What Are the 7 Stages of Addiction?

What Are the 7 Stages of Addiction?

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Addiction doesn’t use a fancy playbook. It always follows the same pattern as it takes over someone’s life. If a person is aware of what this pattern looks like, they can be more able to avoid substance abuse. This article discusses the seven stages of addiction and the signs that accompany each level.

1. Experimentation

The first stage of addiction is often referred to as “initial use.” This is when a person begins experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Usually, this is done out of curiosity or peer pressure. It is not uncommon for people to be exposed to substances at young ages. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it is estimated that more than seven million adolescents ages 12-17 reported using alcohol in 2019.

This initial use can be seen as harmless. However, it can quickly lead to a pattern of more frequent and excessive use if not addressed. The brain is particularly vulnerable to substance abuse during this stage. At that point, the brain is not yet accustomed to the effects of the drug. As a result, users may be more likely to experience intense euphoria. This can make the drug more appealing and lead to further use.

2. Regular Use

The second stage of the addiction cycle is regular use and abuse. This occurs when a person begins to use a substance more often. During this stage, the person may start using more than intended, become careless about the way they use, or even start using substances in an unconscious, habitual way.

The individual may also begin to neglect responsibilities such as work or family obligations. They may also start to experience negative consequences from their use, such as financial hardship, legal issues, and health problems. As the addiction progresses, the person may start using more dangerous methods of obtaining and using the substance, such as injecting drugs or consuming large amounts of alcohol.

3. Risk-Taking

At this stage, the individual may have already developed a physical and psychological dependence on the substance. Risk-taking behavior is common at this stage as the individual seeks out increasingly higher doses of the drug to satisfy their cravings. As tolerance to the substance increases, the person must take larger and more frequent doses of the drug to experience the desired effects.

This causes users to become more reckless in their consumption as they try to recreate the initial high they experienced from the substance. The individual may also start to seek out new and potentially dangerous ways to get the drug, such as through illegal means or dangerous activities.

4. Dependence

The fourth stage of addiction is dependence. This occurs when the body and brain become accustomed to a certain level of substance use and can no longer function normally without it. Dependence can be both physical and psychological and is often characterized by cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Physically, the body has grown accustomed to the substance and “needs” it to feel normal. The body has developed a tolerance for the drug, which means higher doses are needed to achieve the same effect. Physiological changes in the body can also cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when substance use is stopped, including nausea, insomnia, headaches, and anxiety.

Psychologically, the individual is relying on the drug to cope with life stressors and feelings of anxiety or depression. They may feel they need the drug just to get through the day. They may have difficulty functioning without it. They may also experience strong cravings for the substance.

5. Addiction

The fifth stage is addiction. This is where someone has become physically and psychologically dependent on the substance and cannot stop using it. They may continue to use despite negative consequences such as losing their job, damaging relationships, or suffering from poor physical and mental health.

6. Withdrawal

The sixth stage of addiction is withdrawal and relapse. Withdrawal occurs when a person has been using a substance for a long period and stops abruptly. This can result in severe physical, mental, and emotional distress. Symptoms of withdrawal vary depending on the substance used but may include nausea, sweating, headaches, depression, anxiety, irritability, tremors, insomnia, fatigue, and changes in appetite.

Because of the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, relapse is a common part of the recovery process. Relapse is defined as a return to substance use after a period of abstinence. This can occur due to triggers such as stress or a return to the environment where one used the drug. People in recovery should be aware of the signs of relapse and be prepared to respond accordingly. Relapse prevention strategies include identifying and avoiding triggers, seeking out professional help, joining a support group, and maintaining healthy and balanced lifestyle habits.

7. Recovery

Recovery is the final stage of the addiction cycle. It marks the point where the individual has achieved a balance between sobriety and stability in their life. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are completely free of addictive behavior, but they are at a place where they can make decisions and choices to live a healthy and productive life.

In this stage, the individual may be utilizing a combination of methods to stay sober. Finding these methods usually happens during addiction treatment. Following inpatient rehabilitation, a person may attend support group meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), receive help from a therapist or psychiatrist, participate in faith-based organizations, or simply surround themselves with a positive network of family and friends who will hold them accountable for their decisions.

Ultimately, recovery is the process of finding a new way to manage stress, anxiety, pain, or any other difficult emotions without resorting to substance abuse. It takes time and commitment, but it is possible for anyone struggling with addiction to achieve recovery if they are willing to do the work.

 Addiction is predictable and highly destructive. To recover from addiction, it takes a team of professionals who know how to treat its causes and effects. At First Steps Recovery, our skilled staff members are familiar with what it’s like to be constrained by anxiety. You will be presented with a fantastic beginning point for healing when you choose to receive treatment at our facility. To ensure you are confident in your healing, each stage is tailored to your requirements and expectations. Breaking into a lifestyle of sobriety is freeing. Our job is to help get you there so you can find and rediscover your happiness. Please call First Steps Recovery at (844) 489-0836 if you think you need addiction treatment.

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