The 4 Stages of Addiction


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a complex disease that results in functional changes to the brain circuits. In the beginning drug use is voluntary, whether it’s the result of experimenting with recreational drugs and alcohol or taking medications that have been prescribed by a physician. Both actions can lead to drug addiction, which tends to follow four specific stages.


First time drug or alcohol use, or experimentation, usually occurs without any negative consequences. It’s often widely accepted by young adults, such as getting high or drunk for the first time at a party or other social gathering and can sometimes be the result of peer pressure. Quite often the individual sees this experimentation as a one-time event without considering it could be opening the door for repeated use and eventually addiction.

In some instances, an individual will begin taking a medication prescribed to relieve pain or to alleviate discomfort from an illness or injury. When taken long-term or in higher doses than directed, addiction can occur.

Regular Use

Some individuals may be able to engage in regular drug or alcohol use without ever becoming addicted, but for some there’s a risk of dependency. While scientists still aren’t sure why some people become addicted and others don’t, some of the common risk factors include biology, environment and development. Addiction does tend to run in families and individuals with certain types of genes have been linked to addiction.

As with most addictive behaviors, an occasional drink or drug turns into a common habit. During this stage most users have a false sense of security that it will be easy to stop using at any time.


Over time, what starts out as recreational use can turn into cravings. These cravings become unbearable and may cause an individual to do things that wouldn’t normally do in order to satisfy the desires, such as driving under the influence, stealing to pay for the habit and skipping school or work to use. At this point, relationships, grades, employment and other responsibilities may begin to suffer.


The final stage is addiction. Once individuals reach this stage it may seem impossible to quit on their own. They may suffer from various symptoms such as tremors, sweats, shaking, irritability and even extreme physical reactions such as seizures when they go too long between uses.

Treatment and Recovery

Addiction is a treatable disorder that usually requires intervention. Once an individual is aware of the addiction and decides to recover, it’s important to choose a reputable treatment program that addresses their needs. At Hickory Treatment Centers there are several programs available for both drug and alcohol addiction. Contact us to speak to one of our counselors who can help you begin your recovery.

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If you have tried to stop using alcohol or drugs on your own, you may feel that sobriety and clean living seem far away. However, with the help of caring staff members and a safe, structured environment, you can receive the guidance you need to fight cravings and regain control of your life.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our admission staff or learn more about our healing programs.