Addiction has many underlying causes that vary on an individual basis. Regardless of what leads people into addiction, the stages of addiction unfold in different ways depending on the drug and how the individual reacts to it. Drugs and alcohol have physical, emotional and psychological effects on the body. Not everyone gets addicted right away, and some people never get addicted to certain drugs. However, most people who fall into substance use disorders go through five stages of addiction.
Stage One – Emerging Patterns
There are various patterns that start to emerge in someone struggling with addiction. First-time users of extremely addictive drugs like heroin or meth can quickly start a pattern of use. If the person is prescribed a legal drug, such as opiate painkillers, they may begin to increase their dosage to get more of the euphoric feelings they’re experiencing. Many drugs, including heroin, eventually require more of the drug in order to experience the same high. As the person begins using more and more of the drug, they will begin to exhibit drug-seeking behaviors as they try to get more. You may begin to see physical symptoms like bloodshot eyes, track marks if they inject and extreme weight loss.
Stage Two – Increasingly Risky Behavior
In the second of five stages of addiction, the person often begins to engage in risky behavior or increasingly risky drug use. They might start combining drugs or drugs and alcohol. Using multiple drugs at once or combining any addictive drug with alcohol can seriously raise the risk for a fatal overdose. However, not all people who struggle with addiction use multiple drugs. Sometimes, for this stage, it’s about risky behaviors in other areas. For example, they may drive while intoxicated or high, they might start stealing from others in order to get money for drugs or they might start engaging in risky sexual behavior. In this stage, you start to see a pattern of addiction that impacts others and not just the person who is addicted.
Stage Three – Substance Tolerance
At this stage of addiction, users start experiencing higher levels of tolerance to their drug of choice. In order to get the same feeling, they generally find themselves using more and more of the drug, or they begin to experiment with stronger drugs that give the same effect. Drug tolerance causes brain chemistry changes that result in drastically changed behaviors. The addicted person begins to prioritize drug use over everything else. If your loved one is in this stage of addiction, you may start to see pronounced physical and mental effects from the continued drug use. The person may also start having issues with withdrawal symptoms if they reduce or stop using for any length of time.
Stage Four – Dependence
Dependence is the fourth stage of addiction, and it’s closely connected to tolerance. Substance use disorders are characterized by dependence. The person now uses the substance frequently. They continuously increase the amount in order to continue getting the same effect. Dependence on a substance means that withdrawal symptoms will almost certainly kick in when the substance use stops or is reduced. Dependence puts your life in a precarious position. Almost every waking moment is consumed with thoughts of drug use and getting your next fix. It’s also almost impossible to function much outside of drug use. At this point in addiction, people often begin to experience serious repercussions in their lives and relationships. They may lose their job, drop out of school or start breaking away from loved ones.
Stage Five – Disorder and Addiction
In the final stages of addiction, it’s a full-on disorder. By this point, the addicted person has likely experienced major upheaval in their lives. They may have a range of behavioral problems and physical health problems related to or caused by their addiction. Children who have substance use disorders usually drop out of school by this point. They may also start stealing or doing other risky things in order to get more drugs. Many people with addiction become homeless by this stage as they can’t keep a job or pay their rent or mortgage. Women at this stage of addiction may resort to prostitution or getting into unhealthy relationships in order to maintain their drug habit.
The last stage of addiction is the most damaging as it represents a total loss of control. The person can no longer function in society and they may have major physical and psychological problems due to drug or alcohol use.
Stages of Addiction Treatment
Along with the stages of addiction, there are also stages of treatment and recovery. If you’re struggling with addiction, the good news is that there is hope. Even if you’ve reached the last stage of addiction, you can still turn your life around for the better. Treatment for substance use disorders often starts with realizing that you have a problem. The six stages of change in addiction treatment and recovery are as follows:
• Maintenance and relapse
These stages are entwined with the actual addiction stages as well. By the time a person reaches the last stage of addiction, they may be in the contemplation or preparation stage. This is when they begin to realize that they have a serious problem and that drug or alcohol abuse is ruining their life. In the preparation stage, they might reach out to a health care professional to assess their options.
The Action Stage of Recovery
When you get to the action stage of addiction recovery, the real work towards change begins. This might start with a visit to a detox center, or it might simply start with addiction therapy. Therapy helps uncover the underlying causes of substance abuse, which often prompts people to become committed to change. People in this stage begin to realize that simply quitting their substance of choice won’t be enough. They need to learn coping skills for stressful situations and triggers that might lead them back into substance abuse.
Maintenance and Relapse
Change requires time and effort to sustain. In this stage, a person is starting to adapt to a new lifestyle free of substance abuse. Relapse may still happen in this stage as substance abuse is a chronic disorder. It’s important to understand that relapse doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or that you’re weak. Attending therapy throughout your substance abuse treatment will help you understand any relapse incidents that you may have and also how to avoid them in the future.
The final stage is termination, and this is when you no longer feel threatened by drugs or alcohol.
An addiction Therapist in Los Angeles can help you get free of addiction to drugs or alcohol. Doctor Howard Samuels is a compassionate psychoanalyst and behavioral therapist who specializes in substance abuse disorders. Contact him today to discover more on therapy for addiction.