Drug addiction is a complex process that can take many forms, but it typically follows a linear progression. Understanding the four stages of drug addiction can help identify when someone is at risk of developing an addiction or if they have already developed it. Although it does not necessarily lead to total addiction, drug experimentation is in fact considered the first stage of addiction. During this stage, the user has stopped trying the drug on their own and is now taking the drug in different contexts to see how it affects their life.
The second stage is regular use, where there is little or no desire to use the drug and the individual will continue to make a conscious decision whether to use or not. This does not mean that they wear it every day, but that there is some kind of pattern associated with it. As a person continues to experiment with a substance, its use normalizes and shifts from periodic use to regular use. The third stage is when the user has developed a dependence on the drug and has started to experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not using it.
During this stage, peer and family support is important, but it is also a serious emotional strain and sometimes even an impossibility. The fourth stage is when the addict has reached a point that they would never have imagined before when he started experimenting. Very few people set out to become addicted. A more common scenario is for a friend or family member to offer the consumer a substance, usually with the stated intention that the use of the drug is fun or useful.
Peer pressure is the main culprit of this type of experimentation, particularly among young people who are in a crucial period of development when it comes to the need to feel accepted by their peers. Some people will be able to enter the stage of regular use without developing a dependence or addiction. However, while teens have a reputation for agreeing with the crowd, even adults are not immune to this pressure. Measurable stress levels tend to increase, for everyone, when we experience that we are not accepted within a group.
Those who don't have a good defense against social ostracism often use a drug offered to feel included. An addiction does not form spontaneously during the night. Instead, it is the result of a long process of repeated substance abuse that gradually changes the way a person views a drug and the way his body reacts to it. If circumstances coincide and the individual continues to take the drug, he or she may soon be in the second stage of addiction. Many people will never get past Stage 1 experimentation, but most people who progress beyond Stage 2 will actually develop an addiction. It is important to remember that experimentation is not always harmless, especially if teens have certain risk factors for addiction, as experimentation can be an easy path to a prolonged future of substance use disorders. Understanding each stage and the behaviors associated with each of them is a valuable way to identify when someone is at risk of developing an addiction or if they have already developed it.
As each stage progresses, so do the dangers associated with drug use, as the ability to stop using the drug becomes much more difficult.