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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woman sitting sadly next to table with empty beer bottles

Posted in Addiction on July 30, 2018
Last modified on November 29th, 2018

I Relapsed, Now What?

“Remember that just because you hit bottom doesn’t mean you have to stay there.” ~ Robert Downey Jr.

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people carrying items in flood

Posted in Addiction on April 11, 2018
Last modified on November 28th, 2018

What Happens to Addicts During Disasters & Emergencies?

The loss of property, businesses and personal possessions, coping with life-threatening illness and tragic deaths due to natural disasters are well-documented. Although peer-reviewed articles, blogs and memoirs have been written on the impact of natural disasters on drug users, this important issue is not engraved in the collective public conscience.

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boy in hoodie

Posted in Addiction, Adolescents on October 23, 2017
Last modified on November 30th, 2018

Symptoms of Children with Parents Who Abuse Drugs

For teachers, day care providers, and other caregivers, knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms of children who are living with parents that are struggling with addiction is important, as early intervention in such situations can lead to the most positive outcomes. Knowing the signs and symptoms of drug abuse in adults, as well as the indicators of abuse and neglect in children can be very helpful.

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Crystal Meth Rocks

Posted in Addiction, Drug Abuse on October 4, 2017
Last modified on November 30th, 2018

The Truth About Crystal Meth: What Really Happens During a Meth High?

Crystal meth is a common name for the street drug methamphetamine. It gets its name because it bears a resemblance to the crystals found in certain kinds of rocks. Users of methamphetamine experience the same basic types of mental and physical changes while “high,” regardless of the specific form of the drug they consume. The difference is mainly in how quickly these effects arise and how intense they feel to the user. Let’s examine exactly what happens to people immediately after they take crystal meth.

Speed of Onset

The crystallized form of methamphetamine is typically smoked, although crystal meth addicts and abusers may also crush it into a powder and inject it into a vein, snort it or swallow it. When you smoke or inject meth, it reaches your brain much more quickly than it would if you swallowed it or snorted it. In addition, these two forms of intake produce a much more powerful initial “high.” It is this speed and power of drug onset that largely gives crystal meth its particular appeal as a substance of abuse.


The main sought-after effect among crystal meth addicts and abusers is the intense form of pleasure known as euphoria. This feeling occurs when the drug sharply drives up levels of a chemical called dopamine in a part of your brain commonly known as the pleasure center. You also experience dopamine increases when you do such things as eat foods you like or have sex. However, the presence of crystal meth triggers far greater increases than these activities, especially when you smoke or inject it.

Additional Mental Effects

Crystal meth use triggers other mental changes in addition to euphoria. For instance, users typically feel more alert and awake while “high.” They also frequently experience a short-term increase in their ability to focus and pay attention. In addition, crystal meth users generally lose any sense of hunger while under the influence of the drug.

Physical Effects

Your body also rapidly responds to the presence of crystal meth during use. Since the drug is a stimulant, the physical effects you feel will resemble those associated with other kinds of stimulant substances. They include:

  • A significant increase in breathing rate
  • A significant increase in heart rate
  • A significant increase in blood pressure
  • A significant increase in rate of physical activity

Some of the physical changes associated with a crystal meth “high” are dangerous to your health. For example, in addition to rising past a safe threshold, your heartbeat may grow unsteady or irregular. If you take too much meth, you can develop a potentially life-threatening elevation in your normal body temperature (a condition called hyperthermia). You can also go into uncontrollable seizures or convulsions.

Changes in the Effects Over Time

When you use crystal meth (or any other form of methamphetamine) repeatedly over time, your brain will eventually grow used to its effects. This phenomenon, called tolerance, also occurs in people who use other types of addictive substances. When crystal meth addicts and abusers grow accustomed to the presence of the drug in their systems, they will no longer feel as “high” as they used to when they consume any given amount of methamphetamine. In order to get the results they desire, they will have to increase their intake. In time, this cycle will repeat itself. As much as anything, it is the ongoing spiral of rising tolerance and increasing intake that leads to the development of a full-blown meth addiction, which will most likely require meth addiction treatment to break.


National Institute on Drug Abuse: Methamphetamine – What Are the Immediate (Short-Term) Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse?           

National Institute on Drug Abuse: Methamphetamine – Drug Facts

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teenage girl going through depression

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

False Signs of Meth Addiction

People affected by a meth (methamphetamine) addiction typically face a broad range of physical and mental health issues that severely impair their ability to lead stable lives or feel any sense of wellness. If you suspect a friend or loved one has an addiction to the drug, a proactive response on your part may be crucial. However, many of the potential signs of meth use also have other explanations, and it’s possible to mistake these signs for drug-related issues.

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