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The Stages of Addiction and Recovery

Addiction is a powerful thing. It can take over your life, control your behavior, and destroy relationships. Addictions come in many different forms, and it can be hard to tell how far down the road you or a loved one are. 

Understanding the different types of addiction and how addiction progresses can help you better understand addiction and recovery, and guide you through the stages of recovery. 

Common Types of Addictions

When it comes to addiction, the brain becomes physically and emotionally dependent on a substance or activity. This dependency can take many forms, and addiction can be classified according to the substances or activities that the individual becomes addicted to. 

Chemical Addiction vs. Behavioral Addiction

Addiction can refer to either a chemical addiction or behavioral addiction. A chemical addiction is when you become physically dependent on a substance. Examples of chemical addiction include drug and alcohol addiction. 

Behavioral addiction is when you develop an addictive behavior, often as a way to cope with stress or emotions. Like addiction to a substance, behavioral addiction is directly related to the “high” one feels when engaging in an activity. Examples of behavioral addiction include gambling addiction, sex addiction, and internet addiction. 

Alcoholism

Alcohol addiction is a serious health condition that takes hold of around 6% of the American population directly, but the effects on people around the addict reaches a much greater number of people. Out of this number of people, only about 7% get treatment for their addiction. 

man drinking heavily

Alcohol addiction can occur due to many factors, including genetics, environment, and unique life circumstances. Alcohol addiction means drinking more than is recommended for your health or social use, and continuing to drink despite serious consequences.  

Drinking alcohol in excess can have many negative effects on one’s mental and physical health. Alcohol can cause liver disease, high blood pressure, pancreatitis, cancer, as well as depression and anxiety. 

Opioid Addiction

Opioids are often prescribed as medication to help relieve pain. However, opioids can also be obtained illegally in the form of fentanyl, heroin, or opium. The opioid epidemic is currently the largest drug crisis in the United States, killing tens of thousands of people per year.

Many people become addicted to opioids gradually, without realizing it's affecting them. 

However, as drug abuse progresses, users start to develop dependence on opioids. At this point, opioids become more important than anything else in their lives – even taking priority over other activities such as work or family life. 

Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that affects the brain by stimulating high levels of dopamine.

Cocaine is a very dangerous drug because it is extremely addictive, and continued use can cause strain on the heart, which can lead to cardiac arrest or a stroke. 

Nicotine Addiction 

Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical found in the tobacco plant, and is primarily consumed by inhaling the smoke of tobacco cigarettes.

Nicotine is a dangerous substance, and can cause many diseases, including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema, and more. Smoking-related diseases are responsible for about 435,000 deaths per year in the United States. 

Nicotine is also known to be a gateway drug; in fact, the majority of cocaine users started out smoking cigarettes. 

Gambling Addiction 

Gambling addiction is a type of behavioral addiction that is characterized by an overpowering urge to gamble. It can be caused by spending too much time on one particular game or activity, which leads to problem-gambling behavior. Those with gambling addiction may also find it hard to break free from the cycle of dependency and recurrent gambling sessions.

poker chips and cards

Many who are addicted to gambling also have a drug or alcohol problem. 

This kind of addiction tends to develop over time and becomes more difficult to control as it gets worse. There are various types of gambling addiction - for example, someone might get addicted to poker, blackjack, sports betting, or slot machines.

How Does Addiction Affect the Brain?

Both chemical and behavioral addictions alter the brain’s chemical structure. When you drink, use drugs, or gamble, your brain overproduces dopamine, which is what causes the feel-good “high.”

The brain tries to solve this problem by decreasing dopamine production, which results in the person needing a substance in order to experience a normal level of dopamine. 

Over time, the brain will adjust to this high level of dopamine, and starts to require more of the addictive substance in order to produce that same level of dopamine. 

Drugs and alcohol can also negatively affect the parts of the brain that involve decision making, memory, and impulse control. 

The good news is, once you quit the addictive substance, your brain can actually start to correct itself, and repair some of the damage that has been done. 

