Addiction can develop in stages as drug or alcohol use becomes more problematic and dysfunctional. The stages of addiction listed below are a roadmap, but like with any disease, an individual’s personal experience will be unique.
Experimentation and Initial Use
The first steps toward addiction generally involve an initial use of alcohol or drugs and experimentation. The path to addiction can begin simply by just taking a drink. If a person begins drinking and experimenting in harmful ways – drinking while pregnant or drinking and driving – even this initial experimentation could be considered abuse.
This stage can also involve the use of illicit drugs. Addiction sometimes begins with less addictive substances that lead to experimentation with more addictive drugs.
Not all paths to addiction begin with experimentation; sometimes, they begin with a prescription from a doctor. Opioids prescribed to patients and used as prescribed can still lead someone to become addicted. Once addicted through this legal, initial use, the individual might seek to take more than is prescribed, seek to attain prescription medication long after they were supposed to stop taking the substance or switch to illicit drugs to satisfy the addiction.
Regular Use/Social Use
Over time people can become regular users, and this often is driven by social interaction. For example, perhaps a person uses alcohol every weekend when they see their friends. This social use can become abusive if it becomes harmful. It can also establish patterns for behavior that, over time, become difficult to break. Establishing such patterns can be one of the first stages of addiction.
When it comes to prescription drugs, regular use past the time of prescribed use can immediately be considered abuse. Prescription medications are for medical purposes. Once this is not the case, their use should be considered harmful.
A person who is regularly using illicit drugs might find themselves needing to use more of the substance to have the same reaction they used to have. This can also be the case with social alcohol users – over time, and they need to drink more to feel the way they used to when they were first drinking.
During this phase, people begin to take more risks and begin to use drugs or alcohol in a way that is more harmful to themselves or others. Binge drinking – having five or more drinks on the same occasion – is one example of risky use. Many people will have a drink during a social event or a family gathering. Taking this as an opportunity to drink to excess takes social drinking to another level.
At this stage of addiction, a person’s relationships might begin to deteriorate, and their drug or alcohol use might begin interfering with their life’s responsibilities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration describes substance abuse as using drugs in such a way and to such an extent that they “seriously interfere with health or occupational and social functioning.” The stages of addiction are not always easy to recognize, but repeated risky behavior and drugs or alcohol routinely creating dysfunction in your life is a significant warning sign.
This stage of addiction involves building up a tolerance to the substance. This results in increased usage, which is needed for the person to realize the desired effect they are seeking from drugs or alcohol. This stage involves cravings, both physical and psychological.
Once a person is dependent on their alcohol or drug use, they are unable to control their use. This is the case, regardless of the consequences of continued use. Relationships can be fraying, there can be legal issues such as multiple DUIs, but the use of the substance will continue regardless.
Physical dependence means the body is addicted to the substance, and without it will go into withdrawal. Psychological dependency means someone is unable to function or conduct their daily lives without the substance. To feel well and function, they need the substance to which they are addicted.
At this point, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, for someone to stop using the substance. Their life is at risk, and they are doing physical and emotional harm to themselves, and likely emotionally harming their loved ones through their actions. Signs of addiction include:
- Significant personality changes
- Deterioration of appearance
- Destructive behavior
- Bloodshot eyes
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns
Sometimes, the individual continues to be in denial regarding the extent of their addiction and the consequences of it. Their judgment is flawed, and their perspective skewed by their addition. At this stage of addiction, their lives are at risk by the continued use, and if they are unable to stop, they will suffer severe health consequences.
Dealing with the Stages of Addiction
Addiction doesn’t have to define who you are; we can help you get control of your life. Overcoming these different stages of addiction is not something you need to do on your own. Sober living can provide the help you need. Contact us at 844.287.8506 and take the first steps toward recovery and reclaiming your life.