Whether you have been through addiction yourself or you are watching someone you love struggle with addiction, it’s important to understand the steps that people take to get to addiction in the first place.
The first thing to know is that addiction does not just happen overnight. It starts with one simple use of drugs. If the person does it more and more, their mind and their body begin to see this drug differently which can eventually lead to substance abuse and addiction.
The steps leading to addiction follow a pattern for everyone even though the pattern might look a little different for everyone.
The seven stages of addiction are:
- Regular use
- Risky usage
This guide will cover all the steps more in-depth and focus on how someone can eventually get caught up in an addiction.
As someone makes it further and further into the steps, recovery is harder. This is why it’s important to seek professional help as soon as you or someone you love thinks they might be an addict.
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This first stage is when someone tries a substance for the first time. It can happen at any stage of life, but most people try drugs for the first time when they are young. Teenagers are more common to experience drugs because they might be more curious or that might be facing peer pressure.
Teenagers are also more likely to try drugs because the prefrontal cortex part of their brain is underdeveloped. This vital part of the brain helps in decision-making.
Just because someone has tried a drug one time does not mean they will become an addict. Sometimes someone will take it one time because they are curious and then they will never try again.
People are more like to keep using if:
- The drug is available again
- Peer usage
- There is a drug history in the family
- Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety
Now that the initial curiosity has been satisfied, many people move into experimenting with the drug. This might involve doing it with friends, doing it for pleasure, or trying it to relax. There are usually no cravings for the drugs at this point.
People simply do it as a conscious choice but there is no dependency. They might even do it out of convenience if all their friends have it and are doing it.
If the experimentation continues, it will often lead to regular use. They might not use it every day, but they use it in a patterned manner. They might use it every time they are lonely, stressed, or bored.
Social users are also taking the social aspect out of using the drug at this point. This drug can also start having a negative impact at this point such as showing up to work hungover or taking drugs in between work breaks and then not being able to perform your duties.
Stage four is risky to use. The drugs now have regular negative impacts on a person’s life. They may get a DUI or people might begin to notice that they look or act differently. Some people might also run into financial difficulties from not being able to work as well.
The drug users might not realize they have an issue at this point, but the ones close to them will see changes.
They might notice:
- Borrowing or stealing money
- Lost interest in hobbies or job
- Hiding drugs
- Visiting many doctors to try and get more than one prescription for drugs
- Changing friend groups
- Hiding drugs use
- Neglecting work and family
The drug use is no longer recreational or medical. The person is not reliant on the substance and they must have it. They have also developed a tolerance to it which means they need to take more.
The dependence can be psychological, physical, or both. Medical problems can arise when the drugs are not taken frequently and when there is physical dependence. This is because the body can start withdrawing.
People now think they need the drug to continue with life and they do not know how to function without it. If the person is on prescription drugs, they begin to overmedicate. Moderate pain might be perceived as severe pain and they will take more pills than they need.
Once dependence has started, addiction comes easily and is the next step.
Dependence and addiction are not the same things. When addiction sets in, the choice is no longer conscious when taking the drug. People feel like they cannot deal with life until they have begun to take the drug.
They will also begin lying during this stage about taking the drugs and become agitated if anyone tries to question them about it. The substance abuse begins to destroy relationships at this point.
Addiction can also be called substance use disorder. This is because it’s a chronic disease that has risks as it gets worse.
During this stage, a person will reach a breaking point because the addiction has now become out of control and is extremely dangerous. This is when the person is at risk of overdosing.
As a result of the crisis, the person may seek treatment on their own or someone may seek treatment for them. This involves taking steps to get better and move past the addiction. Many people go to a rehab center.
Places like Achieve Wellness Recovery can also help. It helps put people back on their path and rediscover the purpose they have in life.
Treatment is almost always needed for people that have an addiction because trying to recover on their own is difficult and puts them in a harder place to recover.
Professional help is ideal because they can recover in a safe environment with therapists, nurses, and peers who are also struggling.
The 7 steps of addiction are covered during treatment to allow the person to understand how they got here.