7 Stages of Addiction: Can You Recognize Risky Substance Use?

The culture in Las Vegas is known for letting loose and is relatively permissive about alcohol and drug use. Unfortunately, this type of substance use can end in drug dependency or addiction. However, the process of addiction follows predictable patterns, known as the stages of addiction. Understanding these stages of drug addiction may allow for an intervention with risky drug use before an addiction develops, or allow for recognition of when drug or alcohol addiction treatment may be needed.

Stages of Addiction

In Nevada, there is no last call. Alcohol is sold around the clock and the availability of illegal drugs such as meth and heroin is relatively widespread. This availability of substances leaves many people facing problems with substance abuse and in some cases, addiction. However, this does not happen suddenly. In fact, the process of addiction often allows for recognizable steps. These stages of addiction provide insight into how substance use disorders develop and may help expose drug use before a full-fledged addiction occurs. Therefore, understanding the stages of addiction is beneficial not only to your own self-awareness of personal substance use, but also in recognizing addiction patterns in those around you. 

What Are the Stages of Addiction?

The number of addiction stages varies from three to seven depending on the source. While some sources flesh out more stages of substance abuse than others, they are all on the same page as to how addiction develops. The full seven stages of addiction are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Initiation
  • Stage 2: Experimentation
  • Stage 3: Regular Use
  • Stage 4: Risky Use   
  • Stage 5: Dependence
  • Stage 6: Addiction
  • Stage 7: Addiction Treatment

Understanding these stages of substance abuse can provide indicators of how involved someone is with drug use. Additionally, they can act as guidelines of what intervention might be most helpful in addressing a budding drug problem.

Stage 1: Initiation

The first stage of addiction is marked by the first time a substance is tried. The initial stage of addiction is most likely to occur during adolescence when the brain is primed for risk-taking. In fact, by the end of high school, the majority of teens will have tried alcohol and half will have taken an illegal drug. Reasons for this aside from biology include a rocky home environment and peer pressure.  Sadly, the earlier that this initial stage of substance abuse occurs, the more like a substance use disorder will develop. 


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Stage 2: Experimentation

The experimentation phase of addiction is characterized by the continued use of drugs or alcohol in different scenarios. For adults, this could involve meeting for happy hours or marking the end of a long week with a buzz. For teenagers, the experimentation stage could include drug use at parties or other social occasions. In any case, during the experimentation stage of addiction cravings have not developed yet, and the person in control over whether or not to use drugs or alcohol. 

Stage 3: Regular Drug or Alcohol Use

Regular Drug Use

A person has entered the regular use stage of addiction when the experimentation stage of substance abuse becomes more routine. This phase is marked by more casual drug or alcohol use, such as using on weekends or to alleviate boredom. At this stage, hangovers may start to damper personal responsibilities, and quitting may become more difficult. However, drug or alcohol dependency or addiction is still not a problem at this stage.

Stage 4: Risky Drug or Alcohol Use

The fourth stage of addiction is risky drug use which stops just short of dependency or a genuine substance use disorder. During risky substance abuse, a person is using drugs or alcohol enough to consistently interfere with other parts of their life. In addition, there may be problems with the law during the risky stage of substance abuse, such as DUIs. A drug tolerance will also develop, in which more of the substance is required to have the desired effect. 

At this stage, the behavior surrounding a person’s substance abuse is likely to be noticed by others at this stage, even if they are not aware that drug use is to blame for the shift in personal habits. 

Stage 5: Drug Dependence

The fifth stage of addiction is characterized by drug dependency which can be either physical, psychological, or a combination of both. 

  • Physical Dependency:
    When physically dependent on drugs or alcohol, the body needs the substance to function normally. At this point, if drug use is abruptly stopped, drug withdrawals will occur.
  • Psychological Dependency:
    A person is psychologically dependent on drugs or alcohol when they believe they need it to function or to manage emotions. This type of dependency leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms that are difficult to change. 

While similar, dependency is not the same as addiction. During the dependency stage of substance abuse, there is still some conscious decision to use drugs or alcohol, albeit limited. Once addicted, the user has little choice but to continue using substances. 

Stage 6: Drug or Alcohol Addiction

The addiction stage of substance use is characterized by the uncontrollable use of drugs or alcohol. Once addicted, a person may withdraw from family, friends, and former hobbies. Alternatively, a functioning addict may give few clues to their addiction. Rather, they are able to meet their day-to-day responsibilities while maintaining a relatively undetectable substance use disorder. 

True addiction is a  diagnosable mental disorder. In general, it is a lifelong condition that is best suited for professional treatment in order to minimize the likelihood of relapse. 

Stage 7: Addiction Treatment

Addiction Treatment

The final stage of addiction is addiction treatment. Addiction is difficult to maintain, and people often hit rock bottom before deciding that they need to make a change. This could entail job loss, eviction, drug overdoses, or some other life-altering event that indicates a loss of control. Fortunately, addiction treatment is available and is an effective method of consulting an addiction. 

Addiction treatment usually includes drug or alcohol detox, behavioral therapy, and medication, if appropriate. The goal is to stabilize a person with substance abuse issues before evaluating the nature of addiction and providing healthier coping techniques. 

Drug Rehab in Las Vegas, Nevada

Addiction is highly individual and the time it takes to progress through the stages of addiction is immensely personal, as well as substance-related. Luckily, there are many effective treatment methods for addiction leaving you with options in how to approach drug treatment.

Listed below are a few of the alcohol treatment therapies available at the Vance Johnson Recovery Center:

In addition, at the Vance Johnson Recovery Center, we commit to providing a continuum of care that will holistically address both your mental and physical health needs. Our continuum of care is also a commitment to support you throughout your recovery journey before, during, and after treatment at VJRC.

Deciding to commit to addiction treatment is a huge step towards recovering from addiction. At the Vance Johnson Recovery Center, you will be fully supported throughout your transition into recovery. To get started, contact one of our admissions specialists at 888-828-2623, or use our confidential online form to ask us anything that comes to mind.

Addiction FAQ

Most addictions process through the stages of addiction. The stages begin with trying the drug and evolve into regular and risky use. From there, tolerance forms at which point the chemistry in the brain is changing. Finally, dependence and addiction take place. 

Alcohol and drug use interferes with the brain’s natural chemistry and function. Simply put, when a drug is used continuously, the brain adjusts its chemical balance to accommodate the presence of the drug. When drug use is stopped, the brain’s chemistry is once again off-balance, and withdrawals may occur. 

There is no surefire way to sidestep cravings. Ultimately, distraction may be the best technique when facing drug cravings. Go for a walk, clean your house, visit a friend, exercise, or engage in any other healthy coping mechanism that steers you away from drug use. 

Las Vegas Addiction Recovery

Located in dynamic Las Vegas, Nevada, the Vance Johnson Recovery Center (VJRC) a 44-bed facility is run by a skilled multi-disciplinary team of medical and behavioral health professionals that includes nurses, counselors, and doctors, along with complementary and alternative medicine specialists to provide our clients with a transformational experience that encompasses mind, body, and spirit. Our approach is holistic and grounded in research and evidenced-based best practices that help people develop the awareness and skills required to achieve and sustain recovery.

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