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What Are the Stages of Addiction?

Substance abuse and co-occurring mental health issues affect people from all walks of life – without respect for age, gender identity, race or sexual orientation. To understand what makes this disease so pervasive, and how to manage it successfully, the first step is to recognize the stages of addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s definition of substance abuse, it is “both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness.” Addiction is a chronic and progressive health condition that alters brain chemistry. Eventually, sufferers find themselves unable to feel good without using the substance of their choice.

The Five Stages of Addiction

The progressive nature of addiction means people who eventually become addicted do not start off from a position of psychological and physical dependence. Rather, the symptoms – and consequences – of the disease gradually become more advanced as people move through each phase.

  1. Initial Use
    The first time someone uses alcohol or drugs may be a youthful experiment, or it could be because their doctor has prescribed them to take a specific medicine. Though their use of a substance isn’t frequent at this point, and they can quit using it anytime, they have used it enough times to become familiar with how it makes them feel.
  2. Continuing to Use
    Whether they are prescribed a drug, or using a substance like marijuana, this stage of addiction is where a person begins to use drugs or alcohol to substitute for healthy coping mechanisms. They may also realize they aren’t recovering as quickly after using, and experience hangovers that cause them to miss work. This is because their brain is taking longer to achieve normal equilibrium.
  3. Drug Tolerance
    The tolerance phase is one of the first signs that the user is progressing into addiction. At this stage of addiction, it takes a greater amount of the substance to feel the desired effect, and the person will begin using larger doses.
  4. Drug Dependence
    The dependence stage is a sign that addiction is taking hold. In this phase, the user’s brain doesn’t function properly without the substance, and trying to quit using the drug will cause them to develop physical withdrawal symptoms. At this stage, a medically supervised detox program can be an effective first step in the recovery process.
  5. Drug Addiction
    For someone who is in full-fledged addiction, it will be extremely challenging to quit using alcohol or drugs without professional help, even if they recognize their behavior is having severe life consequences. On the other side of the coin, many people in this phase are in deep denial and resistant to treatment, no matter how badly they need help.

Full Recovery Is Within Your Reach

Recognizing the stages of addiction is critical to helping achieve a complete recovery from substance misuse disorder. Getting yourself or a loved one help when necessary could have life-changing results. At Inland Detox, we offer a full scope of detox programs for a range of substances to lay the groundwork for successful recovery in the future.