Are there different stages in substance use, abuse and addiction?

There are four core stages on the road to addiction. Progress from one stage to the next is neither certain nor pre-determined. The individual can stop the process at any one of the stages, especially if they have support. The stages are:

Experimentation
While use can begin either alone or with others, the substance is usually provided by others. Curiosity and peer pressure are important factors at this stage. There is no impact on work, school, health or finances yet. While trying a substance does not necessarily entail addiction, all addicts started out experimenting.

Actively searching
This stage involves spending time with substance users and actively searching for the substance with a view to inducing a change in mood. Use begins to make a minor impact on the user’s finances, work and health at this stage. This stage is associated with a change in the people the individual spends time with and a decline in their performance at school/work.

Involvement
There is a significant increase in consumption at this stage. The user becomes mentally and/or physically dependent on the substance. Their substance use begins to impact directly on their personal finances. The user will also display dietary problems and unsettled sleep. Users are now exposed to multiple risks, some of which can be life-threatening (unwanted pregnancy, traffic accidents). The user becomes unreliable and performs their obligations poorly to their family, employers or teachers. The individual becomes increasingly isolated as the relationships binding them to their environment suffer.

Addiction
Substance use is now the focal point of the user’s life. Their friends are now mainly other users, and there is a high chance that the user will become involved in illegal activities and get into trouble with the police. The individual now uses the substance alone and in large doses. The impact on their physical and mental health is obvious, as is the deterioration in their intellectual and social abilities.

Most children grow up without ever being presented with this life choice. Unfortunately, some young people do end up making this choice and gradually acquiring the serious problems it entails.