A Road Map to the Stages of Addiction

It is rare that a person becomes addicted to drugs overnight. Usually, they start taking drugs casually and continue through multiple stages. By the time they reach the addiction stage, seeking help from an addiction recovery center is often their only hope of becoming drug-free.

The pathological progression of drug addiction can damage the person’s health, finances and interpersonal relationships. For some, this path leads to problems with the law, an overdose or even death.

Here’s a look at the different stages of drug addiction. Understanding what happens while knowing that it can be treated at any stage offers some emotional relief if you are concerned about a loved one’s drug use.

Stage 1: Experimenting

Curiosity is a common trait for human beings and is often where drug addicts begin. Most do not take drugs with plans to become psychologically and physically dependent. It starts with a desire to have a new experience.

Temptation to try something that can shake up their lives might happen at a party or a date. However, experimenting is not always a desire to have fun. Some people start with marijuana to relieve pain from a chronic illness or injury. Others might borrow a friend’s prescription medicine.

If any of these drugs are effective, the person might use it again when the same symptoms happen again. Continuing to use for self-medication leaves the person vulnerable to dependence and addiction. However, a person feels they have complete control over their use and can stop at any time.

Stage 2: Regular Use

Incorporating drug use into normal routines is a sign that the person has moved to a regular user. Taking a serious drug like Percocet for an old back injury without getting a prescription means your loved one has developed a pattern.

Although reliance has not occurred, the person has started training their brain to respond to the rewards that come with using drugs. In addition to pain relief, some of these responses include:

  • Feeling relaxed in social situations
  • Satisfying sleep
  • Stress reduction
  • Weight loss

Satisfaction that comes from the results during this stage is enough to keep using. Add to this that the drug is not interfering with the person’s life and it is clear they have no intention of stopping.

Stage 3: Taking Risks

Eventually, continued use leads a person to the risk-taking stage where the drug does begin affecting areas of their life. This could occur at work, in relationships and finances. The person’s judgment suffers, and they begin doing things they never considered before.

Your loved one might begin selling drugs to get money or even driving under the influence. At this stage, they a probably aware that they have a problem when they experience negative consequences such as getting fired or arrested.

Quitting becomes more difficult once use advances to this stage. Even if they try to quit, fighting cravings and withdrawals from living without the drug is unmanageable.

Stage 4: Dependence

Our brain is wired to have positive responses to certain sensations. Dependence taps into this reaction, which is known as the reward pathway. The brain has become comfortable with the sensations it gets from drugs like opioids and cocaine. Functioning without them is a struggle.

A person has become tolerant to the drug during the dependence stage. They need higher doses to have the same effects they experienced when their use began.

Quitting on their own is usually not possible once your loved one reaches this stage. Being aware of the harm using is having on their health, career and family is not enough for them to stop.

Stage 5: Addiction

With the addiction stages comes compulsiveness. A person cannot function without the drug and they will do practically anything to get it. When getting it is impossible, their cravings become unbearable. Where they started feeling in control, they are now being controlled by the drug.

There are many affects to being addicted to drugs. Some people lack a sense of awareness that the problems in their life are directly related to using. Trying to quit can lead to chronic relapses. Loving personal relationships are destroyed. The person may suffer disease, injury or even death.

It can be painful if you recognize your loved one in any of these stages. Yet, you do not have to wait until they become addicted to stop their progression. The important thing to remember is that substance abuse treatment is available at any point. Trained professionals are available to help during any stage with education and counseling that can break the bond.

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