Certified National Drug & Alcohol Interventionists

Stages of Addiction

Despite popular beliefs, people do not have to “hit bottom” before they can benefit from help. Substance abuse can be addressed and treated at any stage. Going into treatment at any stage can be beneficial. However, the level of treatment necessary for the regular user will differ greatly from the needs of the dependent user. And for those in the end stages of addiction it could literally save their life.  The stages leading to addiction include experimentation, regular use, risky use, dependence, and addiction.  

Stage One:  Experimentation

The first stage, experimentation, is the voluntary use of alcohol or other drugs. Many times it involves teens going to a party and drinking or popping pills in order to fit in. Sometimes, the person experimenting is trying to forget about or escape from an issue. An older person may start drinking to cope with depression after losing a job. Experimentation may even include a teenager taking their mom’s prescription painkillers to cope with an injury from a sports activity. At the time the substance seems to solve the problem. The person takes more, and moves from experimentation to regular use, the next stage.

Stage Two:  Regular Use

Many people stay in the stage of regular use for months or years. Some may not develop a problem but many may not be able to stop by themselves. This is ordinarily the period of time where the consequences of using drugs and/or alcohol regularly begin to show up. Some will completely stop at this point. Others will stop for a period of time in order to get back into the good graces of loved ones or possibly the law; for example if someone gets a DWI and is put on probation they may quit drinking completely or agree with their family never to drink and drive again but as soon as they complete their probation they feel they are “off the hook” and can finally return to their old behaviors. Many times they have a false sense of entitlement and will justify their using by saying things like, “I quit drinking/using while I was on probation, I obviously don’t have a problem.” This is usually when people begin using substances in a manner that is risky and/or hazardous to themselves or others. 

Stage Three:  Risky Use

How the transition from regular use to risky use differs for every individual and what constitutes “risky behavior” by another person can be difficult to gauge. But if someone’s behavior has changed noticeably and/or suddenly you should definitely speak up and seek help. This is also a point where consequences begin to build up and if someone continues to drink or use despite the negative effects it is having on their life they will pass quickly from risky use to dependence. And it is very possible for risky use to overlap with dependence. Some risky behaviors include: Promiscuous sex, stealing from family members, binge drinking, constant blackouts, and unexplained violence, toward one’s self or another.

Stage Four:  Dependence

Characteristics of dependence include: Constant use of alcohol or other drugs that lead to the inability to take care of major responsibilities related to work, family, school and other roles. Repeatedly using drugs in situations that are physically hazardous, such as sharing needles or driving while under the influence, repeated legal problems, or any combination of these. Their risky behavior may also escalate to things such as prostitution and stealing from society because they can no longer take from their family.

Many dependent people could be categorized as functioning, and are able to work, maintain family relationships, and friendships. They will attempt to limit their use of alcohol or other drugs to certain times, such as evenings or weekends. However, many times they can only keep up this façade for so long and they will begin to disappear for periods of time without any explanation. At this point they have already become addicted. A lot of times family members and loved ones are walking on eggshells for the dependant individual in order to “keep the peace.” Unfortunately, this is only allowing their disease to progress and if they are not confronted they will continue to manipulate, rationalize, and justify in order for them to keep up their way of life.

Stage Five:  Addiction

The last stage of persistent abuse of substances is addiction. At this point they have been addicted for some time but this is the point where change is inevitable because continued use will only lead to a few places. Addiction is a disease involving serious psychological and physical changes from constant heavy use of alcohol, drugs, or both.

Symptoms include uncontrollable alcohol use and/or other drug craving, seeking, and use, that continues even in the face of repeated negative consequences. 

Addiction is a progressive, chronic, and fatal disease. If left untreated, it can only lead to jails, institutions, death, and dereliction, in no specific order.

Addiction is a treatable disease. Recovery rates for people who go through treatment are very similar to those who get treatment for other chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. There are a number of treatment methods and community resources, including outpatient or residential inpatient treatment programs. And just as important as treatment is what the addict does after treatment, such as finding a support group & a network of positive friends who will hold the addict accountable for their actions. There is no cookie cutter way to treat addiction because each individual’s needs are different and need to be assessed before they are placed in treatment. It can also be beneficial for the family to seek support as well, addiction causes a great deal of chaos and pain in the family and finding a support group such as Al Anon or online support will give family members an outlet to voice concerns, talk about issues or just have people who understand their situation. Most treatment facilities also provide family education classes. The following link also has a list of resources for family and addict support:


9 Responses to “Stages of Addiction”

  1. Regina Cameron Says:

    I am living each day in fear that a call will come and it will be the authorities calling to tell me my 30 yr.old daughter has O.D.ed and is dead. I am also living each day loving and hating her for what she is doing. It has gone on for a very long time and I am exhausted trying to stop it or help or enable or defend or lie or keep to myself or whatever it is that I do. My family is torn apart and it seems there is no mending. I am a single Mother and have 4 grown children. They are all my world and have been most of my adult life. If they are not talking to me they are acting as if I don’t exist because I don’t turn my back on the only daughter I have. I can’t stop loving and hoping she will be better tomorrow. It’s a lie but I keep telling it to myself. Please help her!Help me!Help us!

