The 5 Stages of Addiction: Understanding the Cycle of Addiction

The idea that addiction is something that exists in a person's character or it doesn't exist is a misconception. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that affects reward, pleasure, memory and motivation of the brain. It is a process that occurs in a series of stages and, like other chronic diseases, often turns into a cycle of addiction, treatment, or withdrawal and relapse. The stages of addiction are first use, continued use, tolerance, dependence and addiction.

The first step towards addiction is to test the substance. It can be as quick as having the first drink or smoking a cigarette. Or, people may have used drugs in the past without developing a dependency, but are now moving to a more addictive substance. 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.

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, 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.

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. 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. If you think you or a loved one may be struggling with addiction, contact our admissions staff at (22) 300-8470 to discuss our treatment programs or reach out online. 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.

Ginger Baney
Ginger Baney

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