What Are the 5 Stages of Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

What Are the 5 Stages of Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

November 21, 2022 By 0 Comments

Addiction’s Stages of Development

As the disease progresses through these stages, it alters the chemical makeup of the brain, disrupting neuronal circuits related with pleasure, stress, and self-control.

Because of these anatomical and functional changes in the brain, it can be nearly impossible for some people to stop drinking or using drugs unless they seek therapy from a professional.

There are many misconceptions about substance use disorders and the disease of addiction.

It is frequently portrayed in the harshest terms, with persons suffering from this condition losing everything, including their jobs, family, and houses, and being sentenced to prison or death. Addicts come from all walks of life, regardless of socioeconomic level, ethnicity, or gender.

What Are the 5 Addiction Stages?

Stage 1: Initial Use or Experimentation

When discussing the stages of addiction, it is critical to distinguish between “initial use” and “experimentation.”

Many people only perceive the first stage to be “experimentation,” when teens or young adults take drugs or alcohol to fit in with their peers. This is certainly true for many people, but it is not always the case.

Potentially habit-forming drugs provided by a physician, such as opioid pills to treat a medical ailment, are an often-overlooked component of this stage.

Anyone can get addicted to these medications if they are abused or used for a longer period of time than is indicated for treating a specific illness. In this scenario, the user was simply following their doctor’s directions and not experimenting with medications.

On the other hand, it is extremely usual for some people to dabble with drinking or doing drugs as a first use experience during their adolescence or early adulthood. In this instance, people are not acting on orders from a medical professional and have complete control over their activities.

Whether the first use is due to experimenting or a medical problem, it is one of the most significant events in the phases of addiction.

A person finds how a certain substance makes them feel and whether or not they wish to experience it again with the first use.

Stage 2 – Ongoing or Consistent Use

In the second stage, a person has overcome any initial reservations about initially using drugs or alcohol, and consumption progresses as continued or regular use of drugs or alcohol.

A user may discover that alcohol or drugs make them feel more at ease in social situations, or they may love the “high” and desire to have it more regularly. Some people enjoy it so much that they want to do it as frequently as possible.

When taking prescription medications, a person may believe that they require more of the drug to treat their illness and that they would suffer if they do not take it. As a result, people seek out additional drugs in any way they can.

Stage 3 – Tolerance

Tolerance to alcohol, drugs, or medications means that a person must consume more of the substance to feel its effects.

While tolerance differs from person to person, it normally builds with time. When this happens, a person needs take more of a certain substance to become “high” than they did when they initially started using it.

In the case of doctor-prescribed opioids, a person may need to take a higher dose to relieve pain, even if it is not suggested or permitted by their doctor.

Tolerance to drugs, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals is a huge red flag that a dependence is taking root.

Stage 4 – Dependence

Dependence has both a psychological and physical component.

A physical dependence on drugs, alcohol, or pharmaceuticals means that if a person is unable to drink or use drugs, they will get physically unwell or develop potentially severe withdrawal symptoms.

Furthermore, due to functional abnormalities in the brain caused by substance abuse, many people are unable to function normally without it. They may begin to have mood swings or become excessively nervous, stressed, or sad.

A psychological dependence can be equally powerful. Even in the absence of withdrawal symptoms, a person who habitually uses drugs, alcohol, or mishandles pharmaceuticals begins to feel functionally normal only when they are using.

Many say that until they are taking their substance of choice, they do not feel happy or normal.

A person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol will usually lose the struggle against addiction over time unless there is an intervention or a willingness to seek treatment.

Stage 5 – Addiction

The “shine,” or initial positive feelings brought on by substance use, has worn off in this stage of addiction. A person is nearly unable to stop using at this point, despite the fact that they no longer like it, or their self-destructive actions are unravelling their lives.

Depending on the degree of the sickness, some people are completely unaware that they have an addiction problem, despite the chaos and difficulties that ensue.

In some circumstances, a person may be able to refrain from taking drugs or alcohol for a length of time, only to relapse, much to the chagrin of their loved ones.

When addiction starts, the changes in the brain are so significant that executive functioning and reasoning are lost, making it nearly impossible for a person to behave rationally and do what they know is right to cease using.


As with other chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, or even heart disease, early intervention and treatment for addiction can save a person’s life as well as the lives of their friends and family.

Detecting warning symptoms as early as stages two and three, before dependency and addiction take hold, can typically halt the disease’s growth.

The good news is that addiction is extremely curable. Patients with severe addictions will almost certainly require detox in a medically supervised facility capable of safely and pleasantly managing withdrawal symptoms.

People recovering from addiction benefit from one-on-one counselling, group therapy sessions, family counselling, and the development of new techniques, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, during outpatient or residential treatment.

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