Stages Of Addiction

Stages of addiction

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Addiction is a pervasive and debilitating mental health condition that can greatly impede a person’s ability to function in their daily life. Having knowledge about how this condition develops and the different stages of addiction can be essential in finding appropriate treatment and achieving a successful recovery.

What Are The Stages Of Addiction?

The exact stages of addiction vary depending on the substance or non-substance abused and the behavior of the addict. In fact, addiction is a complex individualized experience, despite encompassing several general stages 1, including:

1. First use

During initiation, a potential addict tries a substance, non-substance, or behavior for the first time, most often due to:

  • Drug availability
  • Peer pressure in social situations
  • Family history of substance use
  • Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety

The first use is further supplemented by periodic ‘experiments 2’ wherein the potential addict experiments with the substance or non-substance in question, in different contexts, to see how it affects his/her life.

2. Regular use/Continued use

As a person continues to experiment with the substance, non-substance, or behavior—its use becomes normalized. He/she develops a pattern to use it on a regular basis, often as a way to cope with stress or other problems.

Read More About Stress Here

3. Risky use/Tolerance

At this stage, the person indulges in risky misuse of the substance, non-substance, or behavior which negatively impacts his/her personal and professional lives as well as social relationships.

The potential addict goes through a critical period of physiological and social development marked by increased risk-taking behavior, restlessness, and heightened motivation to obtain arousal from the substance abuse. As the addictive behavior or substance use progresses to become a lifestyle, the earliest onset of addiction begins.

4. Dependence

In this stage, the individual has developed a physical and/or psychological dependence on the substance or non-substance and experiences withdrawal symptoms 3 when he/she tries to stop using it. The person’s misuse of the same is no longer recreational or medical, but rather a reliant substance of choice.

The potential addict becomes incapable of controlling his/her cravings and feels that he/she is unable to function while sober. The affected person may require higher amounts of substances to counter his/her tolerance 4 and experience homeostasis.

5. Addiction/Substance use disorder

In this stage, the addicted person meets the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of addiction. This includes the continued and preoccupied use of the substance or non-substance despite negative consequences and difficulty controlling the usage.

Now, the affected person becomes more focused on acquiring and engaging in his/her addictive behavior and may appear to be a completely different individual.

In clinical terms, the addicted person suffers from substance use disorder (SUD) 2, a mental health condition marked by persistent and obsessive indulgence in harmful substances, non-substances, or behaviors that cause mental, physical, and behavioral problems. This condition mandates immediate medical help.

Read More About Addiction Here

What Are The Stages Of Addiction Recovery?

The stages in addiction treatment and recovery involve a process of change that allows the addicted individual to achieve and maintain abstinence, as well as improve his/her overall health and well-being.

The commonly used model gauging addiction recovery is the “stages of change” or “transtheoretical” model 5 proposed by American psychologists Prochaska and Carlo Di DiClemente in the late 1970s. It initially had four stages and, in recent years, the model has been expanded to include two additional stages. These stages include:

  1. Precontemplation, or not acknowledging a problematic behavior that needs to be changed
  2. Contemplation, or becoming aware of problematic behavior and considering a change
  3. Preparation/Determination, or preparing to take action and seek resources and support
  4. Action/Willpower, or taking concrete steps to change behavior
  5. Maintenance, or maintaining the changed behavior by quickly identifying issues to prevent a full-blown return to addictive behavior
  6. Relapse, or returning to the older addictive behavior by abandoning the new behavioral changes

Read More About Complications Of Addiction Here

Tips For Recovery

The common recommendations for addiction recovery 6 include seeking professional help as early as possible 7, adhering to the treatment plan, and building a support system. Moreover, setting realistic goals, identifying triggers, learning self-help coping skills, and developing healthy habits can also aid recovery.

It is also important to remember that the path of recovery and personal care in addiction isn’t a straight line, so don’t let discouragement take over when you struggle. Stay positive and persistent in your journey toward recovery and healing, so as to enjoy better treatment outcomes.


