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Stages of drug addiction

For a long time, addiction was considered a bad habit or a sign of a person’s moral decline. However, years of research have shown that addiction to psychoactive substances is a disease, not a result of a person’s character flaws. Only a few individuals can overcome this condition on their own, as sheer willpower is often insufficient to break free from drug addiction. 

Drug substances alter biochemical processes and affect the production of neurotransmitters, which facilitate the transmission of electrochemical impulses between nerve cells. By becoming a part of the brain’s “biochemistry,” these substances change a person’s personality and largely influence their behavior. The toxic effects of psychoactive substances degrade one’s well-being. Furthermore, the development of breakdown symptoms leaves virtually no chance for self-detoxification.

The effectiveness of therapy is significantly influenced by the stage of addiction. The longer a person delays seeking help, the less likely they are to achieve complete recovery and lifelong remission from this disease. 

Stages and phases of drug addiction

Drug addiction goes through several sequential stages: 

  • psychological dependency stage: initial use of drugs does not always result in dependency. In the first stage, the transition takes place from occasional use to regular use. Tolerance to the substance begins to change, the form of intoxication changes, and the way of consumption becomes more systematic. Sometimes, the pattern becomes cyclical (for example, a person consumes smoking blends on weekends).
  • physical dependency stage: there’s a compulsive urge for the psychoactive substance. Psychological comfort is achieved only after consumption. Thoughts about the substance become constant, and in case there isn’t any at hand, the addict experiences feelings of depression and suppression. A person gradually starts using not just to feel good but to avoid feeling bad. Normal well-being, activity, and comfort become impossible without the narcotic substance. 
  • irreversible changes stage: tolerance to the substance increases, and a pronounced withdrawal syndrome occurs upon rejection of use.

It’s essential to understand that the symptoms described at each stage do not disappear in the subsequent stages but are supplemented by new ones. The severity of the disease increases. 

Researchers identify several stages of drug use. 

Becoming interested: the first stage of addiction

Interest and curiosity are the initial emotions that an addict experiences towards a drug substance. This is why young people and teenagers often become victims of addiction.

Interest isn’t just about curiosity concerning the immediate effects of consumption. Many people try a substance in a group setting or due to persuasion from older, more experienced peers. They seek not to fall behind in the group.

In adulthood, people tend to approach the initiation of substance use more consciously. Interest can be driven by the need to stay awake or handle heavy workloads. It is very common for individuals in leadership positions or running entire businesses to consume stimulants. They seek to alleviate excessive psychological stress or set themselves insurmountable tasks, resulting in a need for stimulants.

Positive results can be satisfying and act as a stimulus to use more and more, eventually forming an addiction.

How is “high” interpreted?

A “high” is referred to as a state of joyful intoxication or euphoria. It is typically induced by changes in the neurochemical balance within the brain. Certain substances replace what are known as “happiness hormones,” and their effect can be likened to the joy we naturally experience. However, with each episode of substance use, an individual’s own mental resources are depleted. The increase in the number of dopamine receptors, which the substance influences, an increase in the substance’s dosage is needed.

A high or a state of drug intoxication can vary. Each substance has its specific actions. Many substances alleviate physical pain but also lead to a loss of self-control. A person loses their sense of reality, and they may feel as though they are floating in the air. Some drugs activate all processes, bring a surge of strength and alertness, while others provide a sense of bliss and tranquil satisfaction. 

What drug substance do most people start with? 

We all know about the harm of drugs. It is difficult to find an addict who knows nothing about the harmful effects of substances. This is why people more frequently start with drugs considered harmless. This primarily refers to marijuana or cannabis, derived from the hemp plant.

It is believed that marijuana is safe, but there are no safe drugs. The main danger of this substance is that marijuana acts on the body and mind indirectly. Regular states of altered consciousness may lead to memory loss, depersonalization, derealization. Delirium induced by cannabis is not excluded.

Some individuals abstain from further use after trying marijuana in small amounts. But some people start using it regularly, and later transition to more severe drugs.

Treating drug addiction at the stage of using marijuana can be relatively effective. This is because the substance allows for the preservation of critical thinking and self-control. The person has not yet forgotten how they felt without stimulants and how to live in society normally. 

