What You Need to Know About the 5 Stages of Addiction

Today, more than 40 million people in the United States over age 12 are grappling with an addiction to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. With overdoses on the rise and a growing opioid epidemic affecting millions around the country, it’s more important than ever to be able to spot and treat substance abuse early on.

If you suspect that you or a loved one has a drug problem, it’s important you learn how to recognize the different stages of addiction and the ways to take the proper action against them. Sadly, the path from drug experimentation to a full-blown addiction can easily be a downward spiral. Five major stages of drug addiction manifest along this spiral. Below are some of the most common factors of each phase and recommendations on how to help users that are dealing with the five different stages of drug addiction.

Stage 1: Experimentation

Common signs:

People usually start experimenting with drugs during their teenage years. More than half of first-time drug users try substances before they turn 18 years old. They are often initiated or pressured into trying drugs by a friend, and at this point, they still consider the experience to be fun and entertaining.

More than half of first-time drug users start to experiment with marijuana first. Substance use during this phase is not frequent and typically happens during social gatherings. Experimental users don’t have cravings and feel like they are in total control of their drug use. They can choose to stop using drugs whenever they want and can go for long periods without them.

How to treat this stage:

For some, drug experimentation never leads to substance abuse problems later on. For others, it can be the first step toward establishing a long-term addiction. Monitoring the frequency of drug use early on is an important step toward preventing more routine use in the future.

A good approach early on in drug experimentation is to ask the person why they are experimenting in the first place. If they are using drugs to cope with pain or emotional issues, try offering other solutions to the problem such as counseling or therapy.

Stage 2: Regular Use

Common signs:

At this stage, substance use becomes part of a routine for users. It doesn’t necessarily mean drugs are used on a daily basis, but there is a repeated pattern of behavior such as using drugs every weekend or at every party. Users also may start using drugs repeatedly to help them cope with a particular situation such as when they are stressed out or have feelings of depression.

Regular users no longer need to be in a social setting to do drugs and begin to use substances when they are alone, too. They may also start experiencing drug hangovers the day after doing drugs, which may cause them to miss work or school occasionally. Regular users still appear to function normally but start displaying certain changes in behavior including defiance, depression, aggression, and anxiety.

How to treat this stage:

If a regular user has already tried counseling without positive results, it might be time to try going to an outpatient facility for treatment.

With outpatient care, users typically visit a clinic for regular, scheduled appointments with medical professionals that can last anywhere from one to eight hours. The treatment is similar to what a person would receive at an inpatient facility, but with the added benefit that they do not have to leave their homes.

Outpatient programs include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, stress management, motivational incentives, group therapy, and individual and family therapy.

Outpatient care works best for users who are still in good health, have a stable living situation, and a strong network of supportive loved ones. “The strongest thing that is helpful is having a system of care that can surround the person,” says Dr. Kelly Clark, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).

Stage 3: Risk-Taking Use

Common signs:

During the risk-taking stage, users start to lose control of their drug use and start engaging in dangerous activities to fulfill their habit. Their drug use starts to negatively impact their job performance, grades, personal relationships, and financial well being.

At this hazardous stage, it’s not unusual for users to:

    • Drive under the influence
    • Have unprotected sex
    • Get arrested
    • Lose their job
    • Spend irresponsible amounts of money on substances
    • Break up with partners and end friendships
    • Lie to loved ones

Physical symptoms in a risk-tasking user start to become more noticeable. Risky users often experience changes in weight, problems with memory, and poor coordination skills. Users at this stage often realize they already have a substance abuse problem but might still refuse to get help or treatment, even though they are aware their drug use is negatively affecting their lives. Risk-taking drug users begin to experience intense cravings for drugs, and the possibility of quitting seems much more difficult than it did in the past.

How to treat this stage:

For those in the risk-taking stage, inpatient rehabilitation in a residential setting might be a better option for treatment than therapy and/or outpatient facilities. Users who have started engaging in reckless behavior can benefit from going to a short-term, inpatient program that will help remove them from situations where they are constantly tempted to do drugs. It can also help them avoid negative influences and people who have contributed to their addiction. The length of stay for a user at a short-term inpatient facility can vary anywhere from a few days to up to 30 days.