Understanding the stages of addiction and addiction recovery can be an important tool for managing the symptoms of addiction. While these stages can vary from person to person, having knowledge of them can guide the development of personalized treatment plans and provide guidance on how to support someone struggling with addiction.

Additionally, being aware of the stages of addiction can help individuals better understand their own addiction and take the necessary steps to overcome it. This awareness can also help anticipate challenges and setbacks during recovery, allowing individuals to develop effective coping strategies and relapse prevention plans. In fact, knowledge of the stages of addiction can be crucial for promoting successful recovery and improving overall well-being.

At A Glance

  1. The stages of addiction refer to the different phases that an individual goes through in their addiction journey.
  2. The stages of addiction tend to vary, though certain stages are considered uniform.
  3. The main stages of addiction include initiation/experimentation, regular or continued use, risky use, dependence, and addiction.
  4. There are also several stages of addiction recovery.
  5. Knowledge of the different stages of addiction can provide valuable insights into the process of addiction and recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What are the stages of addiction activity?

Most addictions involve a three-stage cycle, including binge/intoxication, withdrawal/negative affect, and preoccupation/anticipation.

2. Why is it important to know about the stages of addiction?

Understanding each stage of addiction can help individuals, healthcare providers, and families identify when someone is at risk for addiction or has developed an addiction. This knowledge can facilitate earlier intervention, tailored treatment, and improved outcomes for those struggling with addiction.

3. Is relapse a stage of change in addiction recovery?

Relapse, in addiction recovery, is typically viewed as a setback in the process of behavior change, rather than a stage of change. It occurs when an individual who has made progress in changing their behavior reverts back to their old patterns of behavior.

4. What is the final stage of change in addiction recovery?

The final stage of change in addiction is the maintenance stage wherein individuals recovering from addiction may experience occasional setbacks or relapses, but they are able to quickly identify and address these issues to prevent a full-blown return to addictive behavior.

5. What is the preparation stage of addiction recovery?

The preparation stage of addiction recovery is the third stage in the transtheoretical model of change, wherein addicted individuals make a commitment to change their addictive behavior and actively prepare to take action.

👇 References:
  1. Koob, G. F., & Volkow, N. D. (2016). Neurobiology of addiction: a neurocircuitry analysis. The lancet. Psychiatry, 3(8), 760–773. []
  2. US Department of Health and Human Services. (2016, November). THE NEUROBIOLOGY OF SUBSTANCE USE, MISUSE, AND ADDICTION.; US Department of Health and Human Services. Available from: [][]
  3. Piper M. E. (2015). Withdrawal: Expanding a Key Addiction Construct. Nicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, 17(12), 1405–1415. []
  4. Miller, N. S., Dackis, C. A., & Gold, M. S. (1987). The relationship of addiction, tolerance, and dependence to alcohol and drugs: a neurochemical approach. Journal of substance abuse treatment, 4(3-4), 197–207. []
  5. Shaffer, J. A. (2013). Stages-of-Change Model. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, 1871–1874. Available from: []
  6. Inanlou, M., Bahmani, B., Farhoudian, A., & Rafiee, F. (2020). Addiction Recovery: A Systematized Review. Iranian journal of psychiatry, 15(2), 172–181. []
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). (2016, November). EARLY INTERVENTION, TREATMENT, AND MANAGEMENT OF SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS.; US Department of Health and Human Services. Available from: []
AI Chatbot Avatar
⚠️ Liza is in training with WMHA and may not always provide the most accurate information.
7 Signs of Drug Abuse In Teenagers Is Borderline Personality Disorder The Worst Mental Illness? 8 Films That Portray Schizophrenia’s Devastating Reality 7 Ways to Cope With Generalized Anxiety Disorder Why Don’t People Take Mental Health Seriously? 7 Telltale Signs of Schizophrenia: World Schizophrenia Day 7 Tips To Nurture Your Child’s Mental Health How to Deal with Bullies Like a Pro? 5 Powerful Strategies 7 Ways Laughter Can Recharge Your Mental Health 6 Signs That You’re Affected By Digital Distress 10 Signs You’re In An Abusive Relationship And It’s Hard To Leave 13 Signs You Are A Toxic Parent