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.

7 Reasons Why People in Early Recovery Relapse

The disease of addiction can happen to anyone under a number of different circumstances. For some, the precursor to addiction involves abusing medication prescribed for legitimate conditions, rendering the medicine less effective as the body becomes increasingly dependent.

Others become curious about recreational substance abuse, which leads them to embark on a journey of increasingly frequent intoxication and the development of physical dependency. No matter how it occurs, alcohol and drug addiction take hold of a person, and it can be difficult for him or her to break free.

Fortunately, individuals in active addiction can overcome the chronic, progressive disease through treatment. Addiction treatment will vary from one person to the next, depending on each individual’s recovery needs, but most addiction treatment programs include counseling and psychotherapy, group sessions, life skills therapy, support groups, and any number of complementary or holistic treatments.

However, although rehabilitation has allowed many to return to sobriety, treatment is not a cure-all for addiction and its many effects. In fact, it’s often said that the real work and effort individuals put into their recovery actually begins after completing a treatment program and returning home.

Early recovery relapse is an ever-present danger, requiring the strength of will and conviction as well as a support network and other essential resources. When relapse occurs, it’s often found to have been preventable with sufficient resources. As such, here are seven common reasons that individuals give when they go through an early recovery relapse.

1. Stress & Anxiety

One of the most common triggers for relapse at any point in recovery is stress. When individuals in recovery experience hardships—difficulties at work, financial trouble, family problems, and so on—they often recall all those times of using alcohol or drugs as a way to cope. Using addictive substances as a coping mechanism for years or even decades can be an incredibly difficult habit to break. As such, an important part of recovery is learning effective, healthy alternatives to substance abuse and ways of dealing with stress and anxiety, such as meditation and other calming techniques.

2. Socializing with Substance Abusers

People in active addiction tend to mostly socialize with other substance abusers. It’s common for those who develop an addiction to stop socializing with their previous, non-addicted friends in favor of individuals they associate with alcohol or drug abuse. In some instances, these new friends can be sources for obtaining substances of choice.

However, after completing an addiction recovery program, it can be difficult to simply cease contact with the individuals that comprise most of one’s social circle. Unfortunately, individuals in early recovery sometimes try to socialize with their old, substance-abusing friends, which puts them in situations where they are tempted to have an early recovery relapse.

3. Complacency in Recovery

There’s a common misconception that completing an addiction treatment program means one has finished recovery and is safe from falling back into the throes of addiction. The pretense of this misconception is that recovery is a task that one starts and finishes like any other task, which can result in complacency after graduating from a treatment program.

Individuals who have become complacent in recovery underestimate many risks and fail to keep up with their continued recovery, becoming increasingly absent at support groups and psychotherapy. As such, it’s important for individuals to remain aware that they must put ongoing effort into recovery to continue their success.

4. Becoming Extremely Tired or Overworked

When in active addiction, exhaustion is a common trigger for substance abuse, much like feelings of stress and anxiety. In recovery, feeling tired and overworked often remains a trigger, putting individuals at risk for relapse. Much like children, being extremely tired can make people emotional and impulsive, prone to making poor or regrettable decisions. It’s important for those in recovery not to overwork themselves or push themselves too far, especially to the point where they feel fatigue.

5. Boredom

Much like the saying goes, idle hands can sometimes be prone to poor decisions. In fact, substance abuse often starts as merely something to do and a way to kill time while blowing off steam. When people in addiction recovery regain their sobriety, feeling bored can evoke memories of the times when they’d alleviate their boredom with alcohol or drug intoxication.

As such, individuals in early recovery should pursue interests and develop hobbies outside the realm of substance abuse, allowing them to occupy their downtime with enjoyable pursuits that aren’t harmful to themselves or others.

6. Holidays

To an addicted person, there’s never a bad time for substance abuse. Individuals who have alcohol or drug dependency often abuse mind-altering substances during times of celebration: birthdays, Christmas, Independence Day, anniversaries, and many other occasions. Unfortunately, many individuals begin to associate celebration with intoxication during active addiction, which can be a difficult association to break.

As such, remaining sober during the holidays can be difficult for those in early recovery, especially since these individuals have likely not experienced sobriety during a holiday gathering in some years. However, having someone else who is sober attend holidays gathering with the individual in early recovery has proven to be especially helpful. Those in early recovery must simply learn, or relearn, that one mustn’t be intoxicated to celebrate.

7. Isolation

Similar to how boredom can lead to early recovery relapse, being isolated and lonely can make individuals susceptible to relapse as well. Feeling isolated can make individuals feel like they don’t matter or that nobody cares about them. Connecting with others can be an important part of maintaining sobriety. In fact, developing a support network is considered an essential part of lasting recovery. When feeling isolated, individuals in early recovery should contact a sponsor or loved one or perhaps attend a support group meeting to refrain from relapsing.

Help Avoid Early Relapse with Arete Recovery

Relapse is an ongoing risk when in early recovery. However, it’s a risk that can be prevented in many effective ways. If you or someone you love is battling with addiction and would like to explore 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.