Stages of Addiction

While drug addiction can be something that happens quickly, even in as little as a single hit, but this is not usually the case. Usually what happens is addiction begins with a small act, the satisfaction of curiosity, and the addiction takes time and further experience to truly take hold. This is good and bad news. Good, in that addiction is not usually instantaneous. Bad in that, once it takes hold, it has been around for some time. Habits have become ingrained and will be difficult to break, but with the right addiction treatment it is possible to go on to live a life free from addiction. If you have a loved one you believe might be struggling with addiction, keep an eye out for any of these stages of addiction. Recovery is only possible with knowledge.

Stage 1: Experimentation

Drug experimentation can be difficult to address because culturally we have trivialized this very serious act. Experimentation usually begins with what many consider to be the most innocuous drug, marijuana, and movies and television tell us that this is not something to fret over. "It's just pot," and that drug use among teens is just a phase. The problem is, experimentation, even with marijuana, can lead to developing a habit, whether that habit is marijuana use or other, more dangerous drugs. The experimentation stage is not the stage to sit back and see what happens because you don't believe it's serious, it's exactly the right time to step in because the habits that addicts find so difficult to break have yet to set in.

Stage 2: Use with Friends

Drug experimentation can either begin with friends or eventually add them in, but either way this is a common early stage of addiction. There is a social component to drug use that, in later stages of addiction, can fall away. If your loved one is at this stage of addiction, you may notice that they are spending a lot of time with a particular person or group of friends with nothing to show for the time investment. That is to say, they hang out all day and/or night with no plans and nothing to show for the time they spent together. They did not go out, did not actually do anything. This, in conjunction with other possible signs of addiction, can be an indication that they are in the second stage of addiction.

Stage 3: Dangerous Use

While we would never say there is a level of drug use that is not dangerous, what we mean here is that someone has overdosed or has otherwise put their lives and/or the lives of others at risk in order to use. This is the third stage because, having experimented to the point that they have developed habits, these habits tend to become less and less satisfying. As the habits become less satisfying, your loved one may begin looking for harder drugs or using more of the same drugs in order to achieve the level of satisfaction (the high) they'd grown accustomed to experiencing. This increased use usually causes the social aspect of addiction to fall away, as not everyone wants to go down this path, even if they are abusing substances occasionally. This lack of interaction combined with a new level of experimentation tends to lead to mistakes that can have drastic, even deadly, consequences. If your loved one has reached this stage, there is no doubt about it: they need help.

Stage 4: Chemical Dependence

By the time someone has reached stage 3, if they do not receive immediate help, they are going to quickly progress to stage 4: chemical dependence, which the American Psychiatric Association recognizes as a life-threatening condition. The difference between a habit and chemical dependence is that a habit can be broken with willpower and, frankly, the existence of better options than drug use. By reminding someone of their passions, a habit that robs them of these passions can seem less desirable and sometimes this is enough to, with help, start making healthier choices. With chemical dependence, this is not the case. It can be downright dangerous to quit cold turkey, as your body has grown to depend on the presence of the drug. Denying the body the drug can cause the body to go into withdrawal, which in extreme cases can result in death. Seek help if someone you love is in this final stage of addiction. Recovery is possible, but they've reached a point at which breaking free from addiction requires the help of a knowledgeable professional.

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