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What are the Phases of Addiction?

The phases of addiction can be split into seven stages. Understanding the cycle of substance addiction can be effective in intervention and care.

Understanding Addiction

Many people don't understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack the willpower or morals to resist and could stop their drug use with a simple choice. In reality, scientific research shows that addiction is a complex disease, and quitting is more complicated than it looks on the surface. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who wish they could.

Is Addiction a Disease?

Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by substance use that is compulsive and difficult to control, despite the harmful effects. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people. Still, repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person's self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs.  

These brain changes can be persistent, which is why drug addiction is considered a "relapsing" disease — people recovering from drug use disorders are at increased risk for returning to drug use even after years of not taking the drug. There are several stages to addiction; it doesn't happen overnight. From the first exposure to regular use, dependence, and then full-scale addiction, there are many chances to turn things around and find a healthier path.[1]

Causes and Risk Factors of Substance Addiction

Scientific research has shown that common causes and risk factors can affect the likelihood and speed of substance addiction . People of any age, sex, or economic status can become addicted to a drug. 

  • Family histories of addiction are not uncommon and likely involve a genetic predisposition. If you have a blood relative with alcohol or drug addiction, you are at a greater risk of developing a drug addiction. 
  • Drug availability can also influence the likelihood of developing an addiction. Regular exposure and opportunity can increase your risk factor.
  • Peer usage can be a strong factor in starting to use and misuse drugs, especially in young people.[2]
  • Socioeconomic status is also a risk factor. Alcohol and marijuana use in young adulthood has been connected to higher childhood socioeconomic status.[3]
  • Environmental factors such as regular exposure can increase the likelihood of addiction.
  • Mental health problems can make you more susceptible to addiction. Using drugs can become a way to cope with painful feelings and can actually make those feelings worse.

What are the Phases of Addiction?

Addiction can be thought of as happening over seven stages. These will be detailed below.

1. Initiation: The first phase of drug addiction is trying the substance. It can be as fast as taking the first drink, smoking a cigarette, or taking prescribed pain pills.

2. Experimentation: Addiction often starts with experimentation. Teenagers are likely to experiment with drugs because of peer pressure or curiosity, although adults aren’t immune to this as well.

3. Regular Use: As people become regular users, their usage will become more persistent and start taking over parts of their life.[4]

4. Tolerance: In this stage, drug use may become a lifestyle rather than a temporary or recreational thing. Repeated use leads to greater tolerance and the need for more frequent use.

5. Dependence: After repeated drug use, there comes a stage where you have built a tolerance to the drug and now begin to crave and rely on it more and more, to the point where you prioritize drug use over other things in life. At this stage, the drug has become a reward for the body, and it starts to crave drugs with greater intensity.

6. Addiction: With full-blown addiction, most of the focus is on how to obtain the next high. At this point, a person with a substance use disorder may be unable to quit even if they want to.[5]

7. Relapse: This is an expected step towards recovery. Healing the brain from the damages of drugs takes time and isn’t linear. 

Different Signs and Symptoms of Substance Addiction

Phases of Addiction

There are different common signs and symptoms of a substance addiction. If you see these in someone you love, they may need assistance. These symptoms are often divided into physical signs, behavioral signs, and psychological signs of substance addiction.

Physical Signs of Substance Addiction

Physical signs of substance addiction can occur in many ways, some more visible than others. Signs to watch out for:6

  • Feeling shaky, depressed, tired, or not hungry
  • Persistent stomach aches or headaches
  • Differences in appearance such as bloodshot eyes, bad breath, shakes or tremors, frequent bloody noses, or weight fluctuations
  • In severe cases, mental confusion, seizures, or fever

Behavioral Signs of Substance Addiction

Behavioral signs can be subtle shifts or large changes. They may look like the following:

  • Taking drugs after it’s no longer needed for a health problem
  • Substance use is hard to stop, even if the desire is present
  • Loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable
  • Trouble with normal daily activities such as cooking or working
  • Borrowing or stealing money to pay for drugs
  • Hiding the drug use or the physical effects
  • Relational difficulties with friends, family, or coworkers
  • A new social group connected with drugs

Psychological Signs of Substance Addiction

Psychological signs of a substance addiction are more personal and easier to disguise. Consider if any of these signs are present:

  • Exaggerated mood swings
  • Difficulty setting limits
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Preoccupation with drugs
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts

Treatment for Substance Addiction in California

After learning more about how addiction starts, you may be wondering how to break the addiction cycle. Thankfully there are many options available. Addiction recovery includes several steps that can apply to different situations. Substance detox is a process of supervised detoxification where a medical team helps manage the symptoms of withdrawal. 

Medication can be a helpful tool as well along the way. Individual therapy and support groups can help you work through the root causes of substance use disorder and discover new coping mechanisms. The team at Genesis Recovery can help you and your family along the journey to freedom from substance addiction.  


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