Addiction Recovery

stages of addiction

Posted in Addiction, Addiction Recovery on March 21, 2019

The 3 Stages of Addiction

Not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol becomes addicted, but about 164 million people worldwide have. Addiction is a progressive disease. It can hijack your brain, and your life. Genetics and certain challenges make some people more prone to addiction, but anyone can become addicted.

Experts on substance abuse and the brain identify three stages of addiction:

Stage 1: Binge and Intoxication

Drug abuse and alcohol abuse interfere with your reward system. When you drink or use drugs, your brain releases dopamine. This is a pleasurable chemical that makes you feel good. People may abuse drugs or alcohol because they like this feeling. They drink or use drugs again and again to get the same effect. When you abuse drugs and alcohol you start needing more to feel high. You develop a tolerance. This can lay the groundwork for chemical dependency.

Drug and alcohol abuse changes the brain. The more binge-drinking or drug use, the greater the changes you’ll have. During the first stage of addiction, you start developing triggers that lead to substance abuse. Your brain may start firing off dopamine in anticipation of drugs or alcohol. The anticipatory dopamine can make you have strong cravings for drugs or alcohol.

Examples of triggers may include:

  • Being around people you used substances with
  • Being in places where you’ve used drugs or alcohol
  • Having similar thoughts as you did the last time you used drugs or alcohol

In this first stage of addiction, you start seeing warning signs like:

  • Drinking or using drugs when you didn’t intend to
  • Needing increasing amounts of substances to get the same effect
  • Problems with relationships, work and school
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit or decrease substance abuse

Certain situations make some people more susceptible to this stage of addiction. Research shows that people with mental health issues are at greater risk for substance abuse. If you have conditions like depression or anxiety, you may like how drugs or alcohol ease your symptoms.

The problem is substance abuse only helps psychiatric symptoms temporarily. Drug and alcohol abuse backfires in the long run. The ways drugs change the brain can actually make your symptoms worse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. When you have both mental illness and addiction, it’s called a dual diagnosis. This makes drug addiction treatment more complicated, but recovery is still possible.

Stage 2: Withdrawal and Negative Affect

The “fun” ends during the second stage of addiction. Substance abuse is no longer bringing you pleasure. Now, you’re using drugs or alcohol to avoid withdrawal. Chemical dependency is in full swing. The nervous system is sick. Your body thinks having drugs or alcohol is the norm. It goes into high alert without drugs or alcohol. The brain releases chemicals that can cause anxiety, depression and restlessness.

In the second stage of addiction, physical dependence and psychological dependence feed addiction. Withdrawal symptoms range from uncomfortable to severe depending on what substances you’re using. The cycle of substance abuse and withdrawal drives people into the third stage of addiction.

Stage 3: Preoccupation and Anticipation

“Rock bottoms” often happen in the third stage of addiction. Your brain has become rewired by chemical dependency. It thinks you need drugs or alcohol to survive and instructs you to get them no matter what it takes. Brain regions that take a big hit are ones involved in:

  • Motivation
  • Decision-making
  • Restraint
  • Learning
  • Planning

Everything takes a backseat to drugs or alcohol. They’re the central focus in your life. You may lie or steal to get substances. Family and friends don’t recognize the person you’ve become. Neither do you. During the third stage of addiction, you may find yourself in legal and financial trouble. Drug cravings are so strong, you’re having difficulty functioning.

Which Stage of Addiction Is Best for Treatment?

It’s never too soon or too late for addiction treatment. Any stage of addiction is a good one for drug rehab. Brain changes happen at each stage. The earlier you get help, the better. This helps prevent further damage. No matter which stage of addiction you’re in, treatment can help repair the physical and psychological damage of chemical dependency.

In general, long-term sobriety can help prevent or reverse some of the damage to your:

  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Throat
  • Mouth
  • Teeth
  • Heart
  • Lungs

Quitting drugs can also rebalance brain chemicals. Your brain must learn to produce feel-good endorphins on its own again. Without drugs or alcohol this happens over a period of time. Sometimes you’ll need the help of medications and healthy lifestyle changes. Research shows that it’s possible for the brain to heal itself after a period of sobriety. It may not completely undo the damage of substance abuse, but it can get a lot better.

