How To Recognize All Stages Of Addiction

It can be difficult to tell whether someone is going through tough times or developing an addiction. What do the stages of addiction look like? How can you get help for yourself or a loved one if you think an addiction is developing? Keep reading for the answers you need.

What is addiction?

Addiction is a condition of the brain characterized by compulsive behavior. Traditionally addiction has referred exclusively to substance abuse, but experts have been moving towards including other activities in the definition of addiction.

Common compulsions of addiction include:

  • Alcohol
  • Recreational or prescription drugs
  • Shopping
  • Sexual activity
  • Gambling
  • Overeating

All addictions have two features in common:

Addictions are maladaptive: Instead of helping the affected person cope with situations, the chronic behavior creates problems for them and those around them. This prevents the addicted person from solving problems, instead undermining their efforts.

Addictions are persistent: People with addictions will continue to frequently engage in the chronic behavior despite the negative consequences. Occasionally indulging in a behavior may be problematic, but it does not constitute an addiction. A person with an addiction will regularly and consistently repeat the behavior despite the issues it causes. It is not uncommon for an addicted person to want to stop the behavior but be unable to do so without professional help.

Understanding the difference: dependency vs. addiction

As you research substance abuse disorder – a specific term for addiction involving the use of drugs and chemicals to achieve an altered mental state – you may see references to drug dependence. How are drug dependency and addiction different?

Being dependent on a drug means your body is physically affected by it in two ways:

Tolerance: When the body develops a tolerance to a drug, it means the body has become chemically accustomed to the drug’s presence. This means that a person will need to gradually increase how much of the drug they take to feel the same effects. For example, chronic pain patients can experience tolerance to many prescription painkillers, meaning their dosages must be increased to maintain pain relief.

Experiencing withdrawal: Withdrawal is the body’s physical reaction to a sharp decrease of the drug’s presence in the body.

hand full of pills, addiction

Certain drugs create major chemical changes in body function, and re-adjusting to operating without those drugs can cause extremely unpleasant or even fatal symptoms. Not everyone who is dependent on a substance has an addiction, and not everyone who has an addiction to a substance experiences dependency.

What are the stages of addiction?

If you haven’t had much exposure to people experiencing addiction before, you may feel uncertain about behaviors that fall short of obviously severe addiction.

Experts generally break the development of addiction into 4 stages:

Experimentation or overuse



Dependency, Addiction, or both

People can reach the first or second stages of use without progressing further. Once a person reaches the third stage, it is likely that they will progress to the fourth stage of addiction. It can also be helpful to be aware of other factors that may contribute to the situation, such as a family history of addiction.

What do the stages of addiction look like?

The early stages of addiction can offer some clues that a person is headed towards addiction. Some signs of the early stages of addiction include:

  • Experimenting with substances or behaviors
  • Being drawn to a particular activity or substance
  • Binging episodes, or loss of control without feeling remorse or concern afterwards
  • Seeking situations based on the presence of the substance or activity

As addiction progresses into later stages, there are further changes in behavior and personality that can indicate a problem with addiction, such as:

  • Denial or ignoring negative consequences related to their behavior
  • Increased secrecy surrounding an activity or substance
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were previously prioritized
  • Neglecting important relationships or lashing out at those who are closest
  • Difficulty or failure to fulfill important obligations, i.e., work
  • Distinct change in sleeping patterns, often resulting in chronic fatigue
  • Increasingly taking risks, especially surrounding an activity or substance

It should be noted that many of these changes will be gradual, as people experiencing addiction tend to surround themselves with people who encourage the behavior or substance use.

Addiction can also reveal itself in the toll it takes on an affected person’s health, especially in cases of substance abuse disorder.

Examples of health changes that may occur include:

  • Increased tolerance to substances
  • Bloodshot or glazed eyes
  • Onset of unhealthy skin, hair, teeth, and nails (especially prevalent in cases of addiction to methamphetamines or cocaine)
  • Constant illness
  • Sudden fluctuation of appetite or weight
  • Problems with memory loss or recall issues
  • Increase in unexplained injuries
  • Changes in speech such as slurred words or rapidly rambling
  • Mental health changes
  • Signs of physical withdrawal symptoms, like sweating, trembling, or vomiting
  • Abrupt mood swings
  • Apathy
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Increase in aggression
  • Suicidal thoughts

When considering all these factors, it’s important to consider whether there are medical reasons for the changes you are seeing.

What are the long-term risks of drug or alcohol addiction?

It can feel challenging to know whether or not you should intervene when a loved one is showing signs of addiction, especially when the drug in question is a prescription to help manage a medical condition. This can be even more challenging when people struggling with addiction tend to deny, downplay, or hide their problems.

However, it’s important to understand the long-term consequences of addiction so that you can take the actions necessary to help yourself or your loved one.

Potential dangers of addiction include:

  • Dropping or failing out of school
  • Loss of job or damage to career
  • Negative impact to community reputation and relationships
  • Financial damage, including damage to credit or loss of property
  • Loss of parental rights
  • Legal troubles, both civil and criminal
  • Infectious disease (especially associated with substance abuse disorder due to sharing needles)

While these dangers can happen to people without addiction, those with addiction are especially at risk.

man holding his head in his hands, having hard time to concentrate

What are the treatment options for drug and alcohol addiction?

Knowing the treatment options available for addiction is important to get help for yourself or a loved one. Familiarizing yourself with the recovery process can help prepare you for the steps ahead in getting yourself or your loved one help.


Intervention is a process in which loved ones urge a person struggling with addiction to get help. Having the assistance of a trained specialist can greatly increase the likelihood of success, as they can work with friends and family in advance to make sure discussions help motivate the addicted person, and avoid making the problem worse. Loved ones offering support through the recovery process helps increase the likelihood of success in treatment.


Detox usually refers to substance abuse disorder when someone has developed a physical dependency to a drug. While someone quitting “cold turkey,” or all at once, may seem like a positive step forward, it can be highly dangerous. Depending on the substance, detox symptoms can be fatal if not treated, so detox should always be done under the guidance of a medical professional.

Medical professionals can evaluate someone struggling with addiction and create a tapered substance withdrawal plan that minimizes the dangers and discomfort of detox while efficiently weaning the body off of a substance. Sometimes a doctor might prescribe medication to make detox safer or less uncomfortable.

Determining whether detox needs to be inpatient or can be done at home depends on a number of factors, including the substance(s) involved and the severity of the addiction.


Aftercare generally refers to the various treatments and therapies designed to prevent someone from relapsing. This often involves mental and general health evaluations to rule out any untreated medical conditions that may contribute to addiction.

The treatment model most people are familiar with are inpatient programs, typically lasting at least 30 days. However, there are a variety of formats, including outpatient programs, private therapy, or even getting treatment at home.

Elite Home Detox Can Help You Recognize The Stages Of Addiction And Begin Recovery At Home

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, reach out to Elite Home Detox. We are a concierge medical practice specializing in addiction medicine, offering services in the comfort and privacy of patients’ homes. We offer a wide array of addiction-focused medical services, including:

  • In-Home Detox
  • Sober Companionship
  • Psychiatric Evaluation
  • Case Management
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment
  • Interventions
  • NAD IV Therapy
  • Concierge Medical Services

Our Aftercare Recovery Memberships allow you access to comprehensive services for a monthly rate. Whether you or a loved one has tried traditional clinical treatment before, or is struggling with addiction for the first time, our services can help guide people struggling with addiction back to their best selves.
Discreet, addiction-focused healthcare in the place where you feel most comfortable.

Contact Elite Home Detox today!

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