5 stages of addiction

What Are the Stages of Addiction?

This entry was posted on .

At what point does someone have a drug or alcohol addiction? The definition varies among individuals, but in general, professionals agree substance abuse becomes a problem when someone cannot control their consumption. There are stages of addiction a person goes through, which can lead to needing addiction treatment. Orange County, fortunately, has many top-rated rehabilitation centers to serve those who struggle with addiction.

Understanding the signs of substance abuse can help you, or someone you love, seek necessary treatment. The signs of a substance use disorder include wanting to stop, being unable to, struggling with powerful cravings, and experiencing distressing withdrawal symptoms without the substance.

While addiction is different for everyone, there are similarities to every person with a substance use disorder experience. This trajectory outlines the common path most people take when they begin using drugs or drinking before finding themselves wrestling with an addiction.

Stages of Addiction – Stage 1: Experimenting and Social Use

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion estimates around 22 million Americans ages 12 and up who have a drug or alcohol abuse disorder. [1]

Adolescents are the group most likely to try drugs and alcohol. Peer pressure, environmental influences, and images presented in the media often portray various substances as “cool” and exciting. The younger someone begins smoking, drinking, or taking drugs, the higher risk they face developing an addiction.

More than 90 percent of people with a drug or alcohol addiction started using when they were still a minor. [2] At any age, early substance abuse begins without any physical or mental attachments. The person only consumes for fun, typically in social settings.

Stage 2: Regular Use

When someone starts to develop a dependency, they will need to use a drug more often. This is often not possible when someone only takes drugs or drinks socially. It is when one begins to start using on their own addictive habits develop. Increased social outings and personality changes could mask the need to use more frequently. To hide their strong desire to drink or use, a person may start going out more often or hanging out with new people.

Conversely, an individual could also become more withdrawn and isolate themselves to keep their usage a secret. Personality changes and uncharacteristic behaviors are typically the first signs that lead friends and family to notice that something is off.

Stage 3: Risky Using

As risk-taking behaviors increase, a person becomes more desperate to acquire substances. Risky behavior can be related to locating and purchasing illegal substances, such as stealing, or they can be caused by intoxication. Criminal behavior, dangerous sexual activity, even emotional outbursts, and instability can be linked to a developing addiction.

At this stage, it can be challenging for anyone to reason with someone about their usage as they are likely to become defensive. They may say others are attacking them or blame their consumption on outside factors, saying they need it to manage their mental illness, cope with stress or grief, or alleviate pain.

Stage 4: Dependence

When someone has become mentally and/or physically dependent on a substance, they cannot feel normal without it. People with depression and anxiety disorders are at a higher risk of developing addictions as they often turn to substances to self-medicate. Unfortunately, this starts a vicious cycle of mental illness that can be difficult to escape. Drugs may seemingly numb a person’s pain, but they also worsen the symptoms of mental illness overall.

Dependency can also be strongly rooted in a person’s ability to function physically. To maintain their balance, someone will begin to make excuses and avoid responsibilities. They may become detached in relationships or experience a decline in work or school performance.

Stage 5: Addiction

If not realized early, the stages of addiction can lead to physical dependency. Illegal drugs and prescription drugs are both highly addictive and prevalent in the United States. The opioid epidemic has stolen thousands upon thousands of lives and ravaged families throughout the country. In 2018, 70 percent of the 67,367 drug-related deaths were caused by opioids. [3]

Substance use disorders range from mild to severe. When a person is diagnosed, doctors and mental health professionals will use a screening tool to determine the severity of a person’s problem. Before people admit they have an addiction, most suffer and lose an incredible amount. They may have been arrested, been kicked out of their home, lost their job, or destroyed close relationships.

Addiction is a cycle, and that cycle cannot be broken without self-awareness. Despite the overwhelming presence of substance abuse, only around 10 percent of people get treatment each year. [4] Interventions can help guide people toward accepting their problem, and rehab can be the opportunity they need to heal and regain control over their lives.

Stages of Addiction & Finding Help

You may know someone who may need addiction treatment. Orange County residents should contact their local hospital or visit us online at www.OceanHillsRecovery.com if you or someone you love needs help.

If you found this information helpful, please consider sharing this infographic with a friend.

5 Stages of Addiction (Infographic)



[1] https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/leading-health-indicators/2020-lhi-topics/Substance-Abuse

[2] https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/addiction-statistics/

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

[4] https://disturbmenot.co/addiction-statistics/

About the author: