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What Are the Five Stages of Addiction?

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Stages of Addiction

Did you know that in the United States approximately 22 million people have struggled with substance use disorder? Although every case and every person is different, most individuals who become addicted to drugs or alcohol go through five stages of addiction.

The First Stage: First Use and Development of a Pattern

The first stage of alcohol or drug addiction is trying the substance. Often the person is experimenting with something new. Sometimes, this stage of addiction occurs when a person is prescribed a medication, such as an opioid for pain. The pain may be temporarily relieved by the first dose, but as the body becomes accustomed to the drug over time, the user needs more of it than was originally prescribed. Regardless of whether the first use of alcohol or drugs was from a medical necessity, peer pressure, or a sense of adventure, the person likes how they feel when they take the substance and a pattern of use begins to develop.

The Second Stage: Continued and Regular Use

During the second stage of addiction, the continued use of drugs or alcohol has developed into a regular habit. The individual may notice that their recovery time takes longer after they have achieved their desired high. This occurs because it takes their brain a longer time to chemically repair itself. During this stage some individuals may begin acting in risky or reckless ways. They may try taking more than one drug at a time (poly drug use). For example, they may mix alcohol and heroin to try to achieve a more powerful high. Other examples of risky or reckless behavior include driving while drunk or high, engaging in unsafe sexual practices, and taking part in dangerous or illegal activities.

The Third Stage: Tolerance

Tolerance to a drug occurs when the person’s body and brain have adjusted to the substance so that more of it is required to achieve the desired effect. Sometimes, a person might experiment with other drugs that have similar effects. During this stage, the user’s brain has become altered by the substance they are abusing, and they are experiencing major physical and emotional side effects. Their mind and body are reliant on their substance of choice. Serious and often dangerous behavioral changes become obvious.

The Fourth Stage: Dependence

At this stage, the person has developed a tolerance to the drug; they do not feel normal if they are not using it. Just to feel good again they have to take a dangerous amount of the drug. If they go without it for a certain amount of time, they experience withdrawal symptoms, such as vomiting, muscle cramps, sweats, and fevers. They experience intense psychological and physical cravings. The brain has become accustomed to the drug and cannot function well without it. During this stage, the person has developed a substance use disorder. They must increase the amount of drugs or alcohol they take and/or take it more often just to maintain their addiction.

The Fifth Stage: Addiction

The final stage of addiction is a full-blown substance use disorder. At this stage, the person is not able to function in everyday life without using their substance of choice. Some may lose their jobs or drop out of school. Some may lose their families or become homeless. But regardless of the consequences, they are unable to stop using. Even though many no longer enjoy using alcohol or drugs, they continue misusing them. This is the stage that has the biggest negative impact on the individual and their family. It is the time when the most damage occurs to the person’s mind and body. They are unable to function in healthy ways and feelings of helplessness, desperation, and isolation increase. When a person continually abuses drugs or alcohol, it always leads to an alcohol or drug addiction as the person progresses through the stages.

If You Need Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, there is help available. At Canyon Vista Recovery Center, located in Mesa, Arizona, trained professionals can help you overcome your addiction. Give us a call and begin your journey to recovery and living a clean and sober life.

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