The five stages of addiction are first use, continued use, tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Addiction affects millions of Americans in the United States every day. Did you know that 21 million Americans (aged 12 and up) required treatment for substance abuse in 2016?

By definition, The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that addiction is a “chronic relapsing brain disease”. It can also be defined by compulsive drug seeking, no matter how painful the consequences are. Addiction can be destroying your life, but you feel like you just can’t stop.

It is important to recognize the severity of addiction and its effects on the community. Not only does it cause the user pain, but those close to them as well. The fight against addiction can only be won if we’re honest with each other. Keep reading to learn more about the 5 stages of addiction.

Signs of Addiction

The five stages of addiction (first use, continued use, tolerance, dependence, and addiction) will all depict signs of addiction in their own way. It’s crucial to understand the cycle of addiction and its stages so medical professionals, friends, and family can step in. 

Mental health, family history of addiction or social environment are all factors that can come into play. Addiction can take form in a variety of different ways. Recognizing the signs early can help you get a head start on the road to recovery. Remember, brighter days can still be ahead.

Some of the first signs of addiction can include:

  • Sacrifices: Experiencing addiction often means giving up hobbies that once brought you joy. Or, not attending fun events or hangouts because the substance won’t be there. In other words, you’re replacing what could have enriched you with a substance.
  • Physical changes in appearance: Depending on the substance of choice, the physical effects may vary. However, almost all addicts look drained. They may look pale and tired, rather than refreshed and awake. With a substance like heroin, addicts may pick at their skin and develop lots of wounds on their faces. 
  • Being secretive: In many cases, a person with a substance use disorder may use the substance alone or in secret.
  • Denial: Those with the most severe problems may not even realize they have one. They might be aware of physical dependence on a substance but refuse to seek treatment.
  • Financial difficulties: Even if the individual didn’t have a lot of money to begin with, this can still be an issue. The addict will find ways to buy the drug or alcohol, despite financial consequences. They make take money from their savings or even resort to stealing.

The Five Stages of Addiction

The stages of addiction are first use, continued use, tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Although each situation is unique, addiction can generally be divided into five segments. These stages of addiction allow us to get a better understanding of what the patient is experiencing. Below, is a more detailed look at each stage. 

1. First Use

Using for the first time can be a result of experimentation or a medication that was prescribed by a physician. It’s rarely something you can expect. It can catch you and your loved ones by surprise. 

During this stage, the individual will now have an understanding of what this particular drug makes them feel like. The first use is like a hook; it pulls you right in. Although one’s intentions may be to never get addicted, that doesn’t always end up being the case. 

Someone may begin using because of mental or emotional issues they must address. During treatment, we’ll assess your reason behind using. Then, we’ll think of solutions on how to target these issues through medical care and therapy.

2. Continued Use

Continued use can also fall into two categories. Continued use can be a result of taking the medication prescribed as a requirement. Florida has a major problem when it comes to the prescription of opiates. Those who would have never tried the drug are now using it to medicate themselves for physical pain. Sometimes they don’t realize that addiction is taking place.

On the other hand, it can be out of interest in using the substance recreationally. Continued use is when it starts to become a habit.

In the continued use stage, a person may also notice that their recovery time becomes longer. Their high is followed by their brain trying to figure out what just happened. It takes the brain longer to chemically repair itself and balance back out during this stage of addiction.

3. Tolerance

Tolerance is often the first warning sign of addiction. Tolerance is when the brain and body have become adjusted to the substance. Now, it takes, even more, to feel the same effect one felt when taking less. Tolerance is typically experienced after the drug has been used for an extended amount of time.

For example, let’s take someone that’s developed a tolerance to a prescription painkiller their doctor prescribed. They may begin to realize that the same dosage no longer alleviates their pain.

4. Dependence

Dependence is a dangerous stage of addiction. At this point, intense withdrawal symptoms may begin. The user will feel the physical effects when the drug isn’t used. In other words, your body builds up a dependency on drugs or alcohol.

Chemically, the brain has become used to the drug or alcohol. This makes the user feel like they “need” it. This is important to understand because, at this point, it’s largely biological. Your body is reacting a certain way that you must learn to cope with.

Withdrawal can even include flu-like symptoms with opiates, or sweats and shakiness with alcohol.

These symptoms may temporarily go away when the substance is back in the picture. With dependence on any substance, one doesn’t feel “normal” if they’re not using. This stage is a sign that addiction is starting to take place.

5. Addiction

Addiction is the last of the five stages. Addicts find it nearly impossible to stop using, despite the severe consequences of the addiction itself. They may even go back and forth between recovery and relapse. 

On the other hand, an addict may also be in denial. They may be completely unwilling to get help in the first place. This is a tough place to be in. However, we want to emphasize that it doesn’t have to stop here.

Things can get better. There’s hope for a better tomorrow. Take control back into your hands today and let us guide you through recovery.

The Five Stages of Addiction Doesn’t Have to Take Over Your Life

To reiterate, the five stages of addiction are first use, continued use, tolerance, dependence, and addiction. We convince ourselves that we’re broken and things are hopeless. However, we can’t assure you that this isn’t the case. There is a tremendous amount of beauty that can come from the most painful part of life. 

From pain comes growth and that growth can catapult you into a much happier life. No matter how hopeless you feel now, you can make a lasting change in your life.

This is Strictly a Guide

Here at 1st Step Behavioral Health, we believe in each patient being unique. As with all chronic diseases, there are variations within the stages. For example, a heavy drinker may develop a dependence but never an addiction. It does depend on the person and the unique situation.

If you need more clarity on the five stages of addiction, don’t hesitate to ask our caring specialists. We understand that learning all of this information can be overwhelming. However, just by choosing to read this you’re already taking a step in the right direction.

Take the First Step With Us Today

We’re ready to guide you through it all. You don’t have to be alone and you certainly don’t deserve to suffer. If we can help you or a loved one in any way, contact us at 1st Step Behavioral Health today. You can also call us at (866) 599-4920.

The five stages of addiction do not have to be part of your or a loved one’s life anymore. Where there is a will, there is away.


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