Emergence of psychological dependency: stage I and phase II of drug addiction

At this stage, the following characteristic symptoms appear: 

  • Transition to regular drug use;
  • Planning consumption;
  • Gradual changes in the environment: relationships begin to narrow only with those who also consume, and interest in interaction with sober friends diminishes;
  • The development of a justification system for the growing craving: if curiosity and interest were the initial motivators, now the need arises to “relieve stress/relax from concerns or work, ease pain,” etc;
  • In the absence of the drug, tension, irritability, and the inability to relax without the substance emerge. Anticipation of the next episode of use results in a mood boost. 

The dose gradually increases with the growth of tolerance to the substance. Addiction develops progressively, similar to moving along a trampoline. When attempting to quit the substance independently at this stage, severe withdrawal is less likely to occur, but willpower alone may be insufficient, as life loses its vibrancy without the substance. 

Emergence of physical dependency: stage II and Phase III of drug addiction

Physical dependence is characterized not only by a pronounced craving for the substance but also by the presence of withdrawal syndrome when the substance is absent. At this stage, infectious diseases often become evident, especially in those who use intravenous drug administration. 

The following symptoms may manifest at this stage:

  • A feeling of depression in the absence of the opportunity to use narcotics;
  • Heightened withdrawal symptoms when attempting to abstain;
  • Constant thoughts about using drugs;
  • The purpose of using the substance is not to feel good, but to avoid feeling bad, a negative motivation;
  • Complete absence of comfort and normal well-being in the absence of the substance.

At this stage, concealing one’s addiction becomes more challenging, serious problems arise in the family, educational institutions, or the workplace. Conflicts intensify because individuals may encounter legal problems, steal items to obtain their dose, and behave in an antisocial manner.

It is at this stage that some individuals try more potent substances, exacerbating the condition. Coping with the condition independently becomes nearly impossible. 

Complete dependence on psychoactive substances: stage III and Phase IV of drug addiction

Irreversible changes develop at this stage. Severe health consequences occur, affecting both physical and mental health, including personality disintegration. Organs and systems deteriorate, and neurons, the cells of the brain, die en masse. Neurochemical processes undergo irreversible changes. 

Changes that can occur at this stage include:

  • Apathy and indifference to everything unrelated to drugs;
  • Increased tolerance and the need for higher doses (often leading to overdoses and fatal outcomes);
  • Personality degradation;
  • Severe internal organ diseases, often associated with infectious diseases. 

At this stage, treatment is significantly more challenging and lengthy. The chance of recovery may still exist if the individual’s personality is preserved, but therapy will take more time and require significant effort, including from medical professionals.

Peculiarities of drug addiction treatment

The first stage of treatment, regardless of the stage of the disease, is detoxification. Even a single use of a drug substance leads to intoxication, so it is important to first normalize the person’s condition and then proceed to rehabilitation measures.

Detoxification therapy involves the removal of toxins and breakdown products, restoration of the normal water-electrolyte balance, correction of mineral and vitamin deficiencies, and normalization of parameters such as blood pressure and heart rate.

Rehabilitation is the most challenging and lengthy stage. It encompasses a set of measures that help identify the psychological reasons behind the development of addictive behavior. It involves addressing destructive beliefs, forming a new value system, and imparting key skills for a successful life.

Following rehabilitation, there is an adaptation stage. Recovering individuals return to their normal lives armed with new tools and a mindset for a sober and happy life. To prevent relapse during adaptation, they may continue attending support groups, engage with a psychologist or psychotherapist, and receive additional help. 

Advantages of treatment at the IsraRehab Center

Our clinic annually admits numerous patients, and we are prepared to provide assistance in the most complex cases and for any type of addiction. Our staff comprises experienced psychiatrist-addiction specialists, psychotherapists, and psychologists. We maintain contact with our graduates, allowing anyone in recovery to seek help at any time, receive remote consultations, or get answers to their questions. 

We utilize the most effective treatment methods, including:

  • The 12-step program;
  • Art therapy;
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy;
  • Psychodrama;
  • Transactional analysis, etc.

The clinic is located away from the city, and the grounds feature our own fruit orchards, making it an ideal place for walks. Our treatment program includes visits to the gym, trips to the sea, excursions around Israel, and swimming in the pool. Our facilities allow our residents to play table tennis and billiards.

The VIP department is suitable for patients seeking solitude and who prefer exclusively individual work with specialists.

Comfortable, well-appointed rooms and home-like conditions, balanced nutrition, make the stay at the center as comfortable as possible.

If your loved one is using drugs, please contact IsraRehab. Our specialists will answer all your questions and schedule an in-person consultation.

The article was verified by a practical psychologist

Psychology teacher,
art therapist

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