Top 5 stages of Addiction

Top 5 stages of Addiction
Written By: Counselling Psychologist
M.Sc. Psychology - Swansea University, UK.
Reviewed By: Counselling Psychologist
MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA
Last Updated: 02-03-2023

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“We don’t choose to be addicted; what we choose to do is deny our pain”-Anonymous

Addiction is perceived to be an enemy by most and struggling against the same is nothing short of going all-out to a war. Addiction can occur to anyone and at any time without discrimination and can create havoc in the life of the person suffering and those close to the individual. According to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences (APA). People with addiction use certain substances like alcohol or drugs extensively to the point which could result in them losing their lives. Not only is addiction associated with substance abuse but also is seen when people cannot themselves from taking part in activities like gambling, eating, or working. Such a kind is known as behavioral addiction(Medical News Today). Addiction is a chronic disease and can also result from excessive consumption of medications such as painkillers, or sleeping pills. A person suffering from addiction generally becomes dependent on the substance/ activity to cope with their daily life.

Addiction doesn’t happen overnight. There are stages to it as mentioned:

  1. Experimentation: Most people start using a drug or first engage in an activity voluntarily. The usage is infrequent. In the case of teenagers, it has been noticed that consumption of these substances usually starts in response to peer pressure(Stanford Children’s Health). Older people generally do so in response to stressful situations in life or due to the pain of losing a closed one.
  2. Regular use: This stage is characterized by use on a regular basis. The use doesn’t necessarily have to be on a daily basis but there is a pattern to it that becomes predictable such as consuming alcohol in situations of boredom or stress.
  3. Risky use: The user in this stage begins to suffer emotional, social, and physical problems. The damage is visible like adults drinking and driving or teenagers getting bad grades or getting involved speeding tickets. 
  4. Dependence: The dependency on the drug becomes excessive to the point that the consumption still happens despite the fact that it is causing harm to the individual. The tolerance increases significantly by this point which means more of the substance is required to get the same effect. Withdrawal symptoms can be seen if a person tries to cut back.
  5. Addiction: At this stage, the usage is out of control. It is a medical condition resulting in various physiological and psychological changes. Professional help from a health care provider or substance abuse professional is required at this stage. Changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for the drug and make it hard to stop using the drug(APA).

Symptoms of addiction are grouped into 4 categories(APA):

  • Impaired control: A strong urge to use the substance with failed attempts in cutting down the consumption.
  • Social problems: Individuals with substance addiction tend to fail in various tasks at work or school. Leisure activities are cut back on due to this addiction of theirs.
  • Risky use: The substance is used in risky settings despite knowing the fact that it could endanger their lives or cause legal action against them.
  • Drug effects: Larger amounts are required to get the same effect and get withdrawal symptoms if the consumption is cut down on.

According to Psychology Today, there are certain risk factors for the development of substance abuse disorder(Psychology Today):

  • Biological factors:
  1. Genes: Genetic factors can contribute to about half the risk of developing an addiction. For example, a variation in a gene that determines the makeup of the brain receptors for dopamine can be a factor linked to vulnerability.
  2. Gender: Males are more likely to develop substance abuse disorder as compared to their female counterparts.
  • Psychological factors:
  1. Personality factors: Impulsivity and sensation seeking or thrill-seeking have both been linked to substance abuse and gambling disorders.
  2. Trauma and abuse: Various adverse experiences can contribute to an individual developing a substance abuse disorder as turning to these substances can become a coping mechanism for them.
  3. Mental health factors: Conditions like Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic disorder can increase the risk of developing substance abuse disorder.
  • Environmental factors:
  1. Family factors: Having a family member struggling with addiction increases the risk of developing an addiction. Lack of parental supervision can also contribute to the same.
  2. Accessibility: If alcohol or other substances are easily accessible to the person, the risk of repeated use can increase.
  3. Peer group: People are strongly influenced by their surroundings/peers and in general in order to “fit in”, people especially adolescents can indulge in repeated substance use.

Addiction is a treatable condition but recovery often turns out to be a long process. Treatment can involve many components:

  • Medical supervision is required for the person to detox efficiently
  • Medications that reduce or counter the use of illicit substances are suitable for some individuals. Medications can also be given to target co-occurring disorders like depression or anxiety.
  • Motivational interviewing is a short-term counseling process that can be done to motivate them to proceed with the treatment and maybe get an incentive to hold onto for change.
  • Peer support groups can turn out to be of great help. Listening to others who have gone through the same and come out victorious can provide the required motivation.
  • Family therapy can fix the damages in family relations and build more supportive ones.
  • Regular monitoring of progress is a part of the process.
  • Medical services are required to treat withdrawal symptoms.
  • Patients undergo extensive medical and psychiatric screening.
  • Families should be involved to support the patient undergoing treatment.

Addiction treatment is very individual-focused and doesn’t follow a one-size-fits-everyone approach and definitely requires family support. The treatment procedure can be very long and complicated so try and hold on and remember “ Recovery provides everything addiction promises”.



1.      Addiction: Definition, symptoms, withdrawal, and treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2020, from

2.      Winning the War Against Your Addiction. (2012, February 26). Retrieved September 22, 2020, from

3.      (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2020, from

4.      Addiction. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2020, from

5. Elizabeth Hartney, B. (n.d.). Overcoming Addiction: How to Get It Under Control for Good. Retrieved September 22, 2020, from

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