The cycle of addiction is a complex process that can take months or even years to develop. It begins with experimentation and progresses to substance abuse, dependence, and addiction. Understanding the seven stages of addiction can help identify when someone is at risk of developing an addiction and how to break the cycle before it becomes too late. The first stage of addiction is experimentation.
This does not necessarily mean trying different substances, but rather using the same substance in different scenarios. For example, social drinking may become drinking at home or even in the workplace. The next stage is problem use, where the user begins to experience a lack of control over their substance use and disregard for any negative consequences, such as hangovers or financial burden. Substance abuse is a more serious use problem and often causes the user's body and mind to become dependent on the substance.
This may be due to increased tolerance for prolonged use, abuse of the substance by the user as psychological relief, or even ignoring the warning signs that lead to this point. The American Society for Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a chronic brain disease that affects reward, pleasure, memory and motivation of the brain. It is important to note that addiction does not just arise one day; it is a process that occurs over time due to multiple circumstances aligning. The process of developing addiction tends to occur in a series of stages and often turns into a cycle of addiction, treatment, or withdrawal and relapse.
Sometimes these stages can occur simultaneously; for example, with illicit substances used to feel “high”, even one use is considered abuse. There are many reasons why someone might try a substance in the first place. It could 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 has abused other substances for an extended period of time, they may develop tolerance for the substance. This means that the original dose or use of the substance no longer produces the same physical effect or mental effect and they may increase their dosage or frequency of use in order to recover the original result. Over time, this can lead to intense substance abuse and eventually addiction. If you think you or a loved one may be struggling with addiction, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible.
With certified and experienced motivation and help, individuals can learn to interrupt the cycle of addiction and move toward sustained abstinence that heralds recovery and results in a more positive future. It is important to note that there is no fine line between “casual substance use” and “addiction”; rather there are stages of addiction that progress over time. If you can identify that you are in an early stage of substance abuse, you can break the cycle before total addiction occurs.