The Four Stages of Developing Drug Addictions


Not everyone who uses illicit drugs goes on to develop an addiction. For most that do, the loss of control doesn’t happen overnight. They occur gradually over the course of weeks, months, or years of drug use. Read on to find out about the four stages of addiction to learn how it happens and how to spot the signs of a mounting problem before they get to the point they ruin the users lives.

Stage One: Experimentation

The first step down the path toward addiction sounds harmless, but it’s not. The experimentation phase is when people decide to start using mind-altering substances. Some do it just to see what the big deal is, while others feel pressured to experiment with drugs because their friends or others in their social circles are doing it. Either way, it opens a gateway to additional drug use, which can eventually lead to a debilitating addiction.

Stage Two: Regular or Social Use

Those who continue to use recreational drugs may not get hooked or suffer irreparable harm immediately, but by continuing their patterns of drug use, they are placing themselves at a much greater risk of developing a substance use disorder. Regular drug use, even if it’s only occasional or in social contexts, increases consumer tolerances and makes it more likely that they will become physically dependent on the substances or develop a true addiction to them.

As a consumer’s tolerance to drugs increases, he or she stops experiencing the same effects. Many drug users begin escalating their use at this point in an attempt to chase the feelings they experienced the first time they tried a substance.

Stage Three: Problem Use

This stage begins when drug users start experiencing negative repercussions from their substance use. It may cause harm to their health, social lives, careers, schooling, family lives, or other areas. The effects are different for everyone, but what all people who go on to develop physical addictions have in common is that they continue to use drugs despite the negative effects doing so has on their lives.

People struggling with this stage of drug addiction still don’t usually recognize what’s going on. Many use drugs only on weekends or only at night and are not yet physically dependent on them at this point. That doesn’t mean they aren’t causing harm or that users aren’t placing themselves, often unwittingly, at an ever-increasing risk of developing a true addiction.

Stage Four: Physical Addiction

Continuing to use mind-altering drugs makes developing a true drug addiction almost inevitable. The longer people use drugs, even only on weekends, only at night, only with friends, or with other caveats, the more likely it is that they will become physically dependent to those drugs and allow the substances to take over their lives. When it gets to the point where the user is no longer able to stop taking drugs or cut back on his or her use alone, that person is said to be addicted.

What to Do Now

Know it’s time to seek help with drug addiction, but not sure how to get started? The best thing to do is to call a rehab center that can help. Don’t wait until drugs have completely ruined a perfectly good life. Call to schedule an intake evaluation as soon as it’s apparent that there’s a real problem.


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