Addiction, similar to chronic, relapsing disorders, progresses. That isn’t to imply that everyone’s experience with the disorder is the same, since it isn’t. However, most professionals believe that there are five phases of addiction development. When most people think about addiction, they immediately think of drugs, alcohol, or even nicotine.
It’s crucial to recognize that other behaviours, such as eating disorders, gambling, and even smartphone use, can exhibit comparable characteristics to drug addiction, but not always with the same health repercussions.
NIDA Defines Addiction – What Is Addiction?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing disorder marked by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences,” according to NIDA. It is classified as a brain disorder because it involves functional alterations to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control. Those changes may continue for a long time after a person has stopped using drugs.” Addiction is seen as a complex brain problem as well as a mental disorder characterized by long-term changes in brain chemistry.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “addiction is the most severe form of a broad range of substance use disorders, and is a medical condition caused by recurrent usage of a substance or substances.” It is defined by compulsive drug seeking and use despite negative consequences. Because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control, it is classified as a neurological disorder. Those alterations may last long after a person has ceased abusing drugs.”
Addicts are criticized for their compulsive drug-seeking behaviour and continued usage in the face of incredibly destructive, even life-threatening outcomes. Unfortunately, many people are unaware that they are mentally and physically incapable of changing their behaviour until they receive intervention and treatment. This is why it is critical to investigate and comprehend the path and phases that eventually lead to addiction.
What are the 5 Stages of Addiction?
While science does not fully understand the core cause of addiction, it has been reduced down to a combination of:
• Family History
People who have experienced trauma, particularly early childhood trauma, are especially vulnerable. As each person’s circumstances and substance use are unique, there is no way to establish a definitive roadmap or timescale for each person’s journey to addiction, though the stages mentioned here will apply to the majority of people.
With the possible exception of “Stage 1 – First Use,” the stages of drug addiction are generally comparable to the stages of alcohol addiction. This is because, unlike with other drugs, not all patients with an alcohol use disorder began using a prescription for alcohol.
1. The First Stage of Addiction – First Use (Experimentation or Prescription Drug Use)
In the initial stage of addiction, a person has his or her first physical and psychological experience with how alcohol, an illicit substance, or even a medically prescribed narcotic makes them feel.
A teenager drinking or smoking marijuana at a party, or a person injured at work who takes a prescription opioid medication while healing from their injuries, are examples of first-time users. There are usually no harmful outcomes during the first use or experimentation. What is subconsciously registered, however, is the apparent positive difference in how individuals feel after consuming the substance. This experience might be anything from a reduction in bodily or emotional discomfort to a sense of calm, euphoria, or a welcome numbing to social anxiety or pressure. Many individuals incorrectly regard the “first use” stage of addiction as merely “experimentation,” failing to recognize that a huge majority of persons have no interest in experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Many of these persons get their first taste of addictive substances as a medically essential prescription medication from their doctor. They have no concept that they may become dependent to the substance in the future.
2. The Second Stage of Addiction – Regular or Continued Use
The second stage of addiction is commonly referred to as the “misuse stage,” though this may not always be the case for someone who has been prescribed a potentially addictive sedative or painkiller.
For the second stage of addiction, the term “regular or continued use” is more appropriate and accurate. In this case, a person’s prescription may need them to continue using the drug for an extended amount of time. Unfortunately, for others, that requirement may be converting into a physical and psychological urge to continue taking the drug even after the prescription has expired and it is no longer medically essential. Others define ongoing use as returning to a substance either immediately after the first use or days, weeks, or months later because they enjoyed how they felt the first time, either inwardly or physically. As frequent use becomes the norm, a person in this phase may realize that recovering from a night out drinking or from persistent prescription drug use takes longer. This occurs because the body and brain require more time to restore themselves as a result of chemical build-up in the system.
