Sometimes there is a perception that addiction is something that exists in a person's character or it doesn't exist. However, the reality is a little more complex than that. As defined by the American Society for Addiction Medicine, addiction is a chronic brain disease that affects reward, pleasure, memory and motivation of the brain. Like many chronic diseases, it doesn't just arise one day.
Often, several circumstances align that, over time, cause a person who would otherwise enjoy the occasional drink or avoid substance abuse to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Multiple stages of addiction can occur in a short period of time, or they can take months or even years to develop. A person who has only had an occasional drink may, over the years, develop a habit that can develop into alcoholism. It can be as seemingly benign as getting a prescription for pain management or a mental health problem, as culturally typical as trying a first drink at age 21, or as insidious as being pressured by friends or family to try illicit drugs.
Regardless of how the initial use occurs, it is the first step towards addiction. When a person has been taking a prescription medication or abusing other substances for an extended period of time, the substance can cause changes in the brain that result in tolerance, a condition described by the Merck Manuals as one in which the original dose or use of the substance no longer produces the same physical or mental effect. As a result, the person using the substance may increase the dosage or frequency of use to try to recover the original result. For a while, this could work.
Then, over time, tolerance to this new dose occurs, and the person increases again, creating a progression to intense substance abuse. However, if the person has been using a medication to treat another condition and becomes dependent on that drug to feel good regardless of the condition being treated, it may be a type of dependence that leads to addiction. In general, experiencing 2-3 of these symptoms is considered a mild substance use disorder. Reporting 4 to 5 of them leads to a diagnosis of a moderate disorder. If the person experiences 6 or more of the symptoms, it is considered to indicate a serious substance use disorder or addiction.
A person may make several attempts to stop using a substance before realizing that addiction is a factor. However, when addiction is diagnosed, it is possible to interrupt this cycle of addiction, withdrawal and relapse by receiving professional treatment supported by research that demonstrates your ability to help. Multiple methods, including cognitive and behavioral therapies, group peer support, and other physical and mental health treatments, can encourage the person to develop tools to manage this chronic and recurrent condition. With certified and experienced motivation and help, these individuals can learn to interrupt the cycle of addiction and move toward sustained abstinence that heralds recovery and results in a more positive future. An addiction doesn't form spontaneously during the night.
Instead, it is the result of a long process of repeated substance abuse that gradually changes the way a person views a drug and the way their body reacts to it. This process is linear and has the same progression for each person, although the duration of each step in that progression can differ greatly depending on the person, the dose, and the type of drug being abused. Because this process follows a pattern, it is possible to divide it into the stages of an addiction, starting with a person's first use and leading to the addiction itself. While there is some debate about how many stages there are for addiction, seven is one of the most popular numbers to chart the process. Understanding each stage and the behaviors associated with each of them is a valuable way to identify when someone is at risk of suffering from an addiction or has already developed it. As each stage progresses, so do the dangers associated with drug use, as the ability to stop using it becomes much more difficult.
The Seven Stages Of Addiction
- Experimentation: The user has stopped testing the drug on their own and is now taking it in different contexts.
- Regular Use: The user begins using regularly.
- Risky Use: The user begins taking risks with their drug use.
- Dependence: The user becomes dependent on drugs.
- Addiction: The user develops an addiction.
- Relapse: The user relapses after trying to quit.
- Recovery: The user seeks help for their addiction.
Addiction Rehab treatments are designed to help individuals learn how to manage their chronic substance use disorder and reduce their chances of relapse in drug use. With certified and experienced motivation and help from professionals who understand how best to treat addiction cycles, individuals can learn how best to manage their condition and move towards sustained abstinence that heralds recovery and results in a more positive future.