How Casual Use Evolves into Dependence

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Addiction is a complex and progressive condition that often starts with seemingly harmless experimentation or occasional use. Understanding the stages of addiction is crucial for recognizing the signs early and enabling timely drug or alcohol treatment in Easton PA

This article will explore the stages through which casual use can evolve into dependence, shedding light on the psychological and physiological processes that lead to addiction.

Why Do People Abuse Drugs and Alcohol? 

Each stage of the addiction process has its own unique signs and symptoms, and it also highlights what will happen next if the substance use continues. People of all ages abuse substances, but the vast majority of them were exposed to drugs or alcohol at an early age. While curiosity often drives initial experimentation, the three main factors that contribute to continued substance use are: 

  • Emotional. Many people who abuse substances do so because they’re looking to fill a void in their lives or cope with uncomfortable emotions. 
  • Physical. People may also gravitate towards substances to change the way they feel physically, such as increasing energy or promoting relaxation.
  • Psychological. When a person has general feelings of inadequacy, they may also be led to substance use. For these individuals, drugs or alcohol boost their confidence and self-esteem. 

While there are emotional, physical and psychological reasons why people turn to substances, there are also several triggers that fit into them. For example, if you lose your job or break up with your significant other, it can cause emotional and psychological stress, causing you to reach for substances to cope. 

Common reasons for using drugs or alcohol include: 

  • Mental illness 
  • Self-medication
  • Peer pressure 
  • Boredom
  • Abuse and trauma 
  • Curiosity and experimentation 
  • Isolation 
  • Relaxation
  • Mental illness 

What are the Stages of Addiction? 

Addiction does not happen all of a sudden. It’s a process, and how long it takes depends on the individual, the substance they are using and other factors. Some people progress very quickly through the stages, while others can stay in the same stage for months or even years. However, regular substance use at any capacity can cause problems. 

Let’s look closer at the stages of addiction and what they involve.

1. Initiation 

The vast majority of children and adolescents are exposed to drugs or alcohol at an early age, particularly if these substances are in the home. However, there is a clear difference between initiation and exposure. 

Studies show that children and adolescents between the ages of 12-17 are at highest risk for initiation of drug and alcohol use. Those who are initiated at this young age are also more likely to become addicted or dependent on drugs or alcohol in adulthood. 

In other words, the younger a child is when they begin experimenting with drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder. While the risks of substance use are taught in school, kids and teens have an underdeveloped brain and are more inclined to try drugs or alcohol. 

2. Experimentation 

Regardless of age, experimenting with drugs or alcohol begins for one reason or another, such as curiosity, peer pressure or a desire to escape from stress or problems. Most people don’t think that the substances are going to lead to problems in their life, and they often believe that they are in control of their choices. 

However, the longer the substance use goes on, the higher the chances they will become out of control. And, while experimental use doesn’t guarantee addiction, it establishes an initial exposure to substances, making further use more likely, especially in susceptible individuals.

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3. Regular Use 

In the regular use stage, individuals start consuming the substance more frequently. It may still be occasional, but there is a noticeable increase in usage. For example, they might start off getting drunk on weekends only, and then slowly start drinking every night. 

Once regular use happens, substance use becomes a part of the person’s routine, and they may begin to develop a tolerance. Tolerance means that the body adapts to the substance, requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effect, which can pave the way for the next stage.

4. Problematic Use 

Problematic use marks the stage where substance use starts causing issues in the person’s life. This can include problems at work or school, strained relationships, financial difficulties or legal troubles. 

Despite these negative consequences, individuals in this stage find it challenging to control or stop their substance use. They may continue using to cope with the problems their usage has created, creating a vicious cycle. Furthermore, getting a person into rehab in this stage is difficult, as they often believe that they are in control of their substance use. 

5. Dependency

Dependency is a critical stage where the body and brain adapt to the substance, leading to physical and psychological reliance. Individuals in this stage experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using, which can range from mild discomfort to severe physical and emotional distress. Dependence often leads to compulsive drug-seeking behavior, even when the person is aware of the negative consequences.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between physical dependence and psychological dependence:

  • Physical dependence. Physical dependence happens when the body goes into a state of withdrawal when you cut back or stop the substance. Most addictive substances, even prescription ones, can cause physical dependence. 
  • Psychological dependence. Psychological dependence occurs when you feel the intense, uncontrollable need to continue using drugs or alcohol. You feel like you can’t function without the substance, making it difficult to quit. 

6. Addiction 

The final stage of addiction is characterized by a loss of control over substance use. People who struggle with addiction prioritize obtaining and using the substance above all else, including their health, relationships and responsibilities. 

Their brain chemistry undergoes significant changes, reinforcing the compulsive need to use the substance. Addiction is a chronic disease that requires professional treatment and ongoing support to manage effectively. It is not something that can be fought with willpower alone. 

Stop the Cycle with Drug and Alcohol Treatment in Easton PA 

As you can see, addiction is a progressive disease that happens over time. Some people stay in a state of tolerance for a long time, while others do not. The best way to prevent this cycle from continuing is to stop the substance use, understand the reasons why you’re turning to drugs or alcohol and develop healthier ways to cope. These are all things that Recovery Cove can help with. We have convenient outpatient programs that will help you build a sober life while transitioning back to society. Contact our professionals at 484-549-COVE to learn more.