Learn the 5 stages of substance abuse

Generally, substance abuse is a difficult topic to talk about. Many people have been affected in some manner by drugs and alcohol, yet the stigma surrounding the condition continues to suppress a public dialog on programs to improve treatment options and get those struggling with substance abuse into detox centers. In many ways, openly talking about drugs and alcohol can be an effective means to educate people from starting or continuing down a self-destructive path.

Understanding just how that path looks can be another effective way to inform people about how a pattern of addictive behavior occurs. While addiction affects every person in different ways, the five stages of substance abuse are a general guideline for how even casual use can transform into behavior that may not be easily controlled.

1. Experimentation
The first stage of substance abuse is also the most innocuous. Many people’s first exposure to potentially addictive substances begins as a social event. Teenagers may drink at parties or with friends, while adults may dabble with drugs just for the experience.

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For many people who are able to control their intake of drugs and alcohol, their experience with substance abuse does not progress past this stage. However, StopMedicineAbuse.org explained that others may find themselves rationalizing more regular drug or alcohol consumption as within their ability to regulate it.

2. Regular use
Once a person has progressed past the experimentation phase, regular use of drugs and alcohol ensues. This may include drinking or consuming drugs only on weekend or other periods of downtime. People may often miss the fact the their consumption has increased because they are doing it in the company of other people.

This second stage is also where drug and alcohol use begins to affect people’s lives. Collateral damage from substance abuse such as falling grades in school or missed social engagements may be examples of this.

3. Risky use
With the onset of the third stage, serious collateral complications begin to manifest as people’s normal lives clash with the instability of substance abuse. While some may think that a drink or two after work is harmless, they may not be able to realize that they are too drunk to drive. Teenagers may see their grades fall precipitously and their group of friends change drastically.

The University of Rochester Medical Center explained that even though people may acknowledge that drugs or alcohol are beginning to affect their lives, they may balk at attempts to decrease their substance consumption or to get them help.

4. Dependence
The fourth stage of substance abuse is where things begin to take a serious turn. Dependence means that while no physical changes have taken place in the chemical makeup of the brain, people will continue to drink and use drugs regardless of the impact to their health, job, friends or anything else.

Dependence may be characterized by higher doses or increased potency of substances to overcome a growing tolerance and withdrawal symptoms without a constant supply.

5. Addiction
At the final stage, a chemical change has taken place within the body so no matter how hard people may try, giving up the substance of choice is almost impossible without help. People in this stage may experience sudden and intense cravings for drugs or alcohol and will act on these cravings until they go away.

While the picture of substance abuse may seem dark, addiction treatment centers across the country are staffed by professionals with the expertise necessary to help anybody move from a habit of addiction to a healthier and more fulfilling life.

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  1. “4 Stages Of Drug Addiction: From Experimentation To Full Blown Dependency”. The Dawn Wellness Centre And Rehab Thailand, 2017, https://thedawnrehab.com/blog/four-stages-of-drug-addiction/. Accessed 5 July 2020.
  2. “Stages Of Addiction – Discovery Place”. Discovery Place, 2020, https://discoveryplace.info/stages-addiction/. Accessed 5 July 2020.
  3. Staff, Casa. “The Four Stages Of Drug Addiction”. Casa Palmera, 2009, https://casapalmera.com/blog/the-four-stages-of-drug-addiction/. Accessed 5 July 2020.

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