It’s important to know that drug addiction treatment isn’t just medical detox. Effective addiction treatment also includes:

  • Behavioral therapies to help you address why you abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Psychiatric care to help manage dual diagnosis issues (substance abuse and mental health issues)
  • Relapse prevention skill-building
  • Family involvement to address relationship problems
  • Peer support through group counseling and support programs
  • Aftercare to help you stay sober after alcohol and drug addiction treatment

Addiction is a complex disease, but you can get better. Millions of people are living fulfilling lives in recovery. Sobriety is difficult work, but well worth it.

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group of people talking sitting in a circle

Posted in Addiction Recovery on November 17, 2017
Last modified on November 30th, 2018

Should I Go to An Aftercare Program for Substance Abuse?

Aftercare is the generally accepted term for follow-up help available after you successfully complete an inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment program. The term covers a broad range of techniques, all of which are intended to help prevent a relapse back into active drug and/or alcohol use. Should you enter an aftercare program for substance abuse after completing primary treatment? In all likelihood, yes.

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Happy family

Posted in Addiction Recovery, Blog on September 25, 2017
Last modified on December 1st, 2018

Beat Holiday Relapse: Put an Early Alert System in Place

If you are a person with an addiction to alcohol, drugs or food, the holidays can be rough. Even anticipating the holiday season can send people with addiction into high alert, worrying they will spin out of control as soon as the autumn leaves start to fall.

The reality is that people around you are going to be drinking more around the holidays — and alcohol-spiked drinks seem to be everywhere — making it more difficult to avoid alcoholic relapse, or any other kind of relapse, for that matter.

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New Sober Hobbies for Recovery

Posted in Addiction Recovery on August 2, 2017
Last modified on December 1st, 2018

How Alcoholics Can Live a Sober Life After Rehab

What comes after rehab? For many people recovering from alcoholism, life after alcohol rehab is both a hopeful and a worrisome thought. How will you stay sober, out in the “real” world, faced with easy access and constant temptations? Sure, you paid attention during all the relapse prevention workshops, but living it is different. How can you maintain a sober lifestyle?

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Posted in Addiction Recovery on July 26, 2017
Last modified on December 1st, 2018

How Crossfit Can Help Your Addiction Recovery

It is easy to become overwhelmed when you undergo addiction treatment and begin your journey to recovery. Every day in inpatient rehab is packed with individual counseling and group therapy sessions, along with alternative modalities or experiential therapy sessions — all focused on the goal of helping you beat addiction and overcome your personal obstacles to getting sober. This concentrated focus can be very effective, but it can also be all-consuming. Wouldn’t it be great if there were an aspect of your treatment program that allowed you to forget about addiction for a few minutes and focus on something else? Enter … CrossFit training.

In recent years, the addiction treatment and recovery communities have started incorporating CrossFit training into addiction recovery programs as a way to divide a client’s focus between two sets of goals that are mutually beneficial: getting sober and getting fit.  

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Posted in Addiction Recovery on July 25, 2017
Last modified on December 1st, 2018

How My Pet Saved Me From Addiction and Helps Me Manage My Sobriety

By Jennifer (who asked that her last name be withheld)

My dog gives me so much comfort and companionship, and accepts me for who I am … when I’m sober.

I got Bodie as a puppy and we have had each other for a few years. I see a lot of love in my dog’s eyes, and I know he trusts me. Back when I was drinking or using, this changed. I would see a look of deep concern in Bodie’s eyes that told me I wasn’t being “me” and that he was worried. His expressive eyes told the whole story — that how I behaved when I was in active addiction was unsettling for him. He needed me to be there for him.

Even though my family had expressed their concerns for me as well, it was that look in Bodie’s eyes that finally got to me. It made me want to get sober again, and stay sober, for his sake. I’m convinced that my dog saved me from addiction. Thanks to him, I entered an addiction treatment program and got the help I needed.

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Isolation and Recovery

Posted in Addiction Recovery on July 19, 2017
Last modified on January 19th, 2019

Pros and Cons of Coming Out Of the Mental Health and Addictions Closet

For many, mental health and addiction issues are daunting; limiting quality of life and creating an environment of shame. When symptoms manifest, sometimes only the individual and those in their immediate circles are aware that they exist. Fear arises when one considers those among extended family, friends, co-workers and employers finding out.

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