How Does an Addiction Start? 

Addiction can start with a single use of a substance or behavior. Often, people become addicted because they're not aware of the risks. For example, addiction to drugs or alcohol can start with experimentation, which may involve using a substance for the first time. 

man losing sports bet

Once addiction has started, it can be difficult to break free. Addiction can be a vicious cycle, as people become increasingly dependent on the substance or activity and find it harder and harder to quit. 

Addiction treatment is an essential step on the road to recovery. It can help people detox from addiction and learn how to live without the substance. In the long term, addiction treatment can help people learn how to manage cravings, live a sober lifestyle and rebuild their lives.

Why Do People Get Addicted?

Addiction is a complex disease that can have many different causes. However, there are some key factors that make someone more likely to become addicted. Some people have a genetic disposition that makes them more prone to addiction development, while environmental and upbringing factors also play an important role. 

Many people start experimenting with a substance or addictive activity to ease a mental health condition or to cope with stress or trauma. In many cases, people are looking to ease physical or emotional pain, and start to engage in activities or use substances that minimize the pain and help them cope with what they are feeling.

Addiction is classified as a serious medical condition, and requires professional help and treatment in order to overcome it. There are many different reasons why individuals get addicted - sometimes substance abuse starts out innocently but can escalate over time due to triggers associated with the addiction itself or related situations affecting the addict's life. 

The 5 Stages of Addiction

Addiction progresses gradually. Here are the 5 stages of addiction, which can help you identify which stage you or a loved one are at. 

1. Experimentation

Addiction starts with the first experience with the substance or activity. No one starts drinking or smoking thinking that they’re going to get addicted to it. Adolescents are especially prone to progress past the experimentation stage, because their brain and impulse controls are still developing. 

person declining drugs

2. Regular Use

At this point, the person may not use a substance every day, but there may be a predictable pattern, or they may start to use whenever they experience the uncomfortable feeling of stress, boredom, anxiety, or loneliness. 

Beginning to use a substance or activity on a regular basis creates a risk of developing a tolerance to it. 

3. Risky Use

The person continues to engage in the addictive activity, despite facing consequences because of it. This may include getting a DUI, losing a lot of money while gambling, or facing problems at work or in their relationships. 

During this stage, the person will start experiencing physical or psychological cravings for their substance or activity of choice.

4. Tolerance/Dependence

As the brain’s reward pathways develop in response to the substance or behavior of abuse, a tolerance to the increased dopamine will build over time. If you stop using the addictive substance abruptly, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms which can be very uncomfortable and even painful. 

5. Addiction

Addiction can start with something as seemingly innocuous as using alcohol or drugs, but it can quickly spiral out of control and become an intense dependency. 

An addiction is when a person has an intense compulsion for the activity or substance of choice, which can cause them to go to great lengths to maintain the pleasurable sensation that only this substance can give them. They seek to avoid the feelings of pain and discomfort that come with withdrawal symptoms at all costs.

If you are struggling with addiction, it is important to identify which stage you are in so that you can get help. The sooner you get help for your problem, the faster you can start recovery. 

Download 5 Stages of Addiction Infographic

Signs You Have a Problem

Addiction is an illness that affects anyone at any time in their life. Addiction is not a character flaw, and it's not something that someone can just "snap out of." Addiction is a disease that needs treatment. Here are a few signs of addiction to look out for.

  • Change in behavior
  • Continuing using a substance despite negative consequences
  • Unable to control usage
  • Experiencing cravings or withdrawal symptoms when not using
  • Making risky decisions to support your usage
  • Being secretive or defensive about behavior

If you're struggling with addiction, know that there is hope. There are many experienced professionals ready to help you through your addiction recovery journey. It takes time and dedication, but with the right resources and support, recovery is certainly achievable.

How to Cope with Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are the body's way of getting a substance out of your system and returning your body to a state of normalcy. They can be difficult to cope with, but there are ways to help ease them along. 

man dealing with withdrawal symptoms

First and foremost, understand that withdrawal symptoms are a normal part of addiction and addiction recovery. Also know that withdrawal symptoms may feel intense at the time, but they will not last forever. 

