Stages of Addiction - How Addiction Evolves Over Time

When you think about addiction, the first image that comes to mind might be someone hopelessly lost and willing to do anything to get whatever substance they abuse. However, people struggling with addiction do not simply jump from not using to being involved in the vicious cycle of substance abuse. There are stages of addiction that most people don’t realize exist.

Below we will explore these phases that are involved when dealing with addiction and how to recognize them.

The Stages of Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as “a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.”

You may be asking yourself, “How do I know that I have a problem with addiction?” or even “What is the first sign that I may be becoming addicted?”

No one factor determines whether a person will become addicted to a substance. Risk factors that contribute to addiction include biological factors, environment, and development.

There are predictable stages of addiction that a person moves through as their body and mind become reliant on a particular substance.

Trying a Substance

The first stage of addiction is simply trying the substance. There are two common scenarios where a person is first exposed to a substance. The first is where they are offered it by someone in a social setting like a party or club. This tends to be the stereotypical scenario portrayed in popular media. However, there is another way that an average person may find themselves in the first step of addiction.

The second common scenario is where the person is prescribed a substance like an opioid by a doctor as medication to treat a condition such as pain. Even though it may seem like a legitimate treatment, and it can be, many become reliant on opioids and eventually addicted. An estimated 1.7 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers.

As mentioned before, various factors go into substance abuse and addiction. Just because someone tries a substance does not necessarily mean they will become addicted. However, experimenting or even being prescribed a substance can be the first step in the addiction process.

Regular Use

The next step in addiction is regular use. In this situation, a person has tried the drug for the first time and starts to use it continuously. What started as recreational use or medicinal use evolves into something more serious. They begin to use it periodically to achieve the same feeling that they experienced when they first tried it.

They might use it just on the weekends, while spending time with friends or even after work. A sign of regular use is that a person begins to seek out the drug as a part of their routine. Substance use becomes an integral part of their lives.

For those that are prescribed an opioid medication, this step in addiction can be confusing. A patient may be taking medicine as prescribed, but roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.

Developing a Dependence

As a person begins to use a substance regularly, they then transition to the next stage in addiction which is dependence. The body gets used to getting the substance frequently, so a person can start to experience withdrawal symptoms when they do not use it. They may also find that they need more and more to achieve the same high that they experienced when they first started using the substance.

The Mayo Clinic describes dependence on opioids as:

When you take opioids repeatedly over time, your body slows its production of endorphins. The same dose of opioids stops triggering such a strong flood of good feelings. This is called tolerance. One reason opioid addiction is so common is that people who develop tolerance may feel driven to increase their doses so they can keep feeling good.

With drugs and alcohol, not only does the body crave the substance, but a person relies on it psychologically. They may find that they feel they can’t function in certain situations without it. These situations may be social or even during important circumstances such as going to work. Cravings are now a part of their daily lives.


The last stage is having a total addiction to a particular substance. The user becomes dependent on using the substance on a regular basis. They now feel that they cannot function without the drug of their choice. Full-blown addiction affects all aspects of a person’s life, and their focus is now on when they are going to use next and how they are going to get the substance.

Addiction is a medical disease where the brain’s reward system, motivation, and memory functions are affected by a substance.

At this point, you may not be able to recognize the person that addiction has turned them into. All they want to do is use, and you may  begin to see the consequences of their addiction. They might lose their job, drop out of school, stop seeing their friends, or no longer have support from their family. A person may even turn to illegal activity to fuel their addiction.

There is Hope to Overcoming Addiction

If you find yourself in the middle of an addiction, you may wonder if there is any way out of the vicious cycle. One of the ways to pull yourself out of addiction is through MATClinics. At MATClinics, we provide those struggling with opioid and alcohol addiction the resources they need on your road to recovery.

Our services include Suboxone treatment, counseling, and case management. You don’t have to do this alone!

Contact MATClinics today to start your recovery journey.

Speak to a member of our team to schedule a New Patient visit, or just to get more information.

Thank you for your inquiry, we will reach out to you soon. If you don’t want to wait, please call or text us at 410.220.0720.
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