality is that early stage alcoholism is the time when alcohol becomes a prop, rather than a sociable way to relax, unwind and enjoy oneself.
The alcoholic comes to rely on his drink of choice to boost his mood and help him escape from problems with work or the family. Ironically, he cannot see that alcohol is adding to the problems, rather than solving them. Along with this dependence on alcohol, there is an increase in tolerance, as the body is initially able to readily adapt to higher intakes of alcohol.
At this stage, the alcoholic may not be outwardly affected by his increased consumption, and of course, the bodily changes are not visible, so this very early stage is more or less invisible. Neither the alcoholic nor those close to him are aware of the changes that are taking place within the body, and to the outside world, he appears to be just a heavy drinker, rather than someone with an alcohol dependency issue. He can drink more than his companions, with no apparent ill effects such as hangovers, due to the body's adaptations.
In these early stages, the alcoholic is a functional alcoholic. There are no external signs of addiction or dependency, and work and family life appear to be running as normal. However, internally, there may be subtle signs of withdrawal, such of loss of concentration if the body isn't getting the amount of alcohol it has become accustomed to. This is due to a drop in blood alcohol level, but the alcoholic is still able to function with no apparent impairment.
The main problem with early stage alcoholism is that the condition is not apparent to the alcoholic or to those around him. In some respects, it can be compared to cancer, because there are changes going on within the body which are not obvious. By the time it is clear that there is a problem, it may be too late for treatment.
Of course, cancer is a completely different disease, with triggers which are outside the control of the patient, but the comparison is a useful one. If you or someone close to you is exhibiting signs and symptoms of early alcoholism, perhaps it should be checked out before it's too late to do anything about it.