Lastly, seek support from friends, family, or professionals who can provide support and guidance during this time. It’s vital that you have a support system in place to help you combat your triggers and stick to your recovery goals. 

Types of Withdrawal Symptoms

There are various types of withdrawal symptoms that can occur when detoxing from substance abuse. Some of these include:

  • Anxiety and mood swings 
  • Insomnia 
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating, chills, or fever

More serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include hallucinations, and delirium tremens, which can be fatal. Detoxing from alcohol and drugs can be dangerous, so make sure that you do so in a professionally supervised environment, and never attempt to detox on your own.

5 Tips for Getting Sober

There is no easy answer when it comes to addiction and recovery. It takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work - but recovery is possible. Here are five tips to help get you started:

1. Attend individual therapy - This can be helpful for understanding your triggers, and how to cope with difficult life circumstances in a safe and healthy way.

2. Attend support group meetings - Immersing yourself in a sober community is essential for getting sober. Getting to learn from others who have been through or are going through the same thing as you can be incredibly helpful for your journey.

3. Attend a treatment center - In many cases, professional treatment is necessary for getting sober. Find a reputable treatment program that fits your needs and has a supportive staff.

4. Avoid triggering people and places - In order to get sober, you will need to make some serious life changes. This may mean you stop hanging out with people who only want to drink or get high every time you see them, or it may mean taking a different route home that doesn’t pass the bar or casino.

5. Lean on your support system. Addiction is a lonely disease, but sobriety can also feel very isolating at times. Depend on your friends and family during this time. 

How Addictions are Treated

Addiction is a life-threatening disease, and needs to be treated as such. It's important to identify the stage of addiction in order to provide the best treatment possible. This means that addiction is not a matter of willpower - it is a disease that needs treatment and rehabilitation. 

Recovery centers provide those struggling with addiction with the resources and support they need to overcome addiction and live a healthy and meaningful life. It's a long and difficult journey, but with the right treatment and support, addiction can be overcome.

Detox

If you have been using drugs or alcohol heavily and consistently, then detoxification will be the first step of your treatment. Detox is a process of cleansing your system of all the toxic substances you have accumulated over time, which helps improve overall health and avoid disease.

Detox is necessary for clearing out any built-up debris from your digestive system, liver and kidneys. This will allow these organs to function at their best and help rid your body of harmful toxins quickly.

This phase of treatment tends to be the most uncomfortable to go through, as you will likely experience intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

When detoxing from drugs or alcohol, it’s essential that you do so in a treatment facility, where you always have access to medical professionals who can ensure that you remain safe and healthy throughout the process. Attempting to detox on your own can cause many health complications, and can be potentially fatal. 

Inpatient Treatment

If you are at the full blown stage of addiction, then inpatient treatment is the best option. This type of treatment aims to provide a patient with supervised rehabilitation in an environment that is conducive to their recovery.

It typically consists of different methods of treatment, including individual therapy, group therapy, case management, and often promotes physical health and wellness through exercise and diet planning. 

group therapy meeting

Many times addiction coincides with a mental health disorder, in which case it is considered a co-occurring disorder. Inpatient treatment helps address all these underlying problems so that a patient can get to the root of their addiction, understand their triggers, and start to rebuild their life. 

Outpatient Treatment

After a patient has completed an inpatient program, they usually move into an outpatient program. The patient no longer has to live in a supervised facility, but will continue to attend individual and group counseling on a regular scheduled basis. 

This will consist of learning coping mechanisms and replacing old habits with healthier ones so they can live a sober life free from addiction. Getting sober is one thing, but healing mentally and emotionally is what will help you stay sober. During this stage, being a part of a sober community is essential in preventing relapse and encouraging sobriety.

What to Do if You Relapse

Following treatment, it is not uncommon for a person to relapse. Whether you've been struggling for a long time or have just relapsed for the first time, remember that you're not alone, and there are steps you can take to prevent relapse from happening again and get back on track. 

