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What Are the 5 Stages of Drug Dependence?

Identifying the development of drug dependence and addiction is one of the most effective ways to know when to intervene and stop the individual from continuing down the rabbit hole. The most recent diagnosis materials for mental health conditions consider drug dependence as part of substance use disorder, or SUD, which is the official term for addiction.

The 5 stages of dependence and addiction are:

  • Experimentation/first use
  • Continued use
  • Tolerance
  • Physical dependence
  • Addiction

Addiction is considered to be a chronic relapsing brain disease meaning the symptoms can emerge later on in life even after successful treatment. While cravings and impulses can be lifelong, they are greatly diminished and then dealt with in a healthy way following a comprehensive treatment program. It’s important to recognize the signs of drug dependence and addiction to address them sooner rather than later.

Common Signs of Addiction

Addiction looks different between every impacted individual. That being said, there are a handful of signs consistently found in those developing an addiction. The earlier addiction is spotted, the earlier recovery can begin. If you suspect yourself or a loved one is becoming addicted to drugs, see if you notice any of the following:

  • Changes in physical appearance and health
  • Reclusive behavior or hiding what they’re doing
  • Hobbies being dropped in pursuit of drug use instead
  • Denial of their actions
  • Financial and professional difficulties

Any of these signs can be indicative of drug dependence, abuse or addiction. Never blatantly accuse someone of drug use. Simply offer help with whichever sign of addiction you’ve noticed. Knowing the signs lets you better understand what addiction is and how to help with the stages of it.

The Stages of Drug Dependence and Addiction

The five stages are divided based on when the drug use experience changes for the individual. A deeper understanding of the process gives treatment centers the information they need to improve on treatment methods and services.

1. Experimentation/First Use

Not every drug dependence story starts with an illegal substance. The first time a drug is used can be with a prescription medication. Opioid painkillers are often prescribed to individuals despite their likelihood of forming a dependence and later an addiction within the patient.

2. Continued Use

Continued use of a drug can also be split into illicit and prescription uses. Long-term treatment for conditions such as cancer come with chronic pain that needs to be managed through painkillers. These individuals aren’t continuing their usage for recreational purposes but still develop the same drug dependence as if they were.

3. Tolerance

Using a specific drug over a period of time leads to the development of tolerance. Tolerance is the body’s natural response to prolonged exposure of an external substance. It learns how to function with it around which makes the user require more of the substance in order to achieve the same effect as before. Tolerance leads to more drug consumption and even worse dependence.

4. Drug Dependence

Drug dependence is the stage at which addiction starts becoming potentially fatal. Dependence starts when the brain and central nervous system fully change how their complete basic functions in order to accommodate the presence of drugs. When drug use ends, the body goes into overdrive trying to learn how to function in a sober state again. This leads to withdrawal symptoms that can be life-threatening if left unaddressed.

5. Addiction

The final stage is full-blown addiction where individuals are unable to stop drug use despite negative consequences. Drug use becomes the top and often only priority for them and other aspects of life will suffer because of it. Relationships become strained, job or school performance suffers and individuals believe they’ll never be able to stop.

Start Your Recovery at ARC Today

No matter what stage of addiction you’re at, treatment is always the best way forward. Recovery at America’s Rehab Campus is tailored to your specific needs and goals for your sober future. Medically-assisted detox creates a safe and comfortable setting for getting through withdrawals thanks to 24/7 medical supervision.

Our team of compassionate recovery experts is available to answer any questions about accepted insurance including-Blue Cross Blue Shield and many more, treatment plan options, aftercare details and anything else you may be wondering. Take a moment to reach out to ARC to get started!