Stages of Addiction

Updated: September 19, 2019

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While there is no absolute scientific formula for identifying when an individual’s drug consumption has developed into a full-blown addiction problem, most rehabilitation counselors agree that there are four distinct stages of drug use that may lead to addiction. The four stages are generally acknowledged as drug use or experimentation, the misuse of drugs, the abuse of drugs and a drug dependency or addiction. While individuals in the first or second stages of use and misuse may not necessarily progress into drug addicts, individuals in the third stage of drug abuse are likely to develop full-blown addiction problems.

Drug Use or Experimentation

The first stage on the potential road to drug addiction, the use of drugs without experiencing any negative consequences is what rehabilitation counselors refer to as experimentation or simple drug ingestion. Enjoying a drink, smoking a marijuana joint or taking any other drug with friends or colleagues without any serious social or legal consequences is regarded as drug use or experimentation. While such behavior is not to be encouraged, it is a fact of life for many teens and adults.

Misuse of Drugs

The misuse of drugs occurs when the individual experiences some form of negative consequences as a direct result of having ingested any one particular drug. For example, someone who becomes inebriated at a party or get-together and is stopped for drunk driving on his or her way back home has misused alcohol even if that person does not normally drink to excess and is not an alcoholic. Examples including the one just mentioned occur in a fairly large percentage of the North American public at some point in a person’s life, and while not everyone who has misused drugs becomes an addict, the regular misuse of any drug is a telltale sign of an addict in waiting.

Abuse of Drugs

When an individual frequently misuses drugs in spite of any negative social or legal consequences that may result from such misuse, said individual has progressed from an occasional misuse of drugs to the more serious stage of the abuse of drugs. In effect, the negative consequences arising from the misuse of drugs has done nothing to curb the individual’s appetite for drug ingestion to the point of inebriation even in the face of serious penalties and possible broken relationships. Often begun as a temporary form of emotional escapism, drug abuse leads to much more serious problems in the long run.

Drug Addiction and Dependency

Once an individual has begun to abuse drugs, it is likely that the continuation of such behavior will lead to a drug addiction or dependency problem. Drug addiction or dependency is defined as a compulsion to take drugs despite any and all negative consequences to the individual’s relationship with his or her family, friends and work colleagues; physical and mental health; personal finances; job security; and at one extreme, a criminal record. While the reasons an individual progresses from the simple or occasional use of drugs to a possibly fatal dependency on drugs are not all clear, once this stage has been reached most addicts cannot function without consuming drugs. Addictions can be physical, psychological, emotional or any combination of the three, but at this stage professional help must be sought.

Disclaimer: The information contained on is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any medical or diagnostic purpose. The information on should not be used for the treatment of any condition or symptom. None of the material or information provided on is not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation, diagnosis, and/or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.