What Are the Stages of Addiction?

When people try a substance for the first time they are not signing up for an addiction. The first experience is the deadliest because users do not know what they are getting themselves into. Beating a drug and alcohol addiction is extremely challenging, especially during the moderate to severe stages of addiction. Many people who have tried to overcome their addiction relapse several times after a period of sobriety.

Addictions are diagnosed on a large spectrum, ranging from mild to severe. People who suffer from addiction usually have relationships that become negatively affected by their substance use. The criteria to determine the severity of an addiction include:

  1. Ability to stop using
  2. Intensity of cravings
  3. Harmful use
  4. Tolerance
  5. Level of withdrawal
  6. Worsening situations
  7. Financial instability due to addiction
  8. Lack of control
  9. Relationship problems
  10. How much time and energy is dedicated to use

The criteria listed above can categorize an addiction as mild, moderate or severe. No matter how severe the addiction, it is important to seek help before the addiction progresses.

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Mild Addiction: Tolerance

A mild addiction is a tolerance for a substance. A tolerance is built when an individual does not respond to a substance in the way he or she first did. It takes a higher dose or larger quantity of the substance to achieve the effect the person felt when he or she first used. When people with substance use disorder begin to use more of a drug, it is to achieve the same level of “high” they first felt.

A mild addiction is formed in the initial stages, following experimentation. Some uncharacteristic behaviors may present themselves as lying about pain or discomfort and using more than required or using after a prescription has run out. This is the most important stage of addiction to stop before progression. Once an individual has built a tolerance to a substance, he or she is likely to form a dependence when it is much more challenging to discontinue use.

Signs that someone is forming a mild addiction to a substance:

  • Agitation
  • Denial
  • Avoidance of confrontation
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Distraction
  • Slurred speech
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Diarrhea
  • Frequent urination
  • Aggression
  • Mania
  • Hallucinations
  • Dry mouth/dehydration
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Moderate Addiction: Dependence

A moderate addiction is a dependence on a substance. When someone stops using a drug and the body undergoes withdrawal, the person is dependent on the drug. Physical and mental symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening indicate that a person has become dependent on a drug.

When people begin to search for ways to maintain their habit, they are usually displaying signs of dependency. In this stage of addiction, users try to maintain their habit both legally and illegally. An opioid and heroin addiction is progressive and usually begins with painkillers first, until prescription opioids become too expensive. An addiction has progressed from mild to moderate if the route of administration has progressed to provide a more intense “high”—whether it be from orally consuming a substance to smoking it or smoking a substance to intravenous use.

“Doctor Shopping” is one of the biggest behavioral changes you will see in someone with a moderate addiction. When someone is willing to travel far distances to find different doctors at multiple locations, he or she is trying to increase the supply of the medication. Doctors can prescribe more than one prescription of Xanax and opioids so long as the second prescription lists a higher dosage. Some doctors are willing to prescribe their patients whatever medications the patient asks for—seeing the appointment as easy money under the table. Seeking out these particular doctors is a sign of a substance dependency—that an individual is finding ways to maintain a habit.

Signs that someone has a moderate addiction:

  • Using daily
  • Drinking and using throughout the day
  • Waking up and drinking or using immediately
  • Using disregarding legal and personal consequences
  • Dysfunctional using at inappropriate times
  • Affecting loved ones and peers at work because of substance use
  • Using when using is not enjoyable or appropriate
  • Losing things of sentiment and value
  • Lying to maintain habit and about drug use
  • Avoiding loved ones

Some physical symptoms displayed by someone who has a moderate addiction:

  • Lethargy
  • Nodding out
  • Trouble staying awake
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme itchiness
  • Scabs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent respiratory infections/ asthma
  • Dry mouth
  • Increase in body temperature
  • Heaviness in arms and legs

Users will begin to experience financial instability in this phase of addiction. Ranging anywhere from missed bills and late payments to actually stealing from loved ones, those who are physically addicted to a substance may act irrationally to fulfill their dependency. People in this stage of addiction may notice that they need to find new ways and means to purchase drugs, including selling and pawning existing items of value. The $40 they may get for a laptop worth $500 can sustain their habit for another few hours.

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Severe Stages of Addiction

A severe addiction is the most difficult level of addiction to overcome. When an individual has surpassed the mild and moderate stages of addiction and has built a psychological dependence on a substance, he or she has a severe addiction. If someone has a severe addiction, he or she has a severe psychological addiction that exists beyond a physical addiction. More often than not, a severe addiction has progressed to IV use, homelessness and overdoses.

Addiction is a social disease and is not limited to just the addict, but also those closely involved with the addict. The addict’s life becomes unmanageable and will cause a lot of turbulence to the lives of the people surrounding him or her. Someone in the severe stage of addiction may present aggressive behaviors and resort to violence in order to maintain his or her habit.

Some signs of a severe addiction:

  • Becoming aggressive when drinking and using
  • Lack of motivation to do anything that does not involve obtaining money for next use
  • Isolation
  • Lying about drug use
  • Secretive
  • Avoiding loved ones
  • Carelessness to body and hygiene
  • Carelessness to grooming his/herself
  • Possession of paraphernalia (needles, bottle caps, spoons, pipes, shoe strings, etc.)
  • Stashing drugs and paraphernalia in places around home or car
  • Stealing money or valuable items
  • Manic changes in behavior, from lethargy to hyperactivity
  • Inability to fulfill responsibilities
  • Increased sleepiness
  • Jumbled speech
  • Difficulty speaking and communicating

Those experiencing a severe addiction cannot face life without drugs and alcohol, nor can they recognize problems with their behavior and relationships with others. Homelessness, incarceration, turmoiled relationships, overdoses and hospital bills– sometimes none can convince someone with a severe addiction to stop using. Substance use disorder is a chronic disease that develops slowly and can have a long duration. Whether health, financial or legal issues, the consequences faced from addiction only get worse as the disease progresses.

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Treating an Addiction at Heal Behavioral Health

Regaining control over your life, relationships and wellbeing is possible. Treating addiction with behavioral therapy combined with medication is the best approach. The longer the stay in drug and alcohol rehab the less likely an addict is to relapse. Heal Behavioral Health is a dual diagnosis facility–  we treat Substance Use Disorder (SUD) along with co-occurring mental health disorders. Our trauma therapists are here to help individuals overcome addiction, address the core underlying issues that exist behind addiction and the traumas that may have occurred during active addiction. Overcoming the aftermath of addiction can be just as difficult as addressing the fundamental issues that the addiction may have stemmed from.

We offer a Medication Assisted Treatment program for individuals suffering from addiction who are eligible. We determine eligibility according to the severity of addiction and history of drug use. Our MAT program is designed to reduce the likelihood of relapse and decrease cravings so that individuals can focus on addressing the issues from inside out. Our licensed therapists and certified counselors have therapies available for you, your family and friends to help with recovery and to better help you understand your path in sobriety. At Heal Behavioral Health, we can help you build a foundation for a life in sobriety and regain what was lost during active addiction.

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