At an inpatient rehab, users are provided with round-the-clock care including but not limited to: individual counseling sessions, family counseling, group therapy, medical care, and medication management. Inpatient care is recommended for those who feel unable to stop their drug use without being in a safe, supervised, and drug-free environment. Once their inpatient treatment is over, users usually continue their recovery with outpatient care and counseling.

Stage 4: Dependence

Common signs:

Users at this stage have become physically dependent on drugs. Their brain’s chemistry has now become accustomed to regular drug use and is unable to function normally without it. Dependent drug users suffer from constant cravings for substances as well as intense withdrawal symptoms that depend on their drug of choice and can include: nausea, shaking, sweating, muscle pain, rapid heart rate, and even seizures. Dependent users have created a much higher tolerance for drugs and now need much higher doses of the substance than before to get high. These users are aware they are physically and psychologically dependent on drugs, but the possibility of stopping drug use can seem impossible without outside help. Relapse often occurs for users who try to quit substance abuse on their own at this stage.

How to treat this stage:

Once a user has become physically dependent on substances, their body might need to go through drug detoxification first. At a drug detox center, users go through the withdrawal process of drug addiction in a safe, monitored environment. They are also provided with medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms and minimize discomfort. Going through detoxification first increases a user’s chance of staying sober. Those who detox safely from drug dependency are also more likely to seek treatment at inpatient and outpatient facilities immediately after detoxification. Drug detox programs are recommended for users who have become physically dependent on substances and those who have been abusing drugs for long stretches of time.

Stage 5: Addiction

Common signs:

Users in the addiction stage of substance abuse have become completely and utterly dependent on drugs. Addicted users can’t imagine life without using drugs and will do almost anything to get their hands on them. Cravings have become unbearable, and it often feels like the only way to survive is to consume more substances. The search for more drugs dominates a user’s daily activities.Users are compulsively dependent on their drug abuse and can suffer from chronic relapses when trying to quit their substance abuse.

The lives of stage five addicts are often chaotic and out of control.

How to treat this stage:

A variety of treatment options are available for people who have become completely addicted to drugs. A hospital inpatient treatment facility can provide several different levels of care for addicts.

Users who are hospitalized first go through medically supervised detoxes, in which severe withdrawal symptoms are managed and eased. Medications to help manage their addiction, such as methadone and Suboxone may also be provided.

Users are also required to attend individual counseling sessions to understand the root of their addiction and to help them avoid psychological relapses in the future.

Hospital inpatient facilities are beneficial to most substance users but are typically aimed toward users who are addicted to substances with severe withdrawal symptoms and long-term substance abusers.

There are also long-term residential drug treatment programs for those who feel like they need a lengthier, more dedicated type form of treatment. In this type of housing facility, users often stay in treatment for at least 90 days, regularly attending counseling, group therapy, and educational classes on drug abuse. Medication management is also available.

Addiction can seem like a tough battle to fight, but it’s important to know it is possible to overcome. As is the case with most diseases, the sooner an addiction is diagnosed and treated, the higher the chance of recovery. Drug addiction doesn’t have to become a lifelong struggle, with the right amount of support and proper course of treatment, addicts can regain control and live happy and fulfilling lives.

Start Addiction Recovery at Arete

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and would like to explore your recovery options, Arete Recovery can help you today. Call us now at 855-781-9939 or connect with us online to speak with one of our recovery specialists who can match you or your loved one to the right treatments to return to a life of health, sobriety, and fulfillment.

What You Should Know About Benzo Detox

Benzodiazepines, known as “benzos” for short, are medications that depress the body’s central nervous system. Commonly known as sedatives or tranquilizers, they are prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and even severe withdrawal. Occasionally, benzos may be used as an anesthetic before surgery as well.

The benzodiazepine class of drugs includes:

  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Halcion (triazolam)
  • Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
  • Oxazepam (sold under the brand name Serax)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Xanax (alprazolam)

This list is not exhaustive, as about 2,000 benzos have been produced, but only about 15 have been FDA-approved, according to WebMD.

