What Are the Stages of Addiction?

What Are the Stages of Addiction?

How Substance Abuse Disorders Form

A Guide to Addiction

Addiction, a chronic brain disease, is one of the most mental illnesses in the United States. They are characterized by a strong dependence on opioids, alcohol, nicotine, and illicit substances like heroin. Eventually, addiction may begin to affect an individual’s health, relationships, and finances. Signs and signals of addiction may include losing control, abandoning hobbies and previously-enjoyed activities, performing poorly at work or school, and having unexplained financial issues. Addictions typically build up over time and may be caused by genetic dispositions, environmental factors, or a combination of both.

The 5 Stages of Addiction

mother hugging her daughter holding a bottle of alcohol
If addiction is stopped before the final stage, it may be able to be reversed without the need for treatment. However, in many cases addiction is not caught before substance abuse disorders begin to form. By knowing the stages of addiction, those who are using substances and their loved ones may begin to notice when and if treatment is necessary.
Below are five stages of addiction:

Stage 1: First Use

The first stage of addiction consists of the first use of someone’s drug of choice. Someone is in this stage when they have their first drink, smoke their first cigarette, etc. With substances like opioids, this stage is more complicated. This is because opioids are typically prescribed by a doctor. Initially, opioids may be effective in relieving pain; but over time, dependence may begin to form.

Stage 2: Regular Use

Substance use can be defined as “regular” when someone begins to display certain patterns and show the general signs of addiction. When the substance starts to become more important in someone’s life, the risk of a serious addiction increases.

Stage 3: Risky Use

Substance use becomes risky when important aspects of a person’s life are seriously affected. For example, someone is being risky if they drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Additionally, this stage may impact one’s ability to succeed at school or work. This could also be the point when relationships with family and friends deteriorate or become more complicated.

Stage 4: Dependence

Dependence occurs when someone develops an extremely high tolerance to their drug of choice. They are in this fourth stage when they need a dangerous amount of alcohol or drugs to feel good. At this point, intense cravings may begin to form and the individual may experience withdrawal symptoms if they don’t use the substance for about 6-24 hours. These symptoms may include cramps, vomiting, and a fever.

Stage 5: Substance Use Disorder

When someone forms a substance use disorder, they cannot function in daily life without their substance of choice. At this stage, individuals may begin to face issues like unemployment or homelessness. Typically, abuse will continue despite these serious consequences because of the severity of the disease. At this stage, professional treatment is very highly recommended.

The Importance of Addiction Treatment

If someone does not get treatment after experiencing all the stages of addiction, the end result may be as severe as overdose or death. If you or someone you know is using drugs regularly and think addiction or substance abuse disorder is occuring, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If you decide to stop, it’s necessary to visit a medical facility due to the high chances of withdrawal symptoms.
During withdrawal, specialists at a hospital or rehabilitation center will help individuals detox in a comfortable and drug/alcohol-free environment. After detoxing, people are encouraged to enroll in an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation program. Whether someone enrolls in an inpatient or outpatient program may depend on the severity of their addiction. While in a program, someone may experience treatment methods such as group meetings, CBT, contingency management, career counseling, medication, and more.

Recovery: A Lifelong Journey

The road to recovery does not stop after a rehab program ends. In order to successfully stay sober, it’s important to have a variety of coping mechanisms to use when experiencing cravings. Someone who is recovering from alcohol or drugs should have a strong support system and is encouraged to continue some sort of therapy. It’s important to keep in mind that bumps in the road may happen along the way, but the end result will definitely be worth it.
For more information about the stages of addiction and substance abuse treatment, contact our team of rehabilitation specialists by calling 844.265.7929.


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