Stages of Addiction-What are they and What to Do

stages of addiction

There are millions of people all around the world struggling from addiction. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that about 10% of the population has an addiction. There are more people in the various stages of addiction, as well. With one in ten people suffering from addiction, chances are that you or someone you love is suffering as well. In this article, we will discuss the stages of addiction, as well as what can be done to help.

What is addiction? Are the final stages of addiction chronic?

What are the five stages of recovery

To understand what qualifies as an addiction and what the stages of addiction are, it’s important to fully understand what addiction is.

Addiction is a brain disorder. It’s characterized by someone continuing to use a substance or participate in behavior, despite harmful consequences.

Someone with an addiction craves a particular substance or behavior.

They are unable to maintain self-control and continue partaking of this substance or behavior even though it’s causing them problems. Addiction involves difficulty with compulsion control.

Simply put, someone with an addiction cannot stop using a substance or behavior on their own. That’s what differentiates between addiction and abuse of a substance or behavior.

For example, someone who is abusing alcohol can usually stop drinking on their own.

Someone with an alcohol addiction will need intervention to quit.

Those who are addicted feel a strong desire for a substance, and are unable to will this desire away.

They experience something akin to a need for a said substance.

Another way to tell the difference between abuse and addiction is time frame.

Most individuals with an addiction experience chronic symptoms. Addiction is an ongoing dysfunction in the brain and can last for years, or even a lifetime, without treatment.

Many addicts are unaware of their addiction. It’s difficult for them to see past their need for the substance to gain insight into themselves.

After an extended period of time, addiction tends to lead to problems in a person’s life. These problems may be medical, financial or interpersonal in nature.

It may be difficult for an addicted person to understand that these consequences are a result of their addiction.

They may need help to understand their addiction. It is absolutely crucial to understand that addiction is a serious disorder that requires treatment.

What can you be addicted to?

What is the sequence of the pathway to addiction

Here are some common addictions:


In the United States alone, it’s estimated that one in eight people struggle with alcoholism.

Those with alcohol addiction consume large amounts of alcohol, almost daily. Alcohol is in many drinks like beers, wines and liquors.


Another common addiction is tobacco. Tobacco is primarily consumed through cigarettes or through chewing the substance.

Tobacco is also used through vaping, e-cigarettes, cigars and tablets.


Although legal and used for medicinal and recreational purposes, marijuana can be addictive.

Those with marijuana addiction consume larger amounts more frequently than their peers, and are unable to stop consuming marijuana.

This plant can be smoked, eaten, taken through pills, lotion and many other methods of consumption.

Opioids and sedatives

This category includes things like oxycodone, heroin, codeine and medicines for anxiety, like tranquilizers.

Those with an opioid or sedative addiction are likely seeking the sense of calm these substances can provide.


This category of addictions includes substances that stimulate the brain and provide a “high.”

Things like cocaine and methamphetamine are included in this category.

These substances increase heart rate, blood pressure and energy levels.


Hallucinogenic drugs cause a change in perception or reality to the individual who takes them.

As eluded by their name, they often cause hallucinations or sensations that the user perceives as real, but that are not.

Things like PCP, LSD and Mushrooms are in this category.


Things like glue and paint thinners are in this category. These deprive the brain of oxygen when inhaled and provide a “high” to the user.


Gambling is currently recognized as a disorder by the American Psychology Association and is exactly as it sounds.

Those with this disorder are unable to stop gambling compulsively.

Is there anything else that qualifies as addiction?

While not everything is recognized under the American Psychology Association, there are other addictions.

These substances/behaviors qualify for all stages of addiction as well.

The human mind is a curious thing and can become addicted to many other substances and behaviors like:

  • Video Games
  • Pornography
  • Stealing
  • Food
  • Exercising
  • Caffeine

If you have a behavior or substance that you are unable to stop on your own, talk to your doctor.

There are many things that you can become addicted to and may need help to overcome.

Why do we get addicted?

Does your brain heal after drinking

Some people think that those who struggle with addiction are just morally flawed. This is incorrect.

The more we learn about addiction, the more we understand that it is a disorder. Stages of addiction are a progression.

This disorder is just as valid as cardiac problems or a problem with the musculoskeletal system.

Through addiction, the brain changes. It usually starts with the recognition of pleasure and then eventually leads to compulsion difficulties.

All pleasurable experiences release dopamine. Substances like drugs release an intense surge of dopamine into the brain, immediately causing a rush of satisfaction.

The brain “remembers” this surge or satisfaction and drives the individual to seek this experience repeatedly.

Over time, the brain adapts to these surges of satisfaction.

Eventually the surges become less pleasurable and the individual has to take more of the drug or behavior to get the same high.

This is why people with drug addictions tend to take more and more over time. They develop a tolerance.

Eventually, compulsion takes over. The brain remembers the pleasure it once received and continues to seek out this pleasure.

Even though the substance or behavior does not create as much pleasure, the brain remembers.