Despite the fact that it is physically and mentally unhealthy, stage two addiction can endure years, if not a lifetime, for many people without resulting in serious outward consequences. This can be very aggravating for others who begin to suffer negative results relatively fast. They may compare themselves to others, asking why some people can drink or use drugs and not have any problems.
3. The Third Stage of Addiction – Tolerance
In the third stage of addiction, the body and brain become habituated to drugs and alcohol after some time of regular and ongoing use. This is referred to as tolerance.
A person begins to take more of the substance in order to get the same type of mental or physical reward or escape that he or she felt during the first usage stage. People may not even realize they are consuming more alcohol or taking bigger amounts of drugs or medication in some circumstances. Others, particularly those forming a tolerance to a prescription painkiller, may notice right away that their usual dose of medication is no longer “working” as well as it once did. A person who has developed a high tolerance to a substance may require more of it to feel its effects. However, in the case of alcohol, a person’s blood alcohol content would still identify as legally intoxicated after the same number of drinks taken in stage one or two. Simply put, they would not “feel” intoxicated. Tolerance to substances, whether alcohol or prescription pharmaceuticals, is an early and significant indicator of addiction.
4. The Fourth Stage of Addiction – Dependence
The fourth stage of addiction is known as dependence, and it is frequently confused with addiction, which is reasonable, but it is not always the same thing.
In certain circumstances, a person’s life may appear to be relatively functional, but in reality, they may have constructed their day-to-day routine around being able to use drugs or alcohol while still completing some of their responsibilities. In this stage, the balance is delicate since the dependence frequently turns physical. That is, if a person goes too long without a particular substance or alcohol, they may begin to experience physical withdrawal symptoms. Stage four is defined by a person who only feels normal or functional while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or prescription pharmaceuticals.
5. The Final Stage – Addiction
The fifth stage of addiction is when addiction manifests itself. This is the stage that professionals refer to as “the full spectrum of substance use disorders,” in which impulse control is difficult without intervention, assistance, and treatment.
While some people who get addicted to drugs or alcohol are aware of the harm their condition is inflicting them and their loved ones, others may be completely unaware. Many addicts blame their families or society for the unfortunate things that have happened to them and those around them. It can also be extremely difficult for someone in this stage to seek help on their own since they cannot imagine or comprehend a life without alcohol or drugs. Even during forced sobriety, such as being locked up, the emotional and physical desires caused by the brain’s chemical imbalance will drive a person right back into drug or alcohol usage when they are released. In many cases, a person’s substance abuse worsens, and the only way out is to seek therapy through an addiction treatment program.
Treatment for the Stages of Addiction
Understanding and being aware of the five phases of addiction might help you spot risky behaviour in others. It is also crucial for identifying one’s own personal patterns, which might be problematic if not addressed early on.
However, a patient in stage five is not a lost cause, nor is he or she suffering from moral weakness or a lack of determination.
They are facing a complicated brain problem and mental illness from which they can and do recover with compassion, understanding, and evidence-based treatment techniques.
The first stage of addiction treatment is frequently drug and alcohol detox. The detox process cleanses the body of the damaging effects of drugs or alcohol while also monitoring the individual to keep them safe and comfortable during withdrawal symptoms.
Following the reduction of withdrawal symptoms and the completion of the detox procedure, the next step is a structured addiction treatment recovery program.
Addiction treatment can take numerous forms, depending on the substance taken, as well as the amount and length of usage.
Some people prefer to follow the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, while others prefer the evidence-based approach offered in many non-12 step residential recovery facilities. Those who began using drugs or alcohol to cope with a mental health condition such as depression may require a specialized rehabilitation program known as dual diagnosis treatment, which addresses both disorders concurrently. Dual diagnosis treatment detects and addresses co-occurring diseases of addiction and mental health.
Everyone should realize that addiction has five stages, that it is a treatable health condition, and that a person does not have to be in stage five to benefit from treatment. In fact, early intervention at any level can help an individual avoid potentially significant repercussions that could occur at any point in the future.