Benzodiazepines enhance the functioning of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is how this type of drug gets its sedative, hypnotic, anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, and muscle relaxant properties. Benzos can be either short-acting, intermediate, or long-acting, making them a flexible type of medication for different treatment conditions.

Handle With Extreme Care

Despite their therapeutic use, benzos are dangerous drugs and should be handled with care. Benzodiazepine addiction is a cause for concern. Data show that benzodiazepine prescriptions have increased considerably in the US, according to an April 2016 study, as well as overdose mortality involving the drugs.

Benzo misuse and abuse is also an issue. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 5 million people age 12 and older in the US had misused benzos in the past year.

Prolonged benzo use can lead to physical and psychological dependence and addiction. This can be the case, whether the user was prescribed the drug by a doctor or abused it recreationally for its sedative effects. The more the drug is taken, the higher the tolerance is for it, and some users’ bodies will adjust to the higher doses.

Once dependence sets in, getting off benzos is difficult. Here are four things to know about the benzo detox and withdrawal process.

Benzo withdrawal can be dangerous

Strong or severe dependence on benzos is not safe. For those who wish to stop their use, be prepared to experience withdrawal symptoms. According to studies of benzo dependence, benzo withdrawal can range from mild-to-severe and can be relatively brief or protracted, depending on factors such as one’s dosage history, the length of time spent taking benzodiazepines, body size and type, medical history, and other characteristics.

Many of the symptoms that emerge during benzodiazepine withdrawal are similar to the symptoms of which the benzos were initially described; benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome can include such symptoms as:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety with or without panic attacks
  • Body aches, pains
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Dizziness and disorientation
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Hot and/or cold flashes
  • Muscle spasms
  • Seizures

 

In the most severe instances of benzo withdrawal, individuals could potentially experience convulsions, a form of delirium tremens, hallucinations, psychosis, urges to shout to lash out, and suicidal ideations.

Benzo withdrawal rarely causes serious illnesses or death, but these medications can be dangerous and deadly if taken with alcohol or other substances. Life-threatening seizures are the biggest risk for people in benzo withdrawal.

Never quit benzos cold turkey

Regular benzo users who want to stop using are strongly advised to a) avoid quitting the drug abruptly, a process known as going cold turkey, and b) seek professional detox treatment to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Serious withdrawal symptoms can include rebound symptoms that made the person take the drug in the first place; those symptoms often return in greater severity, unfortunately.

Detox treatment under the care of licensed health care and mental health care professionals is highly recommended. A monitored withdrawal ensures clients are kept safe and comfortable and that their needs will be met throughout the process.

Tapering has helped some recovering benzo users

For those with a severe benzo dependency, medical personnel might choose to gradually and slowly wean them off the drug, a process called tapering, rather than abruptly cease one’s dosage as part of one’s benzo detoxification treatment.

Although it often takes longer than simply stopping the dosage, tapering allows one’s body to slowly adjust to the gradual decrease and elimination of benzodiazepines from the body without pushing recovering benzo users into immediate, severe withdrawal symptoms that could risk or even threaten their lives.

There are different kinds of tapering methods, and the length of the process may depend on how long the drug has been taken and whether the drug is short-acting, such as Xanax, or long-acting, such as clonazepam (Klonopin). Consult with your health professional to find the one that is right for you or your loved one.

It can take years to work through benzo withdrawal

Some people who have experienced benzo withdrawal say there is nothing quick about it. It depends on the person, but post-acute withdrawal (PAWS) symptoms, which are the emotional and psychological symptoms some recovering users experience after withdrawing from a substance for a prolonged time, can last for years.

Some of these PAWS benzo symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Energy changes
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances

Get enough rest and pay attention to your diet during this time because some foods can trigger withdrawal symptoms or make them worse. These foods include alcohol, artificial sugars, and caffeine, among others. Professional support, as well as support from friends and family, can help recovering benzo users as they manage these symptoms.

Call Arete and Start Your Recovery

To ensure safety and minimize discomfort, it’s important for people with benzodiazepine dependence or addiction to complete a benzo detox under the care of medical professionals. If you or someone you know is suffering from benzo addiction, call Arete Recovery at 855-781-9959 for a free consultation and assessment. We can walk you through your treatment options and help you start your recovery today.