Stages of Drug Addiction

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Defining distinct stages in the process of becoming addicted to drugs is a difficult thing to do. Not only do authorities not agree on an exact number of stages, or what those stages comprise, but everyone’s personal experience with addiction differs, also. Some people may take years to reach full-blown addiction, while others may do so much, much more quickly.

The following four stages of drug addiction are meant to be a very high-level guide of the process. Some people might spend months in stage 1 or 2, each of which could be broken down into sub-stages of its own, while others might skip a stage or two. As usual, take such information with a grain of salt and trust your own judgment.

  1. Experimentation
    This is the stage where you choose to use drugs, and suffer no social or legal consequences for doing so. It can happen once or multiple times, and can serve as a way to enjoy the social aspects of using the drug or to deal with a problem. Many people will stop here. Those that don’t eventually move into regular use.
  2. Regular Use
    Regular users do not develop an addiction or physical dependency, and could stop on their own at will. But where experimentation is sporadic and (typically) infrequent, regular use is not. Regular users are at an increased risk of violence or dangerous accidents, and may show early symptoms of anxiety or depression.
  3. Abuse
    Many authorities consider regular use and abuse to be the same stage. People arrive at this point when they continue regular use in the face of severe social and legal consequences. Critically, this is the first stage where physical signs of addiction begin to appear, including craving the drug in question and showing signs of irritation and agitation if it’s not being used.
  4. Dependency and Addiction
    This stage represents full-blown physical and psychological dependence and addiction. Drug users in this stage continue to abuse the drug in spite of negative effects to their health, relationships, finances, and job security. Threats such as legal action and social ostracism are no longer enough to dissuade the individual.

Some people think that if they’re only in the first or second of the stages of drug addiction, they’re “safe” and can continue their behavior. What’s important to realize is how quickly one stage can lead to another. There is a huge risk that by not seeking help early enough, you may no longer be able to down the road.

There are many good professionals and programs available to treat drug addiction at any stage. Addressing your problems earlier rather than later can save you from a lot of suffering.

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