Four Stages of Addiction

Though it may sometimes appear as if someone with a substance abuse disorder develops a problem quickly, this isn’t usually the case. When it comes to addiction to alcohol and/or drugs, there are often stages that a person goes through as their dependency to the substance grows. Coming to terms with addiction and deciding to get treatment takes immense courage and should be congratulated for reaching this important milestone. But if you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and are unsure what to do next, consider where you fall within the four stages of addiction. The following are the stages someone with a substance abuse disorder will likely go through. Need help understanding what’s involved in rehab? Contact Harmony Ridge Recovery Center today! 

Four Stages Of Addiction

Four Stages of Addiction


Very few people set out to become addicted. The stages of addiction come upon slowly, but are dangerous. A more common scenario is that a friend or family member offers the user a substance, usually with the stated intention that using the drug is fun or helpful. A candidate may view this instance of getting high as a one-time occurrence, but the first time can be what opens the door to the downward spiral of addiction.

For some, experience with drugs and alcohol only goes as far as the experimentation phase. But for others, this phase is the beginning of a drug and/or alcohol dependency. This stage can occur at a different time in everyone’s life.

Regular Use

Regular use stages of addiction, drinking or drug use has made their way into a person’s everyday life. Typically there is often a specific problem that they use to cope with. For example, they suffer from physical pain, stress, depression, or social anxiety. They may still partake in social settings, but they now use the substance or substances alone as well. And, while some users start abusing substances as a way to alleviate anxiety and depression, they find that their instances of experiencing these negative moods have increased during their time on the drug. This phenomenon becomes more apparent as genuine dependency upon the drug is developed.

Problem or Risky Use

As regular usage progresses, both physical and psychological reliance on the drug is developed. The brain stops releasing chemicals naturally and instead relies on the outside substance to dictate the regulation. The body can stop functioning normally, resulting in needing more of the drug in order to regain homeostasis. Psychologically, the user may start finding that situations that were manageable, before, have become unbearable while sober.

Although the user may not personally realize it, people on the outside will almost certainly notice a shift in their behavior at this point. Some of the common changes during the stages of addiction to watch out for in a drug user include: 

  • Borrowing or stealing money  
  • Neglecting responsibilities such as work or family  
  • Attempting to hide their drug use 
  • Hiding drugs in easily accessible places (like mint tins) 
  • Changing peer groups  
  • Visiting multiple doctors or rapidly changing doctors (if using a prescription drug)  
  • Losing interest in old hobbies 


At this stage, substance use is compulsive and out of control. Addiction is a medical condition involving psychological and physical changes from repeated heavy use of alcohol, other drugs, or both. Characteristics of these stages of addiction include continued use of drugs regardless of the negative consequences, severed impacts to physical and mental health, poor performance at work or job loss, or engaging in criminal activity. Personal relationships are jeopardized or completely lost as a result of drug use.

4 Stages of Addiction and Drug Rehab Recovery

No matter which stage of drug use you’re in, it’s important to seek help right away, especially if you’ve reached the stage where you are unable to stop using drugs on your own. Addiction is a progressive illness that, if left untreated, only gets worse. Thankfully, addiction is also a treatable illness. 

Dependency and addiction are words that are sometimes used interchangeably, and though the words are similar and frequently connected in drug use, they are different. One of the biggest differences is that when a person develops an addiction, their drug use is no longer a conscious choice. Up until that point, it remains at least a shadow of one. 

Recovery from an alcohol use disorder requires effort, time, willpower, and support. When you decide to enter a professional alcohol and drug treatment program, you will begin a journey through four distinct stages of addiction rehab recovery as you learn to develop a healthy and sober lifestyle.

The four stages of addiction treatment are:

  1. Treatment initiation
  2. Early abstinence
  3. Maintaining abstinence
  4. Advanced recovery

These stages of addiction treatment were developed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as a resource on individual drug counseling for healthcare providers, but it is also a useful model for recovery from alcohol addiction. In this model, recovery is a lifelong process.

Stage 1: Treatment Initiation

During this stage of treatment, an individual’s alcohol and drug use history will be taken, the treatment program will be introduced, and the counselor will work with the individual to develop an individualized treatment plan.

Stage 2: Early Abstinence

Once you have made a commitment to continue treatment for your substance abuse problem, you will enter the second stage of rehab, known as early abstinence. Early abstinence from alcohol is significantly associated with positive treatment outcomes

Stage 3: Maintaining Abstinence

During this stage of your rehabilitation, you will learn to put the tools that you learned in early abstinence to use in other areas of your life, so that you can continue to live a truly sober lifestyle. You will discover that your future quality of life depends on more than simply not using.

Stage 4: Advanced Recovery

After approximately five years of abstinence, you will reach the fourth and final stage of your rehab: advanced recovery. It is at this point that you take all the tools and skills that you have learned during your rehab counseling and put them to use living a satisfying, fulfilling life.

Learn More About Stages of Addiction with Harmony Ridge Recovery Center

Has your addiction left you feeling helpless with no way out? Has your loved one’s addiction made them unrecognizable? We understand what you are experiencing and are here to help! The journey from a substance use disorder to a healthy, sober life is not a quick and easy one. For many, it takes a lifelong commitment of dedication and hard work. The road toward sobriety may be difficult, but professional treatment helps many people start that endeavor. Rehab programs can cause confusion and anxiety. Need help understanding what’s involved in rehab and the stages of addiction? By utilizing a combination of 24-hour medical care and evidenced-based therapies, we have helped countless individuals heal from alcoholism, drug addiction and co-occurring disorders. Our compassionate team of medical and clinical professionals are devoted to each patient’s safety, well-being and peace of mind.

Our experienced team of professionals will be by the patient’s side throughout the entire process, providing the necessary tools and knowledge to achieve and maintain long-term recovery.

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