What Are The Stages of Addiction?

in Addiction
Published Jul 9, 2021
stages of addiction

Addiction can sneak up on people because it often occurs gradually, and they might not even be aware of it happening. There are five main stages of addiction: when an individual begins trying a substance for the first time, begins to use it regularly, begins to use it in a dangerous or risky way, becomes dependent upon it, and then is addicted to it. It is essential to recognize these stages to avoid one’s substance use getting to the point of dependence. 

The Stages of Addiction, Stage One: Experimentation

The first stage of addiction is the experimentation phase. During this time, an individual will try the substance for the first time, whether it be a type of drug, alcohol, or even a cigarette. Often this occurs in college or even in the teenage years. The individual may have been peer pressured into engaging in substance use by their friends. It is difficult to determine at this early stage whether or not the individual will have a substance use problem in the future because each person reacts to different substances differently. 

Stage Two: Regular Use

The second stage of addiction is regular use. During this time, substance use has become a regular part of the individual’s life. Maybe they typically engage in substance use on the weekends or with friends. They don’t necessarily have to be using every day or even using heavily. They may only use once or twice a week. At this point, it can still be difficult for outsiders to tell if someone has a problem with substance use, especially if they appear to be functioning as usual. 

Stage Three: Risky or Dangerous Use

The third stage is risky or dangerous use. During this point, the individual’s substance use has begun to cause problems in their day-to-day lives. They might struggle to keep up with daily responsibilities or perform at a decreased level at school or work. They might be withdrawing from friends or family or showing physical or mental differences. 

Stage Four: Dependence

The fourth stage of addiction is dependence. When individuals depend on a substance, they will continue to use it even though they know it is causing problems in their lives and putting strain on their relationships with others. During this point, they will have built up a tolerance for the substance which means they will need to use more and more to experience the desired effects. They may be hiding how much they use from those around them and engage in substance use during dangerous situations such as driving. If they stop using the substance suddenly, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. At this point, the individual may need medical intervention to help them detox safely and effectively. 

Stage Five: Addiction

The final stage of addiction is addiction. At this point, the individual uses the substance heavily and no longer has control over how much they use. They risk severe health consequences, overdose, and even death. At this stage, the individual needs to seek medical assistance for their substance use disorder. 

What Do I Do If I Suspect That I Have a Substance Use Problem?

If someone suspects that they have a substance use problem and cannot quit on their own, their first step should be to consult their physician. The physician will determine whether or not in-patient detoxification is necessary and will be able to provide any necessary referrals or medications. After the patient detoxes from the substance, they will need to seek continued care through therapy, rehabilitation, or a program such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

How Can I Tell If My Loved One Has a Substance Use Disorder?

It is not always easy to tell if a loved one has a substance use disorder or is at risk of getting one, especially if they are still in an early stage. However, there are some signs to look for that can help detect a problem

  • Has the individual changed in a physical way? 
  • Have they unsuccessfully tried to cut back or quit their substance use? 
  • Do they try to hide how much they use from other people?
  • Has their substance use caused strain in their relationships?
  • Has their substance use caused them to struggle to keep up with day-to-day responsibilities? 
  • Has their substance use caused them to act recklessly? 
  • Has their substance use led to legal trouble? 
  • Do they continue to engage in substance misuse even if it leads to physical or emotional problems? 


There are five stages of addiction. They include the experimentation stage, regular use, dangerous use, dependence, and addiction. It is crucial to be able to recognize these stages to avoid reaching a state of dependence. When someone first tries a substance, it is tough to tell whether or not they will be able to use it in moderation or if they are at risk of developing a substance use disorder in the future. However, if they begin using heavily or recklessly, it could be a sign that they are on track to becoming dependent on the substance. If they reach a point of dependence, they will need more and more of their substance of choice to get the same results and risk serious health problems. If you or one of your loved ones struggles with a substance use problem, there is help available. At Gallus Medical Detox Centers, we have helped thousands of patients take the first step towards recovery. Call (866) 296-5242 to learn more.