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The Four Stages of Addiction Explained

Addiction is a widespread issue that affects millions of people globally and it can come in many forms. However, the issue is not what a person is addicted to – the issue is the addiction itself.

The common thread that weaves through addiction is the need to numb. Numbing pain, whether it’s physical or emotional, can feel like the only way for one to escape from the struggles of life and when left unchecked, addiction often unfolds.

A common misconception is that addiction happens overnight and there is no way to see it coming. However, when we look at the cycle of addiction and its different stages of evolution, we can see that there are many opportunities to identify it before it grabs hold and consumes us.

In this article, we talk about the 4 stages of addiction.

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The Four Stages of Addiction

In order for us to understand addiction, we must understand how it develops. Below are the four stages of the addiction cycle.


The first stage of the addiction cycle is experimentation. This can be defined as voluntary use of a substance which doesn’t result in serious legal, social, or emotional consequences. Mild substance use is not only widely accepted, but often encouraged especially among young adults in social scenarios.

However, there comes a point when seemingly harmless, recreational use of substances turns into regular use.

Regular Use

In stage two of the addiction cycle, people who use substances will unknowingly find themselves at a fork in the road. Some people may continue to occasionally experiment with substances without developing a dependence on them. However, regular puts many others at risk of addiction.

This happens when occasional usage turns into a daily habit which in turn also increases the likelihood of engaging in high-risk behavior. Additionally, people in this stage of the addiction cycle may experience feelings of shame or guilt for doing what they do, but still find ways to justify it. They may also convince themselves and others that they can stop whenever they want to.

High-Risk Use

There is a thin line between regular and high-risk use. However, high-risk use often means that you continue to use drugs or alcohol despite the negative consequences they have had on your life. In addition, high-risk use is associated with being either unaware or unconcerned about how your behavior is affecting you and the people you love.

During this stage, you will likely begin to experience cravings which you can no longer ignore, and this can result in you doing things you wouldn’t normally do to obtain your substance of choice.


The final stage of the cycle is addiction. During this stage, there is no avoiding the fact that you are physically and/or psychologically dependent on drugs or alcohol. When you are in the addiction stage, you experience serious withdrawal symptoms which are too difficult to deal with, so using becomes not only a relief, but a necessity.

When addiction takes hold, you find yourself at the mercy of substances and, as a result, the rest of your life takes a backseat. It’s likely that your personal and professional relationships will start to take strain and your loved ones may encourage you to seek professional help.

Step Away – Addiction Treatment Centre South Africa

Fortunately, no matter what stage of the cycle you find yourself in, help is always available. Addiction is mostly a progressive journey which can be intervened at any stage.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, seeking help from professionals may be the answer you are looking for.

In our next article, we will take a look at the difference between physical and psychological dependence.

Contact us to find out more about our treatment programs.

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