The Different Stages of Drug Addiction

stages of drug addiction

The Different Stages of Drug Addiction

Nobody is a drug addict when they pick up a substance for the first time. Instead, addiction happens over time and with regular use. Some drugs turn people into addicts faster than others, but regardless of the speed all of them will go through four distinct stages of drug addiction.

It’s important for people to be aware of their downfalls, and protect themselves and their loved ones from going down detrimental paths. The earlier the stage you stop addiction in, the better chance of recovery. When addiction becomes more serious, treatment and recovery become increasingly complicated.

There are Four Distinct Stages of Drug Addiction

Think of addiction through the lens of four distinctive stages. The age at which a person starts varies on their environment and influences. The length of each stage depends on the drug being used, and how intent the person is on using it. In general, addiction will progress faster if drug use is regular and in large amounts.

Stage I: Discovery and Experimentation

Deciding whether or not to try drugs is a potentially life-changing decision.  The person who decides to try it is in the discovery stage, which almost always leads right to experimentation.

Take this story of a teenager who went on to be a severe drug addict by the time they were 20. He tried alcohol for the first time when he was 13. He had seen his parents and family drinking regularly and always wanted to know what it would feel like. That first night, he drank more than all of his friends, until he passed out. He woke up the next day feeling like a million dollars and realizing he just discovered something he loved.

This same boy went on to try marijuana a few weeks later. By 15, he was smoking cigarettes and digging through his parent’s medicine cabinet for prescription opiates. By senior year of high school, he was no longer in school, living on friend’s couches, and completely addicted to heroin.

His drug addiction progression took about 5 years, but it still happened in four stages.

Stage II: Habitual Use

Gandhi has an insightful mantra: “Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.”

In this stage, the initial actions of experimentation become habits. A person who was once experimenting with a drug adapts to a new way of life. It may be on certain days, or on the weekend. Either way, use becomes normal and definitive patterns begin to emerge.

During this stage, underlying mood disorders like anxiety and depression begin to surface. A person regularly using drugs will start to show symptoms of the disorder when they do not have access to their drugs, or when their habitual use is interrupted.

Stage III: Problematic Use

In this stage, addicts begin to have consequences as a direct result of their drug use. With stage two, people rarely see anything negative. In other words, they don’t have a serious reason to stop. This alone can bring them right to stage three.

Going off of the Gandhi quote, at this point habits are becoming values. With drug addiction, values often go out the window and all the addict is left with is the desire to use more drugs. It’s a dangerous stage where there is a very real possibility of the addict hurting themselves or someone close to them.

In stage three, an addict starts to get in trouble with the law, school, or work. They will start to have trouble in their personal relationships too. Many married couples go through a divorce because of addiction. This is always because the problematic use of the drug is occurring.

Stage IV: Dependence

At this point, the addict is dependent on the drug to function. Their addiction comes before everything else, including people and hobbies that were once number one. Chemically, their body has become dependent on the drug and significant withdrawal symptoms will occur if they try to stop suddenly.

Quitting cold turkey is very difficult at this point because the drug has quite literally compromised the person’s body and mind. As far as the mind goes, drugs actually create a chemical change. This change tricks the brain into thinking that it needs the drug in order to survive. For the addict, craving the drug and trying to find it is a genuine life or death situation.

The Stages of Drug Addiction

No two addicts are exactly the same. It is difficult to determine when, or how much of the drug will make the person progress into dependence. Stopping addiction as early as possible will undoubtedly give a person the best chance at recovery.

Rethink the Gandhi quote, “Your values become your destiny.” Know that drug addiction does not have to be your destiny.

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