Why is Relapse so Common?

Relapse can occur for a variety of reasons. Often, the person gets sober without doing any of the internal work that is required for maintaining sobriety and understanding triggers. 

If a person has just come out of a treatment program, where they had constant support, they may have a hard time adjusting back into their routine and returning to the “real world,” where temptations are everywhere. Neglecting self-care, and not properly addressing triggers is also a leading cause of relapse. 

In other cases, a person may actually feel overconfident in their ability to maintain sobriety, and think they don’t need to attend support groups or therapy sessions. This is a dangerous mindset to have, and it can have serious consequences. 

Stages of Relapse

Relapse does not happen based on a single impulse or moment of weakness. It’s something that starts in the way you think, which leads to taking action. 

Relapse can be categorized into emotional, mental and physical relapse. 

Emotional relapse is when the emotions that typically lead you to indulge in your substance or activity of choice, start to resurface. This can cause the desire for a quick, temporary fix for these difficult emotions. 

Mental relapse is when you are consciously thinking about your substance or activity, and start to experience cravings for it.

Physical relapse is when you take the physical action of obtaining your desired substance, or engaging in your desired activity. 

How to Prevent Future Relapse

Relapse is a common occurrence in addiction treatment, but it can be managed by following a plan. This will help you avoid getting too comfortable with your addiction again and allow for more effective treatment. By planning ahead, you'll also have an idea of what to do when relapses happen and know where to go for support.

  1. Pay attention to triggers. Know what triggered your relapse and pay attention to any warning signs that might signal an impending relapse. Once you know the trigger, make sure that you are as far away from it as possible, which may involve avoiding places, people or activities that caused problems in the past.
  2. Self-care. Pay attention to what your mind and body need, and practice plenty of self-care. Commit yourself to journaling in order to help analyze your struggles and progress over time.
  3. Learn to manage your stress. Don’t take on more than you can handle, and have effective coping mechanisms in place for when you start to feel stressed.
  4. Seek support. The best thing you can do if you relapse is to reach out for support, whether from friends and family, a support group, or medical professionals. If you are struggling to quit using the substance after you relapse, you may need to return to treatment. 

Stages of Addiction Recovery

Just as there are 5 stages of addiction, there are also 5 stages of recovery, which are as follows. 

1. Precontemplation Stage

Those who are in the precontemplation stage are not yet aware that they have a problem. They do not believe that they need treatment, but may start attending therapy sessions to appease their loved ones. 

2. Contemplation Stage

In the contemplation stage, the person acknowledges that they have a problem, and are considering making a change to their addictive behavior. 

3. Preparation Stage

The preparation stage is the point at which a person is planning to take action towards combating their addiction, but have not yet made any changes to their behavior. They may plan out the type of change they are seeking - whether it be cutting down on a substance or quitting completely.

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They can use this stage to get a support network in place and remove any triggers that might make their goals less achievable. 

4. Action Stage

The person is taking actionable steps towards combating their addiction and changing their behavior. This may mean attending a treatment center. Good preparation can help the action stage go smoothly. 

5. Maintenance Stage

The person is committed to their recovery and maintaining their sobriety. During this stage, it’s essential to continue attending support groups and outpatient counseling, and being very aware of any triggers that may threaten sobriety. 

Recover from Addiction at Paramount Recovery

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. At Paramount Recovery Center, we help men of all ages overcome drug, alcohol, and gambling addiction. Addiction treatment is a gradual process that helps you move from dependency to recovery. 

Paramount offers detox & stabilization for drug and alcohol addiction, as well as a sober living program that lasts up to 90 days. The sober living program consists of group therapy, individual therapy, peer support, and case management.

We know that returning to the real world after attending treatment can be a difficult adjustment, which is why we believe in creating a realistic environment where our clients can experience working a job or attending college classes while going through treatment. 

Contact our addiction recovery experts to determine whether our treatment program would be a good fit for you or your loved one.