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The Four Stages of Addiction - Ascendant New York
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With the exception of those who fall into addiction accidentally – usually as a result of taking a prescription medication – addiction to substances follows a formulaic path. What starts out as fun or relaxing can end up traumatic, and even deadly. It is helpful to be aware of these stages, and to use the knowledge to prevent the eventual outcome of addiction.

Stage 1: Experimentation

Very few people set out to become addicted. A more common scenario is that a friend or family member offers the user a substance, usually with the stated intention that using the drug is fun or helpful. A candidate may view this instance of getting high as a one-time occurrence, but the first time can be what opens the door to the downward spiral of addiction.

Peer pressure is a prime culprit in this type of experimentation. Young people, in particular, are in a crucial developmental period when it comes to the need to feel accepted by their peers. However, while teens have the reputation of going along with the crowd, even adults are not immune to this pressure. Measurable stress levels tend to increase, for all, when we experience ourselves as not being accepted within a group. Those without a good defense against social ostracization will often use an offered drug in order to feel included.

When peer pressure is not implicated, it is often the case that the user is suffering from some type of mental discomfort. The drugs are used to alleviate workplace stress, to ease social anxiety, or to cope with a distressing life situation. If the substances work well in regard to easing these complaints, the temptation toward using them on a regular basis becomes stronger.

Others will begin to take an offered drug as a means to alleviate physical discomfort. While purportedly safe when taken as prescribed, pain-relief medications used outside of a prescription are currently the main factor in developing an addiction. An overwhelming amount of current heroin users cite misuse of prescription drugs as the starting point in their opiate addiction.

Stage 2: Regular Use & Abuse

In this next stage on the road toward addiction, something that was once considered recreational or temporary becomes a lifestyle. The user finds that life is not as comfortable or satisfying without using the substance, and begins to use it as a crutch for getting through everyday life. Experiences as considered without the drug may be viewed as boring, and users may not see any viable options for improving their sober circumstances.

Ironically, what begins as a relief for boredom or stress can become the very factor which creates it. Due to the nature of the substances, regular users often report that they are no longer interested in activities that once produced enjoyment, and they can suffer from exaggerated mood swings in between doses. And, while some users start abusing substances as a way to alleviate anxiety and depression, they find that their instances of experiencing of these negative moods has increased during their time on the drug. This phenomenon becomes more apparent as genuine dependency upon the drug is developed.

Stage 3: Dependency & Tolerance

As the regular usage progresses, both physical and psychological reliance on the drug is developed. The brain stops releasing chemicals naturally, and instead relies on the outside substance to dictate the regulation. The body can stop functioning normally, resulting in needing more of the drug in order to regain homeostasis. Psychologically, the user may start finding that situations that were manageable, before, have become unbearable while sober.

Over time, tolerance for the drug becomes an issue, with the brain needing more and more of the substance in order to obtain a sense of normal function. After a person has developed a tolerance to the particular drug, they will find that stronger, or more frequent, doses are needed to obtain the relief that is being sought.

As a sub-category of this process, there are often increases in risk taking behaviors along the way. Once dependency and tolerance have taken hold, users may find themselves surprised at their own actions. Money intended for bills may start being funneled toward obtaining the substance. The user may find that he or she is associating with people that are not the safest choice for social interactions. Users may start justifying dangerous behaviors, such as driving while intoxicated, as necessary undertakings. Work obligations may be postponed or neglected, in favor of getting high, and relationships can begin to suffer from abuse and neglect.

Stage 4: Addiction

With full-blown addiction, the user has become comfortable with the changes listed above. Less time is spent in self-contemplation, as most thoughts are centered on how to obtain the next high. An addict may not even resemble the person whom you knew before.

In addiction, users will feel as though they are unable to refrain from using the substance. They may make a resolution to quit, only to disappoint themselves with using again. They may be aware of the misery of their loved ones, but their concern cannot override the need to use. Friends and family can take a backseat to association with others who are using, and supplying, the drug.

Someone in the throes of drug addiction may begin to neglect basic needs. Grooming habits may deteriorate, meals are skipped, and sleep becomes impossible without the influence of the drug to dictate the schedule. Jobs can be lost, resulting in a loss of income. Having no income can contribute to an increase in criminal behaviors and seeking of charity, and can become a revolving door to sustained poverty.

Detox, Treatment & Recovery

Similar to there being stages of becoming addicted, there are stages on the way back out of addiction. The recovering addict has to go through steps which include acknowledgment of the problem, developing a plan to quit, and putting the plan into action. When the addict is ready to make changes, there are a multitude of helpful treatment resources available.

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