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Understanding the Stages of Addiction

young man with worried expression staring into space struggling with understanding the stages of addiction

Recognizing that you have a problem is the first step to seeking help for substance use disorders. Still, people often don’t notice they’re developing a dependency until it’s in the later stages. The earlier you recognize the stages of addiction, the easier it will be to seek help. Professional help is always the best way to address the development of an addiction and work toward recovery. A professionally designed treatment program can be the difference between successful and unsuccessful treatment. If you’re looking to understand the stages of addiction and seeking professional treatment in Asheville, NC, area, look no further than Insight Recovery Center.

At Insight Recovery Center, we use personalized treatment plans to help each individual. Recovery never has a one-size-fits-all option, so everyone needs treatment that allows their own needs to be addressed. From dual diagnosis care to family therapy, our approach is personalized to your individual needs. Sobriety is not as unreachable as it may feel where you sit. Working toward a sober life is possible for anyone at any stage of addiction, but you don’t have to do it without help. For more information about our addiction treatment programs, contact us today by calling 828.826.1376.

What Are the Stages of Addiction?

Many are familiar with the stages of recovery used by many treatment facilities. Some people may not realize that there are also stages to the development of addiction. Here are the standard stages of addiction:


This is the initial stage, where substance use is voluntary and typically motivated by curiosity. Individuals may try drugs or alcohol in social settings without any intention of regular use.

Regular Use

During this stage, individuals start using the substance more frequently. It might still be seen as social or recreational use, but the frequency of use begins to increase, and patterns of regular use start to develop.

Risky Use/Abuse

This stage is characterized by the substance use becoming more frequent and starting to impact the individual’s life negatively. Risk-taking behaviors increase, including using drugs or alcohol while driving, during work, or in other inappropriate situations. There may also be legal or social consequences.


Dependence on a substance is marked by the onset of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. Tolerance means needing more of the substance to achieve the same effects, and withdrawal symptoms occur when substance use is decreased or stopped.


Addiction is the most severe stage, where there is a strong uncontrollable need to use the substance despite harmful consequences. Addiction affects behavior, judgement, and can lead to physical harm. The individual may prioritize substance use over relationships, work, and other obligations.


Though not traditionally included as a stage of addiction, seeking treatment and entering recovery is a crucial phase for many individuals. Recovery is an ongoing process of abstaining from substance use and working towards personal growth and healing.

It is essential to recognize and understand these stages in yourself and others to get the professional treatment needed to break the cycle of addiction. The earlier a substance use disorder is detected and treated, the better the likelihood of a successful recovery.

Substance Use Disorder vs. Addiction

The word “addiction” may have a problematic connotation for some people in recovery. Some people may associate the word with shame or failure, and others may consider it a personal flaw. However, understanding that it is a disease can be very beneficial. A substance use disorder (SUD), which is the medical term for addiction, is treatable in any situation, and recognizing a medical issue for what it is can be very helpful in shedding feelings of shame surrounding your treatment.

Though the terminology differs, substance use disorders and addiction share common medical features, including the following:

  • Brain chemistry alteration – Whether you call it addiction or substance use disorder, it involves changes to the brain’s wiring and chemistry, impacting reward, motivation, and memory functions.
  • Compulsive behavior – There is a compulsion to use the substance, despite negative consequences, demonstrating a loss of control over its use.
  • Tolerance and withdrawal – Increased tolerance (needing more of the substance to experience the same effect) and withdrawal symptoms (physical and mental effects when substance use is reduced or stopped) are hallmark features of substance use disorders and addiction.
  • Impact on daily functioning – Substance use disorders and addiction negatively impact an individual’s work, social life, and health, often leading to neglect of personal and professional responsibilities.

You deserve the help you need. Understanding that addiction is a treatable medical condition can help you take the first step toward healing and recovery.

Contact Insight Recovery Center Today

At Insight Recovery Center, we love to see people become the best version of themselves. For many people in recovery, community is everything, and we think that you’ll find a perfect place to fit in here.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, don’t wait to seek help. Make a change today by reaching out online or calling Insight Recovery Center at 828.826.1376 to speak to a trusted team member.