Sixty-four female alcoholic psychiatric patients were interviewed with a semistructured clinical interview and the standardized interviews: SADS and SSP. The drinking histories were classified into two pre-alcoholic phases: the sporadic and the regular drinking phases; and two alcoholic phases: the escalating and the established phases. Age of abuse, the presence of major depression, schizophrenic psychosis, borderline and schizotypal personality disorder, primary or secondary abuse, number of alcoholic partners, attribution of causes of abuse, and marital state were related to one or several phases. Age of first drink, social class, alcoholism in parents and drug abuse were not. The study demonstrates the diversity of pathways to alcoholism in women, and shows the importance of studying different phases separately. A subgroup with "rapid changes" to a high, stable abuse was characterized by a high frequency of major depression and relationship problems.