Addiction is a chronic brain disease that affects reward, pleasure, memory and motivation of the brain. It is essential to understand the cycle of addiction and its stages so that medical professionals, friends and family can intervene. The five stages of addiction (first use, continued use, tolerance, dependence and addiction) will show all the signs of addiction in their own way. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. Regardless of how the initial use occurs, it is the first step towards addiction. 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. 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. It is essential to be aware of all these stages so that medical professionals, friends and family can intervene before it's too late. 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.