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Stages of addiction

The Stages of Addiction

Addiction can seem fluid and without any structure, but there are specific patterns many with substance use disorder fall into. People don’t just try one drink or drug and immediately become addicted. 

Often, people have a family history that pulls them into the pattern of substance abuse, or they attempt to self-medicate using alcohol or drugs. Whatever the reason, substance dependance may present a few particular patterns as it progresses into addiction. Not everyone’s journey looks the same, but generally each person falls into these steps.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines these stages as such: 

  1. Initial use:

    This is the first time someone feels a high from an illicit drug or gets drunk on alcohol. The user may have been a planned decision with build-up or spur-of-the-moment action. Either way, the drugs have entered the system, and the person has to decide if this will happen again.  This phase may seem harmless at first. Binge drinking at parties is extremely common and almost expected for college kids. If friends are doing party drugs like cocaine, then others are more likely to try as well. 
  2. Abuse:

    The action of taking the drug has occurred multiple times or is being misused. Regular binge drinking or using cocaine regularly is an example of this. Everyday life is now affected by the substance, which may have been a result from trying to cope with physical pain, stress or depression. They may still partake in social settings but may also use when alone as well.  At this stage, their lives have begun to be affected by their use in a negative way. If you see a friend starting to misuse alcohol, it is better to intervene quickly rather than wait till a full addiction has been created. To learn more about the intervention process, read our blog “When Intervention Is Necessary”.
  3. Tolerance:

    After regular use of drugs or alcohol, tolerance is created. Because of this, the user has to keep increasing the amount they use. The enzymes in their brain and body are less activated by the drug, so it is not as effective. People are most likely to overdose after detoxing and maintaining abstinence from drugs. They go back to their usual dosage of cocaine or other drugs and end up overdosing because they did not rebuild their tolerance again.                                                      Baseline 1
  4. Dependence:

    The brain adjusts to certain substances, and the user may not function normally without it. A person using cocaine or meth may not be able to feel pleasure without the use of their drug. Addiction is truly starting to take shape when a physical dependence is developed on the substance of choice. The user may rely on their substance to numb the feelings they can’t control and cope with the negative things in their life. This stage might be when friends and family notice something is seriously wrong, but the user denies any wrongdoing. Alcohol dependence may continue at this stage for a very long time before becoming an addiction. 
  5. Addiction:

    Addiction has a list of specific symptoms that have to be exhibited in order to be diagnosed (For a more complete list read our blog, The Signs of Addiction). Some of these are:  
    1. Using more of the substance than the person initially planned 
    2. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped 
    3. Driving or doing other risky activities when you're under the influence of the drug
    4. Spending a good deal of time getting the drug, using the drug or recovering from the effects of the drug
    5. Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug
  6. Relapse:

    This isn’t necessarily a stage of addiction, but it is a common part of recovery. As addicts enter into recovery programs, they do their best to stop their drug use. Sometimes the treatment wasn’t right or they attempted to recover without proper support. Around 40-60% of addicted individuals will relapse over their lives. It is important that these individuals do not feel shameful about their relapse, because recovery is one of the hardest things anyone can go through. With the right support, however, people with substance abuse disorders will continue on to happy, productive lives. 

It is important to note that substance abuse disorders look different for everyone. All of these steps could have been present, or they could progress to addiction very quickly. 

At 8 Oaks, we look to help individuals safely navigate their way out of addiction with our expert staff of counselors and spiritual leaders. Every moment you spend at 8 Oaks, you develop the tools you need in order to become a new person in Christ. A person who becomes clean in body must also become clean in spirit in order to truly move past addiction. To learn more about us, click here. Also, feel free to reach out to us at 931-903-2500 if you or someone you know needs help. 

About Us

8 Oaks Recovery is a Christ-centered addiction recovery program located in Wayne County, TN. We offer a unique treatment approach blending spiritual and clinical work. We work with adult males ages 18-65 years old.

Licensing & Accreditation

The 8 Oaks is licensed by the State of Tennessee and accredited by The Joint Commission, the national leader in healthcare organization accreditation.


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Westpoint, Tennessee  38486

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