Learn Everything About the Stages of Addiction

Five Stages of Addiction

Written By: Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.
Cite This Article
Geraldine. "Learn Everything About the Stages of Addiction." Lighthouse Recovery Institute., Last updated Oct 12, 2020 at 9:37AM | Published on Mar 1, 2020, https://lighthouserecoveryinstitute.com/5-stages-of-alcohol-and-drug-addiction/.


Last updated Oct 12, 2020 at 9:37AM | Published on Mar 1, 2020 | Drug Addiction

The stages of addiction help to explain the progressiveness drug and alcohol addiction has. Addiction to drugs and alcohol happens for many reasons, but regardless of the root cause, it unfolds in various stages. Typically, most people don’t become dependent on a substance right away. Although everyone’s case is different, most who struggle with substance use disorders go through what we know as the five stages of addiction. 

Stage 1: Experimentation

Some people consider this stage zero, mostly because this could potentially drive someone towards an addictive path. Most people start using drugs as an experiment; no one sets their mind to become an addict. They may know someone who uses some drugs and might want to give it a try.

However, for certain drugs, experimentation can be the trigger to a full-blown addiction. Because everyone’s brain composition is different, it’s nearly impossible to know if someone will become hooked or obsessed with the euphoria a specific drug gives them. 

Stage 2: Regular Use or Patterns

When someone starts incorporating the substances into their regular life, people begin showing some initial patterns of substance misuse. For example, even after a one-time use of heroin, someone might start developing a pattern of use. Other common drugs that lead to misuse patterns are prescription medications like Adderall or Valium.

Soon enough, someone will start to display patterns of regular use. With substances such as heroin or oxycodone, you’ll likely see track marks on people’s arms. But for pill medications, it can be more challenging to note these signs. 

Stages 3: Tolerance and Recklessness

After regular use, most people will develop a tolerance to whatever substance they’re using. Individuals find themselves seeking higher doses, or even start to experiment with other drugs to see if they can get the same effects. At this stage, emotional and physical signs of addiction become visible as their brains begin to change by the abused substance. Daily use is almost a given at this point. 

Even more dangerous, after someone develops a tolerance, they’ll start to engage in risky or reckless behavior. Some people might combine drugs like cocaine and meth for a more robust experience, or drugs and alcohol to extend the effects. When people start combining or using more than one substance, also known as poly-drug use, they significantly increase their chances of a fatal overdose. Not to mention, their reckless behavior can place them at risk of suffering a car accident or get in a fight, and so on.

Stage 4: Dependence

Here’s when people start to struggle with a substance use disorder once they become physically and mentally dependent on the substance. At this stage, they take the substance daily, but they continuously increase their amounts to maintain their effects. Most people will start to show symptoms of addiction, such as compulsive drug-seeking. Even when they try to stop, they experience severe withdrawal symptoms that cause them to go back to using them. 

Withdrawal symptoms from drugs and alcohol dependency can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, weight loss, and many other symptoms. Besides, when people experience withdrawal signs, they might retake a higher dose and risk overdose. 

Stage 5: Addiction

The final and most detrimental stage is the substance use disorder one. At this point, everyone, including the new addict, is affected by drug abuse. Someone who struggles with a substance use disorder will even suffer behavioral health problems and mental health issues simultaneously.

As drugs and alcohol ravage the body and mind, it loses its ability to function healthily. People feel powerless, helpless, and begin to isolate, which only exacerbates the issue and leads to the potential risk of overdose, suicide, and other mental illness. 

By this stage, people fail to fulfill responsibilities related to work, family, or school. They continue their substance abuse despite recognizing its adverse effects on their health and relationships, and they are physically and mentally submerged in their addiction. 

Escaping the Five Stages of Addiction

The stages of addiction are progressive and do not occur overnight. Generally, addicts and even those closest to them will remain in denial regarding the severity of the drug or alcohol problem. If you or someone you know is struggling with these stages, please remember help is available, and recovery is possible. 

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our addiction specialists can recommend a custom treatment program to help struggling addicts find healing. Using various evidence-based drug addiction treatment programs, including medication-assisted treatments and cognitive behavioral therapy, we can help you find a better tomorrow. Don’t hesitate to call our treatment center today and speak with our admission specialists today. 

🛈 This page’s content is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek your physician’s advice or another qualified health provider with any medical condition questions—full medical disclaimer.

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