The 5 Stages of Addiction


Addiction is something that people all over the world suffer from. But how does this kind of problem form? Today, we’re going to be talking about the 5 stages of addiction and what each stage looks like.

What are the 5 Stages of Addiction?

Addiction is defined as a “chronic reappearing cerebral disease” the National Institute for Drug Abuse states that addiction can also be defined as compulsive substance use, regardless of the effects. Dependence can destroy your life, but you feel as though you can’t stop.

Multiple phases of addiction can take time, sometimes months or even years to develop. Even if a person believes they practice substance use in moderation, it almost always turns into some kind of dependence.

The extent of abuse and its effect on a person are important to recognize. It not only triggers uncomfortable short-term symptoms, but it can also trigger long-term health concerns. To better understand addiction, we must take an in-depth look at the 5 stages that lead up to the problem: experimentation or early use, continued use, tolerance, dependence, and finally addiction.

1. Early Use

There are many reasons why a person might seek out the use of drugs or alcohol. The abuse of drugs and alcohol most often comes about through experimentation with use. Experimentation or early life use can cause a person to become more at risk of addiction development.

Adolescents, since they are still developing, are extremely susceptible to experimental use due to things like peer pressure. Adults often find that they can blow off some steam, relax, or cope with negative emotions through substance abuse.

Though many individuals are able to regulate alcohol consumption and do not regularly drink or use medications, it is often a matter of individual situations whether or not this experimental use is likely to cause dependency in the future. A range of risk factors that contribute to an individual having a greater risk of addiction are defined by the Mayo Clinic, including:

  • Genetic history of drug and alcohol abuse or other mental health problems.
  • The feeling of being neglected by people.
  • General community culture.
  • Group of peers or relatives permissive use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Depression, social problems or isolation.

Nonetheless, even these risk factors will not necessarily lead to the development of addiction, they simply increase the likelihood of it ever developing.

2. Continued Usage of any Substance

When experimental use becomes more and more frequent, it becomes normal use. A person may regularly take drugs before going out with friends or drink at celebrations. A person may even start to use substances on their own without any peer attendance. This kind of behavior can quickly lead a person to use these substances outside of pleasant situations. They may start to use substances as a means of coping with negative feelings because they’ve learned they can forget about their problems if they’re inebriated. When continued use occurs, the actions start to create health problems, both short-term and long-term ones, including one major problem: tolerance.

3. Tolerance

The first warning sign of dependency is often tolerance. Tolerance is when the brain and the body are modified by the toxins ingested through substance abuse. A person may feel that the effects they get with their normal substance dose doesn’t do the trick like it used to. Someone may start to think they need 6 beers to get drunk instead of their former 3. Another example would be a person uses pain medications to cope with pain, but they start to feel as though they need higher doses in order to cope with their pain. This is usually experienced after the substance has been used for some time.

Tolerance is a warning that the brain has been modified due to continual substance use. Slowly, the brain of the person adjusts and alters how the presence of the substances reacts. Once a person has developed a tolerance, they will next develop a dependence.

4. Dependence

An intense tolerance will only lead to dependence. As we mentioned previously, if a person starts to develop a tolerance but still has a strong desire to use, it can become dangerous. It is clear that a person has developed a tolerance when this occurs. Another way of knowing if a person has developed a dependence or not is through intense symptoms of withdrawal. When the drug is not used, the user will feel the physical and mental side-effects. This just goes to show that the body has become dependent on a substance.

These negative symptoms can go away temporarily when the drug is used, but of course, this is not a good solution to the problem. A person who has developed a dependence does not feel “normal” unless they are under the influence of something. This stage is a sign of the onset of addiction. Treatments can be used to treat cravings and relieve serious symptoms of withdrawal. Therapy can also help to improve self-esteem, helping a person cope with stress and overcome other mental health issues.

5. Addiction

Addiction is the ultimate and final stage in substance use. Due to the serious consequences of the addiction itself, it is almost impossible for people to stop using it without help.

Addiction is a chronic disease that leads to specified symptoms and behaviors that help medical professionals diagnose the disease. “Rock bottom” is the seemingly lowest point for an addict; it can feel like they’re at their lowest point and that nothing will change. However, things can change with the right guidance. No matter how far gone a person thinks they are in substance abuse, there is always a way out.

Treatments can be used to control the cravings of substance and help alleviate other uncomfortable symptoms an addict may experience in early recovery. Therapy can help people who are addicted to their behavior, to gain greater self-esteem, to cope with stress, and to tackle certain mental health issues. Regardless of what stage of addiction you are in, there is always a way out of it. Help is out there, you just need to look for it.