Updated on June 19, 2024
5 min read

What Is the Jellinek Curve in Addiction and Recovery?

Key Takeaways

What is the Jellinek Curve in Addiction and Recovery?

The Jellinek Curve is a U-shaped chart that describes a person’s addiction progression. Elvin Morton Jellinek, a physiologist at Yale University in the 1950s, made it. He is one of the founders of modern addiction science.1

The Jellinek Curve’s goals include:   

  • To help people understand their alcohol addiction: The curve helps identify what stage a person is in
  • To show alcohol addiction as a progressive disease: The curve shows that addiction can worsen if not treated; it also indicates that recovery is possible

The Jellinek Curve was initially for alcoholism. But it has since been adapted for drug use and other addictions like porn and gambling.

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Phases of the Jellinek Curve

The Jellinek Curve consists of two halves.1,4 The left half curves downward and represents a person’s descent from casual drinking to alcohol addiction. This progression occurs in the first four stages.

The right half curves upward and represents a person’s improvement from addiction to sobriety. The fifth stage makes up this half.

Each stage has notable symptoms, but everyone will experience them differently. Moreover, not everyone will experience each phase the same way.

1. Pre-Alcoholism

In this stage, you stop drinking for socialization. Instead, you start to engage in relief drinking to cope with:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Although you may not experience any adverse effects in this stage, it can still be dangerous. Relief drinking can lead to chronic drinking or dependence. You may also start drinking by yourself at this stage. 

2. Prodromal (Early Alcoholism)

During this stage, you’ll still feel like you have control. You may think you can stop drinking, but you’ll experience intense cravings.

You may also experience more troubling signs associated with drinking, including: 

  • Building a tolerance for alcohol 
  • Drinking more often and in more significant amounts to get the same effects from drinking
  • Drinking more quickly to cope with stress or emotions
  • Developing social or health problems 
  • Neglecting school or work 
  • Blackouts because of the increased speed and quantity of drinking 
  • Regular hangovers

3. Crucial (Middle Alcoholism) 

This stage involves loss of control and psychological addiction. This stage can negatively affect every aspect of your life.

You may experience the following:

  • Drinking at odd times of the day, like first thing in the morning 
  • Promising to change your drinking behavior but failing 
  • Making excuses or blaming others for your drinking 
  • Denial 
  • Hiding your drinking from loved ones
  • Spend more time and effort drinking 
  • Become more angry, irritable, and aggressive
  • Loved ones start to lose patience, trust, and understanding with you
  • Stress due to money, school, or unemployment issues

4. Chronic (Late Alcoholism)

The chronic phase involves physical alcohol dependence. You’ll start a vicious cycle of drinking that you can’t stop due to uncomfortable withdrawal effects.

Without medical help, withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. Aside from withdrawal symptoms, people may experience other severe and often deadly conditions like:5

  • Alcohol intoxication
  • Cirrhosis and other liver diseases
  • Damage to the esophagus or stomach
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer
  • Mental health problems  
  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Alcohol-related psychosis
  • Heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases
  • Death

You may also face homelessness, divorce, or deep financial troubles. Some people may never get past this stage.

5. Recovery/Rehabilitation

Recovery begins when you have an honest desire to change and seek help. Some people hit rock bottom first before seeking help and starting recovery.

Once you start the recovery processes, you will:

  • Stop drinking 
  • Commit to becoming sober 
  • Start taking care of your mental and physical health 
  • Gain renewed self-worth and self-confidence 
  • Mend and re-establish relationships with friends and family members 
  • Strive to achieve economic stability
  • Develop healthy thinking 
  • Learn to recognize patterns that support their past addiction 

The recovery and rehabilitation stage involves treatment, therapy, and aftercare programs. Although you may relapse and start drinking again, these programs can help you transition to sobriety much better.

Interestingly, the recovery stage doesn’t flatten out on top. It continues to rise. This progression represents the never-ending improvements that come with a successful recovery process.

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Finding Help For Addiction

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History of the Jellinek Curve

After studying people who were addicted to alcohol, Jellinek found distinct patterns. He used this information to define the four stages of addiction. These stages make up the left part of the Jellinek Curve.2

Jellinek’s research also showed that addiction is a disease, not a moral shortcoming. This perspective changed the way addiction is now treated.3

Later, Berlin-born doctor Max Glatt revised the Jellinek Curve. Glatt noticed that patients in recovery have common patterns. He added recovery as the fifth stage, making up the right part of the Jellinek Curve.1

the jellinek curve


The Jellinek curve is a U-shaped chart that describes a person’s addiction progression. It is a valuable tool to help you understand addiction and how far the disease has gotten.

According to the Jellinek curve, there are five addiction stages, each with unique signs and symptoms. However, knowing that you may not experience all the symptoms exactly is essential. 

The left half represents your descent from casual drinking to alcohol addiction. The right half represents your improvement from addiction to sobriety.

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Updated on June 19, 2024
6 sources cited
Updated on June 19, 2024

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