If you or somebody you know is abusing drugs or alcohol, it can be useful to know the stages of addiction. If you’re looking for a more in-depth article about the stages of addiction, we recommend checking out One Mind Therapy.
Many clinicians and psychologists will list 5 Stages of Drug and Alcohol Addiction, but we’re going to simplify it here to three. The way any addiction starts is with simple investigation and experimentation. People don’t set out to become addicted. Instead, they try something available to them. Maybe a friend offers it, or maybe they go seeking it out.
At this stage, the person is not likely to be using every single day. They may try it a few times, mess around with drugs or drinking on weekends, or just do it when their friends offer it to them. Although consequences may come from the using, it generally isn’t a big problem at this phase. The one exception is if the individual is in a risky state already, like if they are young or experiencing a mental health disorder.
On the road to addiction, the person will begin using more regularly. Although many people may think that regular use means addiction, this isn’t necessarily the case. People can use regularly without growing physically or psychologically dependent. During this stage, consequences may be more likely, and others may begin to notice their use. It may begin to impact family life, school or work, and hobbies.
Finally, the person moves into dependence. Dependence is essentially when a person is going to experience withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use. Addiction is the same. There are many different definitions and understandings of addiction, but it may most simply be understood as the dependence physically and psychologically on a substance.
During the stage of dependence and addiction, more consequences are likely to arise. However, the person may continue using despite consequences. At this point, using drugs and alcohol can become a bigger priority, and other things and commitments in life may fall by the wayside. Generally, use is either regular or in a binging pattern.