Stages of Addiction

by baladmin | August 22, 2013

Why “just say no!” to drugs? Why talk to your doctor when being prescribed a painkiller or an anti-anxiety medicine? Why avoid drugs and alcohol altogether?

Because addiction is progressive. Today you may be casually experimenting with an altered state of consciousness, and it may feel in your control, but your underlying reasons for using may be unclear to you at the time. When drugs or alcohol are used to numb emotions or to escape from your current life circumstances, the casual use will seem to serve a purpose. You will feel better high or drunk than you do sober, and you may want to use and drink much more often.

This is the progressive nature of substance use, the stages of which are listed below. Let’s use opiates and opioids as our model to illustrate the stages. This class of drugs includes heroin, morphine, codeine, and the pharmaceutical versions, like Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, and Norco.

Experimentation/Social Use

Trying various drugs, including alcohol, and possibly combining various substances to feel all different kinds of altered consciousness is the first stage. Taking a few Vicodin pills may seem harmless and just an effort to let loose, have a good time, and blow off steam, but it’s step one toward opioid abuse, opioid dependence, and opioid addiction.


Opiates and opioids are arguably the most addictive drugs available. Casual use becomes abuse when signs of addiction start to pop up, like little red flags. Craving a drug, obsession with use, symptoms of depression, anxiety, irritability, or fatigue, and an inability to stop using all indicate that you are on the road to physical opioid dependence and addiction.


Opioid dependence has developed when your body and brain need the drug. When you experience withdrawal symptoms, your system is communicating to you that physical opioid dependence is a part of daily life. At this point, you have to make a choice: go through withdrawal and detox now, or continue on into a life of addiction.


Physical opioid dependence is a sure sign of addiction in addition to continued use despite negative life consequences, such as a lost job, failed relationship, DUI arrest, medical crisis, or financial disparity, and behavioral changes, a skewed ability to make rational decisions, and a complete inability to stop using.

Drug use is a slippery slope. Do you want to risk a healthy, happy life for a quick high? Just say no!

If you see the signs of regular social use, abuse, dependence, or addiction in yourself, or someone you love, the sooner you seek help, the greater the chances of recovery from drugs and alcohol.

photo credit: marc falardeau