That’s why someone may want to quit, but is unable. The brain creates “cravings” for this experience due to the memory it has of the experience.

Cravings not only contribute to the addiction of a person, but also to difficulties with recovery.

Just the sight of the substance or something that reminds a person of their addiction can cause intense cravings. This explains why many people will relapse even after years of sobriety.

It’s important to realize that a person with an addiction can’t “Just say no.” They need this substance to survive, or at least their brain thinks so.

What are the signs of being in the stages of addiction?

What are the five stages of behavior change

Recognizing the symptoms of addiction in yourself or a loved one is crucial to getting help.

The most common symptoms are loss of control in the amount of use, cravings and continued use in spite of consequences.

If you recognize these three things, you or your loved one likely have an addiction.

Here are some other things to look for in yourself or a loved one.

These symptoms can happen at any stage of addiction. We will break it down into three categories.

  1. Physical Symptoms

    1. Overly energetic, or under-energetic (depending on the drug)
    2. Repeating what they say over and over
    3. Dilated pupils, red eyes
    4. Excessive sniffing and runny nose, but no cold or flu
    5. Looking malnourished, pale, dark circles
    6. Changes in the way clothes fit
    7. Weight loss
    8. Change in eating habits
    9. Unusual smell or body odor, drop in personal hygiene
  2. Behavioral Symptoms

    1. Missing work/school, or problems at work/school
    2. Missing important engagements
    3. Isolating/secretive about activities
    4. Losing sleep or sleeping for long periods of time
    5. Legal problems
    6. Relationship/marital problems
    7. Financial problems
    8. Constantly talking about drugs/alcohol/other addictions
  3. Emotional Symptoms

    1. Constantly irritable, defensive or argumentative
    2. Unable to deal with stress
    3. Loss of interest in activities/people
    4. Obnoxious
    5. Confused easily
    6. Rationalizing – Giving reasons, excuses and explanations to justify their using
    7. Minimization – Minimizing the seriousness of their problem. Acting like it’s not a big deal
    8. Blaming – Placing the blame for the behavior on someone else or some event in their lives
    9. Diversion – Changing the subject to avoid discussing their addiction or consequences

Remember that addiction is usually progressive.

If it seems like someone is getting worse, and exhibiting more symptoms, they are likely delving deeper in their addiction.

If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, seek help now.

What are the five stages of addiction?

What is the first stage in the cycle of addiction

Experts tell us there are five stages of addiction. You can use these stages to evaluate where you or your loved one is in the stages of addiction.

First use

This is the first time someone tries a substance. It can be something as simple as someone trying their first drink, or take a drag from a cigarette.

Often times this first use is completely legal. It may be a prescription prescribed by a doctor or a person’s first drink at their birthday party.

Either way, it often starts off legal and then develops into a need for more.

Regular use

This begins as a pattern emerges in a person’s use. It may start off as just during the weekends, but a pattern emerges.

The substance or behavior shows signs of great importance in this person’s life.

Risky use

During this phase, people begin using in risky situations. They may come to work drunk or high, or even drive.

Relationships may also begin to deteriorate in this stage, as loved ones start to recognize the amount of substance use.


The substance is used regularly, and if not used the person experiences great discomfort.

The person will likely experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not using the substance.

They need dangerous amounts to obtain “high” and experience cravings.


The person cannot function without the substance.

They experience problems in their life because of the substance but are unable to stop their use.

They may lose work, relationships and housing at this point.

As addiction takes its hold, the person will probably lose interest in activities and feel a complete loss of control in their lives.

The good news is, there is help. Treatment is available for these individuals.

How do I know if I’m ready to beat my addiction?

While loved ones can be helpful in addiction recovery, they cannot instigate recovery for you.

No one can love someone out of addiction. The user has to want it themselves. If you are struggling with addiction there are a few indicators that you’re ready to get help.

You want to change for yourself

Whatever the reason is, you have to want it yourself. Not because your mom or someone else wants it for you.

Maybe you’re ready for better health, or to take control of your finances. Either way, it needs to come from you.

You desire a future free of addiction

If your dreams of the future include a life free from addiction, they may be a sign that you’re ready for treatment.

Ask yourself what you are willing to do to break free. This should give you an answer.

Then it’s time to take the next steps.

Drug Addiction Treatment-How Online Therapy Can Help            

One of the best and most proven ways to get help for addiction is through therapy.

Sometimes though, it can be difficult to see a therapist. Maybe you don’t have time or are embarrassed.

A great way to get started is from home, through online therapy.

Online therapy gives you access to a trained therapist and addiction help, from the comfort of your own home.

It’s a great option for helping with drug addiction and other addiction treatments.

Final Thoughts

Why do we get addicted

Addiction is a serious disease with serious consequences.

Addiction is not a choice that an individual makes, but a choice that is made for them by their brain.

Seeking help through a licensed and trained therapist is an effective way to treat addiction.

>>If you need help, reach out today.<<


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