Understanding the Cycle of Substance Abuse

Identifying the different stages of substance use is vital when learning how addiction develops and ways to break it. There are various stages of addiction, and they often occur in a cyclical fashion, from casual use to dependency and addiction. When you identify the different phases, you can better understand why addiction is so hard to get rid of on your own and get the help you need to break the cycle.

Cycle Level 1: Experimentation

Individuals start using substances for various reasons, from experimentation to coping mechanisms. Each situation is different, and nearly 20 million Americans struggle with substance use disorder every day. In most cases, addiction begins through curiosity and experimentation. At many points in their lives, some individuals find themselves in social situations where substances are available. While experimenting doesn’t always develop into full-blown addiction, it can be the thing that leads to a pattern of substance abuse.

The stage can start at any point but is more prone to teenage years. Peer pressure and the desire to climb social ladders can often lead a teen to drink or use drugs. For example, if a teen drinks at a party to feel socially accepted, they might enjoy the feeling and want to do it again because it helps with a mental health issue or allows them to cope with some stress. This puts them at risk for developing a dependency leading into the next stage of the cycle of addiction.

Cycle Level 2: Frequency

During this cycle of addiction, individuals have passed the experimental stage of substances. This stage pushes individuals to consider using substances more often for various reasons. It could be a stage where social interactions and peer pressure encourage frequent use, but it’s also a stage where individuals actively seek out the substance often as a coping mechanism. 

The increasing frequency may cause individuals to think about the substances more than other day-to-day activities or previously useful ways to cope. During the frequency stage of the cycle, individuals may push the limits of use, putting them at higher risk for substance abuse, which may lead to the next phase.

Cycle Level 3: Abusing Substances

The third stage of substance use is where an individual has passed from recreational use to abuse of the substance. This phase may bring about isolation, broken relationships, lying, and giving into impulses. The substance becomes the primary method of handling situations that are difficult or stressful. When individuals reach this phase, their thoughts of the substances turn into actions, and they will be more inclined to prioritize obtaining a fix than other financial, educational, or relational duties.

Those who find themselves drinking or using drugs to cope with situations will start to abuse the substances to drown out other problems. Additionally, the amount of drugs or alcohol used increases during this stage. Unfortunately for people who reach this stage, substance abuse often creates more problems, and so the cycle continues.

Cycle Level 4: Mental and Physical Dependency

During this cycle of substance use, doing without the substance is no longer an option. Individuals who reach this phase suffer from intense withdrawal symptoms and so must continually use to maintain the high or else risk those symptoms. This prevents them from quitting.

Further, this phase is where mental health concerns worsen, and keeping up with daily tasks is difficult and requires the help of the substance. During this phase, an individual may find themselves fully engulfed with substance use and do not see a way out without the help of recovery.

Cycle Level 5: Substance Disorder

During the last phase of substance use, it manifests as a disorder. Many individuals find themselves isolating and completely ignoring day-to-day activities. Relationships break down, and many individuals face financial difficulties. 

Individuals in this phase no longer can see a way out or may not even realize there dealing with a substance use disorder. This phase can go on for years and is the most challenging phase to break out of without a professional's help. However, regardless of the amount of time that an individual has been using substances, there is hope. Treatment centers work with individuals in any phase of the cycle to regain a sense of control over life and break free from substance use disorder.

Breaking the Cycle of Substance Use

Regardless of the stage of substance use that someone is in, there is always hope. Anytime there is breath left in one's body, there is hope for help — they just may not see it yet. It is essential to learn about the different phases because and seek help before substance use progresses any further. Many individuals have addressed substance use disorders and the various stages of substance use with professionals' help.

Addiction doesn't happen overnight. It has many stages and happens in cycles. At NorthStar Transitions in Boulder, Colorado, we provide quality treatment plans to every individual to break the cycle of addiction before it progresses further. Our qualified program addresses both substance use and mental health concerns and can equip you or your loved one with a long-term quality recovery plan. We understand you have needs different from any other client, and we develop a plan specific to you to help begin your recovery journey and maintain it for the rest of your life. You no longer need to feel isolated or alone when dealing with substance use. With a helping hand, you can now get the help you deserve from someone who cares. To learn more about breaking the cycle of substance use or see what phase you may be dealing with, reach out to NorthStar Transitions today at (303) 558-6400.

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