Are you worried about a loved one’s addiction to drugs or alcohol? When enjoyment crosses the line into substance abuse, it can be difficult to discern. It’s important to know the difference between substance use and substance abuse, the cycle of addiction and its stages so medical professionals, friends, and family can intervene at the right time to save a life. Learn about the five stages of addiction in the guide below so you’ll know when help is needed.

Understanding the Stages of Addiction

Millions of Americans suffer from addiction every day, making it one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that 21 million Americans aged 12 or older (7.8% of the population) sought help for drug abuse in 2016.

What Are the Five Stages of Addiction

1. First Use of the Addictive Substance

Addiction affects the brain several ways. Eventually, the type of situation and frequency of use will become predictable and steadily increase. The person returns to the drug after the first time to experience the same positive feelings. With some drugs, the user begins to exhibit physical indicators. Signs of heroin use, such as track marks or extreme weight loss should send up a red flag. Other types, such as alcohol and prescription drugs, may take time before the effects are felt. 

2. Frequent Use of the Addictive Substance

Using more than one drug at a time – for example, cocaine and meth – is dangerous as it increases the risk of an overdose. Risky behaviors include drinking and driving and using substances at work. When safety is blatantly ignored, it can be a sign that addiction is emerging. People have patterns of use. Do they only use on the weekends? Do they use around a certain group of friends? As the drug becomes more prevalent, frequency of use and a pattern soon emerge. 

3. Tolerance Increases

Over time, the person will need more of the substance to achieve the same results. The brain and body have adjusted to the drug. It is possible that they are mixing other drugs into their use pattern, or they may not be able to go a day without using. If you notice a friend or family member exhibiting this, the best way to support that friend is to have a conversation when they’re sober.

Addictive Substance

4. Dependence

The user will have a diagnosable substance use disorder by this point. If they try to cut back or miss a fix, they will experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • weight loss
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • physical illness
  • insomnia
  • hallucinations

The individual user will have developed a tolerance to the substance and will need a dangerous amount of it to feel good again. Physical and psychological cravings can almost consume the user, when not being used.

5. Disorder

Substance abuse is characterized by behavioral problems and a deterioration of family relationships in the advanced stages. A young adult may drop out of school, lie, steal, or engage in risky behavior. People can lose their jobs and lose important relationships as adults. It is possible for substance abusers to become homeless, turn to prostitution or sell drugs themselves, or engage in other criminal activities. Finally, the body may show physical signs of disease.

Stages of Addiction

Better Wellness Can Help Fight the Cycle of Addiction

At Better Wellness Drug and Alcohol Treatment, our behavioral health professionals can help stop a patient’s downward spiral into addiction. Vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person and is impacted by both environmental and genetic factors, including mental health, family history of addiction or social environment. Whether it’s treatment for heroin use or any substance, our drug and alcohol detox programs, Medication Assisted Detox, Intensive Outpatient and Intensive Inpatient Treatment work wonders in helping overcome addiction to all forms of drugs and alcohol.