The Stages of Addiction

The Stages Of Addiction

There are many stages that an individual goes through from the initial first use to a full blown Substance use disorder (SUD). We are going to break it down into seven different stages. There are many questions about how addiction develops in a person so we want to break everything down for you to make it easier to understand what you or your loved one may be experiencing.

Each different stage of addiction has different signs and symptoms to monitor for yourself or a loved one. If you haven’t noticed there is a major problem in America concerning drugs and alcohol. According to the Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Administration in 2014 there were over 6% of all Americans who suffer with some form of a substance use disorder. Another interesting statistic is the group most affected by SUDs were people aged 18-25, accounting for 29.3% of the total amount of people affected by SUDs. Addiction is everywhere in our society and is causing devastation to families and communities alike.

Stage One: Initial Use

Most people try drugs or alcohol for the first time as an adolescent. Years before reaching adulthood. In another survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2013, about 2.8 million people (age 12+) used an illegal drug for the first time. There are also statistics from SAMHSA, that state over 3 million children aged 12-17 drank alcohol for the first time. So for most addicts, it is common that experimental or initial use happens during the teen years.

Some common reasons that teenagers may try drugs are:

Peer pressure or their friends are doing it.


Decision making and controlling impulses are issues because the front of the brain hasn’t fully developed that controls these areas. This does not mean after first use a teenager can become an addict, there are often two directions after initial use. The individual curiosity may be satisfied and they choose not to do drugs again, or they could turn to the next stage of addiction.

There are common factors we see in most individuals that determine whether or not they will use again or not after initial use include:

Friends: If they’re using drugs regularly or drinking

Environment: Is there abuse or mental illness or substances within the home, family life is a huge role in addiction.

Availability: How easy is it to get the alcohol or drugs

Mental Health: Are there predisposed mental health conditions like ADHD, anxiety or depression?

Stage Two: Experimentation

This stage begins when drug use or alcohol use become common in certain instances, an example would be like teens at parties or adults in stressful situations. This stage of addiction or substance abuse is mostly social and is related to “fun” or “unwinding,” there usually aren’t many consequences during this stage so it can still feel innocent. If you are experimenting with drugs or alcohol, there is no physical dependence yet, no cravings. At this stage you can use or not use based on your decision making. It is not until the later stages that substance use and alcohol abuse become problematic.

Stage Three: Common and Regular Use

The substance use when it is at this stage is now much more regular. It may not be every single day, but now you are using and partying have a pattern that is easily seen. There are often reasons why you are using- parties, circumstances, stresses, these excuses you begin to create to reason with the common drug or alcohol use. This is also the stage where most people start using or drinking with other people they know, but some people prefer to be alone. This may also be a stage where you start to neglect other responsibilities for your partying habits. Drug or alcohol use at this stage may be a way to self-medicate for some who suffer from other mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety.

Stage Four: Risky or Problematic Use

This is when substance use really can start to take a toll on your social and personal life. This is the stage that we see people getting DUIs or in trouble with the law, arguments with loved ones, work or school work suffering from the use. This is also a common stage where you start to see the friend group is mostly others who are partaking in the same activities- alcohol and drug related. The behavior of an individual at this stage has probably noticeably changed to close loved ones. Risky or problematic use threatens the safety of others and the individual but does not quite yet meet the criteria for a substance use disorder.

Stage Five: Dependence

A substance use disorder has specific qualifications it has to meet for a diagnosis. Here we have it broken down into three parts:

Tolerance: When you require more the drug of choice or alcohol to achieve the same effect or ‘high.’

Physical dependence: Now your body if use is discontinued elicit a withdrawal response. It is important to know that we sometimes see physical dependence form when prescription drugs were prescribed by a doctor. When drugs and alcohol are abused at high levels the body does become physically dependent on the medication or drug.

Psychological dependence: Drug cravings develop when you experience a high rate of alcohol or drugs. The drug or alcohol cravings can start and the individual will end up using again after attempting to quit. This is also commonly known as “chemical dependency.”

All of the above stages are cumulative. This means that it is possible to have a tolerance for a substance without being physically dependent. Also an individual can be physically dependent without being psychologically dependent, but you cannot be psychologically dependent without having developed a tolerance and being physically dependent.

Stage 6: A Substance Use Disorder

This is the last stage when it comes to determining whether or not an addiction has formed. When you can meet the following criteria, this is how you know you suffer from a substance use disorder:

Use is uncontrollable

You use even though its damaging to your life and health

Lying about drug use

Avoiding family and friends (especially those who have mentioned your drug or alcohol abuse previously)

You don’t want to “face life” without drugs or alcohol.

You don’t do some activities you used to like participating in.

You cannot recognize the problems with your behavior or with your relationships with others.

Addiction is serious, it is more than just all these symptoms put together, it is a chronic disease. Chronic disease translates to something that is slow to develop and will continue for a long duration (or forever).

We know addiction to be something that is a life-long struggle. Substance use disorders are often-relapsing diseases, meaning that recovery will take a lot of work. The relapse rates for the disease of addiction are similar to those of other chronic conditions, including asthma, diabetes, and hypertension.

Addiction affects the reward-related circuitry in the brain, which control memory, motivation, learning, movement, emotion, and judgment. This happens because chronic substance use floods the brain with dopamine, so of course you want to use more of the substance that produced such a pleasurable feeling, and this also causes your brain to not produce enough dopamine on its own. This causes people to continue the drug or alcohol use to just feel normal.

Stage 7: Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

The only way to safely treat any form of a substance use disorder or addiction is through a quality drug and alcohol addiction treatment program, also commonly known as a rehabilitation center. You can regain your life! We know that addiction interferes with the mind, body, and spirit- so at The Best Treatment Center we have an all inclusive approach to treatment. The longer the treatment plan is, the more likely the individual is able to recover and stay sober from drugs and alcohol. After an initial detox period, behavioral therapy combined with medication is often the best course of treatment. Treatment varies in length of time. In many ways, the length of treatment is dependent on the severity of the person’s addiction. After the initial detox process the next levels of care would be a partial hospitalization or an intensive outpatient treatment program for codeine addiction.

The PHP and IOP levels of care provided by The Best Treatment is important because in order to prevent relapse it is suggested a 60-90 day rehabilitation process is completed. We offer an individualized treatment program because it is essential to begin treating the root causes of drug use and addiction, so everyone’s treatment care program is unique.

Our goal here at The Best Treatment Center is to support our guests during their recovery journey and set them up for a happy life after treatment is complete.

To learn more about our program, speak with an admissions counselor today, Your Journey to Recovery Starts Now.

Call us:   1-888-4TBTNOW

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