Addiction Recovery - Sobriety

What Are the Stages of Addiction?

What are the stages of addiction? In our blog, we'll talk you through the stages of addiction and how it's possible to break the cycle of addiction.

What are the Stages of Addiction?

Table of Contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

March 29, 2023

The Edge Treatment Center

What are the stages of addiction?

Drug addiction is a complex problem that is on the rise in the USA. Drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine are readily accessible in many places, and their use is frequently associated with social injustice, unemployment, and poverty.

Addressing the drug addiction problem in the USA requires a multifaceted approach. Like any disease, drug and alcohol addiction passes through distinct stages.

By the Numbers:

Nearly 92,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2020, up from around 70,000 in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What Is Addiction?

The term "addiction" refers to a complex and chronic disorder marked by obsessive use of a substance, despite the potentially detrimental outcomes. Because addiction alters the brain's reward system, which can result in strong cravings, loss of control, and persistent drug-seeking behavior, it is regarded as a brain disease.

Alcohol, cocaine, opioids, and other drugs, as well as specific behaviors (e.g., gambling, internet use, shopping), can all be addictive. Addiction-related compulsive behavior can harm a person's life, including social, professional, and legal challenges along with physical and mental health problems.

Various factors, including genetic, environmental, and psychological factors, influence the development of addiction. For instance, individuals with a family history of addiction may be at a higher risk of developing an addiction, while stressful life events or trauma may trigger addiction in some individuals.

Addiction is typically associated with physical dependence, where the body adapts to the presence of a substance and requires more of it to achieve the same effect. Withdrawal symptoms may occur when a person tries to quit or cut back on their substance use.

Depending on the individual's specific needs, addiction treatment often involves a combination of behavioral therapies and medications. Behavioral therapies may include cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps individuals identify and change negative patterns of thinking and behavior, or contingency management, which rewards positive behaviors.

Medications such as methadone or buprenorphine may be used to treat opioid addiction, while medications such as naltrexone or acamprosate may treat alcohol addiction. In some cases, residential or inpatient treatment may be necessary for individuals with severe addiction.

In short, addiction is a complex illness that needs extensive care and ongoing support to be effectively managed.

What Are the Stages of Addiction?

Different models describe the stages of addiction, but one commonly used model is the "stages of change" model developed by Prochaska and DiClemente. This model represents the different stages that individuals may go through when trying to change a behavior, including addiction. The stages of addiction in this model are:

Stage 1: Precontemplation

In this stage, the person is not yet aware or does not acknowledge that they have a problem with addiction. They may not see the negative consequences of their behavior, or they may believe that they can control it.

Stage 2: Contemplation

In this stage, the person is aware of their addiction and the negative consequences but is not yet ready or willing to change. They may weigh the pros and cons of changing but have not committed to taking action.

Stage 3: Preparation

In this stage, the person has decided to change their behavior and is preparing to take action. They may set a quit date, seek support, or gather information about treatment options.

Stage 4: Action

In this stage, the person takes active steps to change their behavior, such as entering treatment, attending support groups, or making lifestyle changes. This stage requires a significant commitment of time, effort, and resources.

Stage 5: Maintenance

In this stage, the person has successfully changed their behavior and is working to maintain their progress. They may continue to attend support groups, seek counseling, or use coping strategies to prevent relapse.

Stage 6: Termination

In this stage, the person no longer has an interest in taking addictive substances. This doesn't mean they're "cured" in the traditional sense of the word, however. Rather, recovery is a stage of being that has to be carefully maintained throughout life. Like any chronic condition, addiction has to be watched carefully.

What About Relapse?

Relapse is often counted among the stages of addiction. Relapse is a common part of the recovery process and can happen at any stage. It refers to a return to addictive behavior after a period of abstinence. While relapse can be discouraging, it does not mean that the person has failed or that they cannot recover. Instead, it can be seen as an opportunity to learn from the experience and adjust the treatment plan.

It's crucial to remember that not everyone will experience all of these phases or move through them in a single direction. Some people might move back and forth between phases, skip some, or remain in one stage for an extended period. The stages of addiction can also change based on the person's unique situation and the substance or behavior in question. The process of addiction and the phases needed in recovery can, however, be better understood by people and the people close to them if they are aware of these stages.

What Are the Symptoms of Addiction?

The symptoms of addiction can vary depending on the substance or behavior involved, but some common signs and symptoms of addiction include:




Intense urges or desires to use a substance or engage in a behavior, often accompanied by physical or psychological symptoms such as sweating, trembling, or anxiety.

Loss of control

Difficulty controlling or stopping the use of a substance or behavior, even when the person wants to or has tried to quit.


The need to use increasing amounts of a substance or engage in the behavior more frequently to achieve the desired effect.


Physical or psychological symptoms that occur when the substance or behavior is stopped or reduced, such as nausea, tremors, depression, or irritability.

Neglect of Responsibilities

Prioritizing substance use or behavior over important obligations such as work, school, or family responsibilities.

Social or Occupational Problems

Experiencing problems in social or occupational settings due to substance use or behavior, such as relationship problems, legal issues, or financial problems.

Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences

Continuing to use a substance or engage in a behavior despite experiencing adverse effects such as health problems, relationship difficulties, or legal problems.

Time Spent on the Substance or Behavior

Spending a significant amount of time using a substance or engaging in a behavior to the point where it interferes with other activities or relationships.

