​Addiction is a complex disorder afflicting millions of Americans every day. Although research around addiction continues to offer insight into its complexities, the development or onset of the disease is still largely unclear. In part,  many factors can contribute to substance dependency, including genetic, environmental, and the type of substance used. Even more ambiguous is the varying degrees of substance abuse. The cycle of addiction may offer some clues in understanding the warning signs. What are the stages of addiction?

Early intervention has indicated a positive correlation with recovery. As a result, early detection of addiction is paramount to achieving the best possible outcome for long-term rehabilitation. It’s important to look out for genetic factors, including mental health and family histories, to understand substance use disorder (SUD) better. 

what is the disease of addiction

Signs of Addiction

Researchers, doctors, and psychologists have pondered the origin of addiction for hundreds of years. According to the National Council of States Boards of Nursing, alcoholism was first recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association in 1956. Addiction was classified as a disease in 1987. 

Prominent psychologists have studied addiction and behaviors. As addiction takes hold, individuals can exhibit certain behaviors that are indicative of dependency. These can include:

  • Loss of control
  • Abandoning hobbies and activities
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Unexplained financial problems

The signs of addiction are not always uniform from person to person. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a chronic disease that affects the brain’s reward, motivation, and memory functions. 

In the beginning, a person may exhibit major personality or behavioral changes. Overtime, alienation may also become problematic, as well as a justification for ongoing substance use. Later stages of addiction can produce more permanent and long-term consequences. If addiction is a gradual condition, what are the stages of addiction? 

What are the Stages of Addiction?

Currently, more than 21 million people are battling an addiction to alcohol and drugs. A startling 130 people die each day due to opioid overdoses, and alcohol contributes to over 260 deaths per day. While these outcomes signify the extreme end of the addiction spectrum, there are varying degrees of dependence on substance use. Below we’re reviewing the various stages of addiction. 

1. First Use of the Substance

The first interaction a person has with a substance can trigger the cycle of addiction. It can be as fast as smoking the very first cigarette or taking the first drink. Certain available substances have also proven to be more addictive than others from first use. 

Additionally, first use may be an interaction with a prescription medication such as an opioid. A doctor may prescribe opioids, which are well-known and highly addictive pain medications. While a licensed physician may instruct the first use, the person taking the drug may quickly find relief of chronic pain intoxicating. They may be drawn to the powerful nature of these pain management medications and crave more relief. However, as a person becomes used to the dosage prescribed, tolerance levels can build, requiring more medicine to achieve the same results. 

2. Patterned Use

Regular use of a substance can contribute to habit-forming behavior. Whether the substance in question is illicit or not, regular use of a certain drug can contribute to the cycle of addiction. As substance use becomes a regular occurrence, a person may begin to exhibit more problematic behavior, correlating with the onset of substance use disorder (SUD). After a while of patterned use, a substance may begin to achieve a certain level of importance in everyday life. 

Patterned use may also coincide with experimentation. A person can feel inclined to experiment because they feel pressured by peers, searching for a means to cope with pain, sadness, and other negative emotions or achieve a goal. One example is the misuse of Adderall as a study aid. Experimentation with drugs is common among adolescents, which increases the risk of developing the disease of addiction later in life. 

addiction in stages

3. Risky Use

What are the stages of addiction after habitual or routine use? The next step in the process is abnormal behavior and risky use. Factors may include risking your wellbeing in pursuit of consuming alcohol or drugs. Examples may include:

  • Driving under the influence
  • Practicing unsafe sex
  • Sharing needles
  • Stealing to support ongoing use

It’s not uncommon for individuals to feel as though they still have some control over their substance use during this stage. However, when certain substances begin to impact a person’s everyday life, it can be a direct indication that there are deeper issues at play. Also, a person may be reluctant to admit they have a problem and may defend risky behavior despite consequences. 

4. Dependence

At this stage of addiction, a person usually requires the drug despite its adverse consequences. They may have likely developed a strong tolerance and may need an increased dosage to achieve the same desired effects. Furthermore, going without the substance for a period, whether short or long, may cause withdrawal symptoms. Dependency can incorporate three factors including:

  • Tolerance – this can increase the risk of fatal overdose. The body’s tolerance levels usually indicate the onset of addiction and can provide a clear warning sign that outside intervention and treatment may be required. 
  • Physical Dependence – Even when medications are taken as prescribed, physical dependence to ongoing use may still occur. Physical dependence causes withdrawal symptoms when alcohol or drug use seizes. 
  • Psychological Dependence – this refers to an intense, uncontrollable need to keep consuming a substance. This stage of addiction can make it extremely difficult to quit without outside assistance. 

It’s important to note that while there are various stages of addiction, not every person is impacted in the same manner. A person who displays signs of psychological dependence may not have a physical dependence. While it’s rare, the first use of a substance may be enough to cause physical or psychological dependence. 

5. Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder occurs when a person’s use of alcohol or another substance (drug) leads to health issues or problems at work, school, or home. Many who develop a substance use problem suffer from depression, attention deficit disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other psychological problems. A stressful or chaotic lifestyle and low self-esteem are also typical.

Some common signs of SUD include:

  • Cannot face daily life with substance use
  • Denies SUD problem
  • Physical condition gets worse
  • Loss of control overuse
  • Financial and legal problems
  • Broken ties with family members and friends

what are the stages of addiction

AspenRidge REACH

Early detection of substance use and dependency is critical for long-term recovery. Addiction is a progressive disease and can wreak havoc on the life of an individual as well as the lives of those around them. AspenRidge REACH online programs can assist. We can provide recovery tools to maintain a sober lifestyle through our various recovery approaches. Through AspenRidge REACH, an exclusive online alcohol treatment center, more people can find access to evidence-based care geared toward relief from ongoing alcohol dependency.

REACH provides care through virtual systems that incorporate individualized and group sessions. Through video conferencing, AspenRidge can securely assist those struggling with ongoing drug and alcohol misuse. 

Does online rehab really work? Find out more here

Rehab options for alcoholics make it possible for recovery. However, staging an intervention can be difficult. We can help guide you through the next steps. It’s also critical to understand that treatment is different for everyone and adjustments to the recovery approach should be made often. Contact us today to learn more about our alcohol addiction programs in Colorado.