What are the 5 stages of the addiction cycle?

The five stages of addiction (first use, continued use, tolerance, dependence and addiction) will show all the signs of addiction in their own way. It is essential to understand the cycle of addiction and its stages so that medical professionals, friends and family can intervene. Each of these stages will show symptoms of addiction development, but will only be noticed if you are interested in what to look for. The most important symptoms to watch out for include overexperimentation, constant use in daily life, changes in behavior, physical side effects that represent increasing dependence and, of course, an inability of a loved one to stop using.

Sometimes there is a perception that addiction is something that exists in a person's character or it doesn't exist. This idea may lead to the belief that a person who is struggling with addiction to a substance may have had a drink or tried an illicit drug once and immediately became addicted. 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. The process of developing addiction in this case tends to occur in a series of stages and, like other chronic diseases, often turns into a cycle of addiction, treatment, or withdrawal and relapse. 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. If you think you or a loved one may be struggling with addiction, let us hear your story and help you determine the path to treatment. Sometimes, these stages can occur simultaneously. For example, for illicit substances used to feel “high”, even one use is considered abuse.

Some of these illicit substances can also result in tolerance within one or two uses. However, in most cases, all of these steps are part of the chronic cycle of addiction. There are many reasons why the person who ends up struggling with an addiction might try the substance to begin with. 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. However, even these risk factors won't necessarily lead to the high-risk person developing a substance use disorder, such as addiction. Other contributing factors often take into account, including later stages of addiction. When a person has been taking a prescription medication or has abused 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 effect 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. As with medications and therapies used to treat asthma and diabetes, addiction rehabilitation treatments are designed to help a person learn to manage a chronic substance use disorder and reduce the likelihood of relapse in drug use. 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. If circumstances align and the person continues to take the drug, they may soon find themselves in the second stage of addiction.

In the experimentation stage, the user has stopped testing the drug on their own and is now taking the drug in different contexts to see how it affects their life. In general, at this stage, the drug is related to social actions, such as experiencing pleasure or relaxing after a long day. For teens, it's used to improve the party atmosphere or manage the stress of schoolwork. Adults enter into experimentation mainly for pleasure or to combat stress.

During Stage 2, there is little or no desire to use the drug and the person will continue to make a conscious decision whether to use or not. They can use it impulsively or in a controlled way, and the frequency of both options depends mainly on the nature of the person and the reason they consume it. There is no dependency at this time, and the individual can still easily stop the medication if they so choose. As a person continues to experiment with a substance, its use normalizes and moves from periodic to regular use.

This doesn't mean that they use it every day, but rather that there is some kind of pattern associated with it. The pattern varies by person, but some cases may be that they take it every weekend or during periods of emotional distress such as loneliness, boredom, or stress. At this point, social users can begin taking their chosen medication on their own, in turn eliminating the social element of their decision. Drug use can also become problematic at this time and have a negative impact on the person's life.

For example, the person might start showing up for work hungover or high after a night of drinking alcohol or marijuana. There is still no addiction at this time, but the individual is likely to think about the chosen substance more often and may have begun to develop a mental dependence on it. When this happens, quitting smoking becomes more difficult, but it's still a manageable goal without outside help. With stage 4, the person's regular use has continued to increase and now often has a negative impact on their life.

While a periodic hangover at work or an event is acceptable for Stage 3, in Stage 4, instances like that become a regular occurrence and their effects become apparent. Many drinkers are arrested for driving while intoxicated at this time, and it is likely that all users will see their work or school performance being significantly affected. Frequent use can also lead to financial difficulties where they didn't exist before. The hallmark of entering Stage 5 is that a person's drug use is no longer recreational or medical, but rather because they become dependent on the substance of choice.

This is sometimes seen as a broad stage that includes forming a tolerance and dependence, but by now, the individual should have developed a tolerance by now. As a result, this stage should only be marked by a dependence, which can be physical, psychological, or both. For physical dependence, the individual has abused the chosen drug long enough for their body to adapt to its presence and learn to trust it. If use is stopped abruptly, the body will react by going into retreat.

This is characterized by a negative rebound full of uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous symptoms, which must be handled by medical professionals. In most cases, people choose to continue using it, rather than seeking help, because it's the easiest and quickest way to avoid withdrawal. With some medications, especially prescription medications, the individual can enter this stage through psychological dependence before a physical one is formed. When this happens, the individual believes that they need the medication in order to function as a normal person.

Here, the drug commonly becomes a coping mechanism for difficult times, and then extended to cases where it really shouldn't be needed. For example, a patient taking pain relievers may begin to over-medicate, as they perceive moderate pain as severe pain. In either case, the individual takes the medication because they have come to an understanding that they need it in some way to continue throughout life. Once this mentality takes hold, addiction is almost certain.

Dependence and addiction are words that are sometimes used interchangeably, and although the words are similar and are often connected in drug use, they are different. One of the biggest differences is that when a person develops an addiction, their drug use is no longer a conscious choice. Until that time, it remains at least a shadow of one. People at this stage feel that they can no longer cope with life without having access to their chosen medication and, as a result, lose total control of their choices and actions.

Behavioral changes that began during Stage 4 will grow to extremes, and the user is likely to give up old hobbies and actively avoid friends and family. They may compulsively lie about their drug use when asked and quickly become agitated if their lifestyle is threatened in any way. Users, at this point, may also be so disconnected from their old life that they don't recognize how their behaviors are harmful and the effects it has had on their relationships. Another term for addiction is substance use disorder, which is an accurate description because it is a chronic illness that will present life-long risks.

Even after a person stops using a medication and has undergone treatment, there will always be a danger of relapse. This means that one must commit to a complete lifestyle change, to maintain one's recovery life. The final stage of addiction is the breaking point in a person's life. Once here, the individual's addiction has gone out of control and now represents a serious danger to their well-being.

It is sometimes referred to as the crisis stage, because at this point the addict is at greatest risk of suffering a fatal overdose or other dramatic life event. Of course, while the crisis is the worst case scenario for this stage, there is also a positive alternative that fits here. Whether on their own or as a result of a crisis, many people seek help for the first time in a rehabilitation center to begin treatment. As a result, this stage can mark the end of your addiction, as well as the beginning of a new life without drugs or alcohol, which is full of hope for the future.

Have you been able to identify with any of the seven stages discussed today? If so, it may be time to seek professional help from an addiction treatment center. At Brookdale Addiction Recovery, we can provide you with the individualized care you deserve, through our patient-centered treatment approach. As each patient enters our program, they undergo a thorough evaluation by our medical and clinical team to develop comprehensive treatment plans tailored to their needs. The 5 Stages of Grief Include Denial, Anger, Negotiation, Depression, and Acceptance.

Later, Kübler-Ross said that these emotions did not necessarily have to occur in a linear way, but rather that they were the most common emotions during periods of grief. This can co-occur with the withdrawal stage (which in itself can cause depression) as the person begins to feel the absence of the drug and is also reflected in the harm they have done to themselves and others. People receiving treatment and recovering with acceptance may find themselves experiencing stress in the future that will encourage them to negotiate, for example, “I can have just one drink. Everyone on the path of addiction goes through 5 different stages of the addiction cycle.

This starts with experimentation and moves on to regular drug use. Riskier methods of drug use will then begin, leading to drug dependence and, eventually, drug addiction. Understanding the stages of addiction can help you recognize potential problems as they grow, whether in a loved one or in yourself. .


Ginger Baney
Ginger Baney

Subtly charming food specialist. Extreme internet ninja. Unapologetic sushi lover. Avid coffee lover. Typical food buff.