Changes in Mood or Behavior

Changes in mood or behavior such as becoming more irritable, anxious, aggressive, withdrawn, or isolated from others.

It's essential to remember that these symptoms may not always lead to addiction and that some may also indicate other medical or mental health concerns. However, those who are addicted might not exhibit all of these signs or might do so to differing degrees. Seeking the help of a medical practitioner or addiction specialist may be beneficial if you or someone you know is going through these symptoms.

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Would you like more information about the stages of addiction and how it progresses? Reach out today.

How Does Addiction Work?

Addiction is a complex condition that involves changes in the brain's reward, motivation, and memory systems. Addiction is a chronic and relapsing disorder, and multiple factors, including genetics, environment, and individual biology, influence the development of addiction.

When a person uses a substance or engages in a behavior that produces pleasurable or rewarding effects, the brain releases chemicals such as dopamine that signal a sense of pleasure and reward. These chemicals reinforce the behavior and create a positive association in the brain between the behavior and the pleasurable effects. With repeated use, the brain adapts to the presence of the substance or behavior. It begins to require higher levels of stimulation to produce the same pleasurable effects, leading to tolerance.

Over time, the brain may also become more sensitive to cues associated with the substance or behavior, leading to increased cravings and a heightened sensitivity to stress and negative emotions when the substance or behavior is not present. This creates a negative reinforcement cycle where the person continues to use the substance or engage in the behavior to avoid the negative effects of withdrawal and to seek the pleasurable effects of the substance or behavior.

Also, addiction can affect the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain responsible for decision-making, impulse control, and judgment. This can lead to impaired judgment and decision-making, making it difficult for individuals with addiction to make rational choices about their substance use or behavior.

As addiction progresses, it can significantly change the brain's structure and function, making it increasingly difficult to stop using the substance or engage in the behavior. These changes can persist even after the person stops using the substance or engaging in the behavior, making relapse a common risk.

Addiction treatment typically involves a combination of medication, behavioral therapies, and support from loved ones or support groups. Understanding the complex nature of addiction and the ways in which it affects the brain can help individuals and their loved ones better understand the condition and the importance of seeking professional help.

What Are the Consequences of Addiction?

Addiction can have many negative consequences on a person's life, including physical, psychological, social, and economic effects. Some of the common consequences of addiction include:

Physical Health Problems

Substance use disorders can lead to various physical health problems, including liver damage, heart disease, respiratory problems, infectious diseases, and other chronic health conditions.

Mental Health Problems

Substance use disorders can also increase the risk of developing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis.

Relationship Problems

Addiction can strain relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners. It can lead to mistrust, betrayal, and resentment and may cause individuals to withdraw from social activities and become isolated.

Financial Problems

Substance use disorders can be expensive, leading to financial issues and debt. Addiction can also interfere with employment and career opportunities, leading to loss of income and financial instability.

Legal Problems

Addiction can lead to legal problems such as DUIs, drug possession charges, and other criminal offenses.

Risky Behaviors

Addiction can lead individuals to engage in risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence or having unprotected sex, which can increase the risk of injury or illness.


In some cases, addiction can lead to overdose, which can be life-threatening or even fatal. 

These outcomes can change based on the substance or behavior involved and the unique circumstances around the individual. But addiction may significantly harm a person's health, interpersonal connections, and general quality of life. For those battling addiction, getting support and expert assistance is crucial if they want to overcome the bad effects and enhance their general well-being.

How to Recover From Addiction

Recovering from addiction can be challenging, but it is possible with the right support, treatment, and mindset. Here are some steps that can help:

  • Acknowledge the problem The first step to recovering from addiction is acknowledging the problem. This can be difficult as addiction can be a source of shame and denial, but it is essential to accept that addiction is a real and serious issue that needs to be addressed.

  • Please seek professional help Addiction is a complex disease, and it is essential to seek professional help to develop a personalized treatment plan that fits your needs. A healthcare professional such as a doctor, counselor, or addiction specialist can help guide you through the process.

  • Develop a support network Surround yourself with a supportive network of family, friends, and peers who can offer encouragement and motivation. Joining a support group can also provide a sense of community and accountability.

  • Make lifestyle changes Healthy habits such as exercise, a balanced diet, and good sleep hygiene can support recovery and improve overall well-being. Avoiding triggers such as people, places, or situations that may lead to substance use.

  • Build coping skills Learning healthy coping skills such as mindfulness, meditation, and stress-management techniques can help manage cravings and reduce the risk of relapse. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that can help identify negative thought patterns and replace them with positive ones.

  • Set goals Setting achievable goals can provide a sense of purpose and direction in recovery. Whether returning to work or school, pursuing a new hobby, or reconnecting with loved ones, having a clear vision of what you want to achieve can help you stay motivated and focused.

Recovering from addiction is a journey that requires patience, perseverance, and support. With the right tools and resources, overcoming addiction and leading a healthy, fulfilling life is possible.

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We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Do you have more questions about the stages of addiction and how it progresses? Reach out.

The Stages of Addiction Can Become a Repetitive Cycle. Get to the Last Stage with The Edge Treatment Center

At The Edge Treatment Center, we offer comprehensive treatment and recovery services for individuals struggling with addiction. Our team of healthcare professionals, including doctors, counselors, and addiction specialists, work together to provide personalized care that meets each patient's unique needs.

The stages of addiction can seem impossible to get through. At The Edge Treatment Center, we'll see you through the stages of addiction and beyond. Contact us today to learn more.

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