  2. Admin Says:


    My heart truly goes out to you and ALL of your children. Even when our kids grow-up they are still and always will be our babies. Seeing your child go down this destructive path can be devastating, especially when you’re left wondering night after night if she’s alive. The fear can be paralyzing BUT you can take control of the situation…atleast as her addiction relates to you. The best thing you can do is educate yourself and reach out (which is what you’re doing right now)! Addiction is a family disease and it would be helpful to get you and your other children on the same page. I would really like to talk with you and find out a little more about your situation. If nothing else please do not continue living in fear….it can make you feel just as out of control as your addicted loved one and it causes us to make uninformed decisions and have destruction in our own lives. Obviously that is easier said that done but a great way to help you cope is finding your own support group (Naranon is what we suggest to most families).

    Their are a lot of options for your daughter and your family as a whole. She can get better, she can move forward, and live a productive and happy life. Also remember EVERY family has their “crap”…YOU ARE NOT ALONE AND YOUR DAUGHTER DOESN’T HAVE TO BE EITHER! As an addict in recovery I can tell you, your child is NOT happy with the path her life is taking. Most likely she lives in fear and shame everyday. It isn’t easy for someone deep in their addiction to come home and say “I need help and have no idea how to start over and get better”. She is also at an age where she knows that her life cannot continue this way much longer…she knows what happens to addicts that continue using despite the negative consequences and honestly she may be waiting for a life-line. At this point she’s probably carrying so much shame and guilt that she can’t even look at the person staring back at her in the mirror. I know because I’ve been there and I also had a mother who lived in fear for my life. If it weren’t for my mom seeking guidance from someone who had been in my shoes and them “holding the mirror in front of my face” I really don’t know if I would have made it through my own addiction!

    Once again I hope to hear from you soon. You can fill out our contact page or call us at 214-377-8599 or 877-744-3578 (PRESS OPTION #1).

    Always remember to take care of you!
    Best regards,
    Kelli Athas

  3. AIPC Article Library » The Five Stages of Addiction Says:

    [...] Intercept Interventions (2012) Stages of Addiction. Intercept Interventions. Retrieved on 3 May, 2012 from http://www.interceptinterventions.com/stages-of-addiction [...]

  4. The Five Stages of Addiction | Positive and Happy! Says:

    [...] Intercept Interventions (2012) Stages of Addiction. Intercept Interventions. Retrieved on 3 May, 2012 from http://www.interceptinterventions.com/stages-of-addiction [...]

  5. Admin Says:

    I really do not understand your question, please re-submitt and I will do my best to answer you. Thank You, Nick Athas (877) 744-3578 http://www.interceptinterventions.com

  6. Emily.K Says:

    I have been suspicious for awhile about my 15-year-old brother. So I started investigating. He is 3 years older than me so I can’t really “Go” In his room. One night he was out on a run so I started looking in his room. I found 2 full boxes of Marlboro ciggerettes, candles, 2 bottles of alcohol and syringes in his room. We are home-schooled so we don’t have many friends. Although he does have 1 friend that goes to public school so he is becoming friends with them too. He found out and he claims he found the packages on the side of the road. I was in panic so I nodded and walked away. I started thinking about what he said a few hours later. I started thinking, “Okay, who would leave 2 WHOLE packages of ciggerettes on the side of the road?! If people bought them and as expensive as they are why would they throw them out?!” I don’t know what to do so please help.

  7. Chris Gabriele Says:

    My ex daughter n law has been a prescription drug abuser, social cocaine user, and weekend drinker throughout her 20′s and nite into her 30′s. She has become very adept at the manipulation and lies it takes to maintain this lifestyle. Social Media gives her a forum from which to gather all the backing she needs (thru those lies and manipulations) to continue the behavior unchecked. The problem is the toll it is now taking on the life of our 5 yr old granddaughter. There is no reportable abuse as long as her mother’s behavior stays covert and no court in the world that wants to go digging through this woman’s history to get to the truth when she can lie and manipulate the system as well as she does. So everyday is a nee day dedicated to trying to keep this little one safe. And everyday is another day we lose to our ex daughter-n-law’s denial. Sadly, she was born into a family that enables her behavior in order to continue their own similar behavior. Now what?? Our granddaughter needs her mommy!!! Our daughter-n-law needs someone to hit her between the eyes with the hard truth before it’s too late. How do we help her when we can’t even truly get complete past her lies yet?

  8. surginet.info Says:

    I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both educative
    and amusing, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head.
    The problem is an issue that not enough people are speaking intelligently about.
    I’m very happy that I found this during my hunt for something relating to this.

  9. Admin Says:

    Glad you find our information helpful, and enjoyable to read. You very well could be on to something here. You mentioned both amusing, and educative. Most literature in regards to this specific subject matter is just for educational purposes, it might serve us better to engage our readers in a great storyline. The bottom line is to educate, but what is the most effective way to do so is the important question. Thank You.

    Kind Regards,
    Nick Athas

Leave a Reply