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One Woman’s Journey Through the Stages of Addiction

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Heather is addicted to alcohol. But she didn’t simply wake up one day with a substance use disorder. Her addiction happened in stages, starting with her very first drink seven years ago.

Let’s travel back to that day, then walk with her through the next few years. Heather’s journey will show us what it looks like to move through the stages of addiction.

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Understanding the Stages of Addiction

Stage 1: Initiation

  • First use of substance; Person tries substance because of peer pressure, curiosity, or low impulse-control due to lack of brain development (teen years).

During her senior year in high school, Heather’s friend had a birthday party. Besides cake and ice cream, her friend also offered beer. Heather had never had alcohol before, so, curious about the taste, she tried some.

Other teens at the party also tried alcohol for the first time. Their curiosity was satisfied, and they decided not to drink any more in the near future. Heather, on the other hand, didn’t stop. She continued to hang out with friends who drank frequently, and alcohol was always readily available. She quickly moved into stage 2.

Stage 2: Experimentation

  • The person has moved past trying the substance on its own, and they are now using in different settings to see how it impacts their life. Generally, in this stage, the substance is connected to social actions, such as experiencing pleasure or relaxing after a long day.

Heather started drinking alcohol every time she went to a club or out to a party. She didn’t crave the alcohol. She simply associated it with having fun, and she chose to drink alcohol while hanging out with her friends.

She continued this pattern throughout college.

Stage 3: Regular Use

  • More frequent use and using alone; Regular use when facing specific situations (stress, loneliness); Starts to affect life responsibilities; Concerns about not having substance available.

After graduating college, Heather started drinking more often. She no longer had to be at a party or with friends to drink; now she drank alone.

Heather turned to alcohol when she was lonely or bored. It wasn’t just a fun social activity anymore, but a way to deal with her emotions. She found herself buying extra alcohol at the store each week just to make sure she didn’t run out over the weekend. And on more than night, she overindulged and clocked in late to work due to a wicked hangover.

Stage 4: Problem/Risky Use

  • Substance use negatively affects work, school, and/or relationships; Behavior has changed; Risky use threatens the safety of self or others.

A year out of college, Heather dropped out of the post-graduate classes she was taking. And she stopped going to the gym. Sometimes, she got behind the wheel when she was in no condition to drive.

Her boss wasn’t thrilled with her performance, and Heather figured she’d probably get fired soon.

Heather’s sister wasn’t happy with her – she accused Heather of drinking too much.

Heather thought her sister should mind her own business.

Stage 5: Dependence

  • Includes three steps – Tolerance; Physical dependence; Psychological dependence.

As her drinking habit got worse, Heather found it harder and harder to get the same effects from alcohol. She found herself drinking more and more just to get by.

One day, after she worked an extra-long shift, her hands started shaking. She felt sick to her stomach, sweaty, and anxious. She hadn’t had a drink in 10 hours, and she needed one – bad.

Stage 6: Substance Use Disorder

  • Person meets at least two of the 11 criteria to diagnose a substance use disorder (SUD). Criteria include withdrawal, continued use despite harm to self and others, increased tolerance, and cravings.

Despite the negative effects alcohol caused in her life, Heather kept drinking. She didn’t feel like she could face each day without it.

Heather regularly lied to her boss and family about her alcohol use.

Her doctor said she had lost too much weight.

Heather’s life was spiraling out of control, but she still didn’t see a problem. As long as she had enough alcohol stashed around the house or hidden in the trunk of her car, everything was just fine in Heather’s mind.

Stage 7: Treatment

  • Treating the SUD to regain control over one’s health and life. Treatment will include detox, usually followed by medication and behavioral therapy. Counseling, support groups, and other resources are available to anyone who is ready to enter this stage.

Two years out of college, Heather got into a serious accident. After getting fired on a Friday, she spent the afternoon at a bar…then tried to drive home. She nearly killed herself – and the little boy who was riding his bike on the curb she jumped.

It was certainly a wake-up call, and Heather decided she really needed to get help. She asked her sister to help her find an addiction treatment program nearby.

Call 800-839-1686 Toll Free. Privacy Guaranteed. No Commitment.

Help is standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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Stop the Stages of Addiction in Their Tracks

When it comes to alcohol and drugs, people often think there’s a thin line between “casual use” of alcohol or drugs  and “addiction.” But you have to progress through distinct stages in order to develop an addiction.

The good news is that Heather’s story doesn’t have to become your own. If you (or a loved one) are in the early stages of addiction, you can break the cycle before a full-blown addiction develops. Don’t wait around to hit rock bottom or see how bad the next stages of addiction might be. Reach out for support today.

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