How does alcohol or drug addiction begin? What does substance abuse look like as it progresses? How can treatment help, and recovery heal?
Let's take a look at the stages of addiction and recovery with the hope that this information will help someone suffering with addiction, or help someone who loves a person addicted to alcohol or drugs convince them to get help.
As anyone who has experienced alcohol or drug addiction will tell you, addiction is cunning. It is sly and sweet talking. It tries any avenue to get its intended target to pick up. This can happen in a matter of days, months, or years.
The Jellineck curve of addiction and recovery chart (a link to the chart is provided below) helps people with addictions understand the progression of alcohol and drug dependency, and also what is possible with the hope of recovery.
Initial addiction and relapse don’t always start with every day use. The person is drawn in through the stages described below. These patterns of behavior are not static and do not cover all that a person can experience; they identify typically-occurring behaviors experienced while battling addiction. A person can progress or slide back into or out of these stages at any given point.
The early stages of addiction
In the early stages the individual uses every so often or “rewards” themselves every so often. Using every so often tricks the individual into believing they can control how much they use and can put the substance down at any point.
Over time, tolerance is built up for the substance, and the individual starts to use more. They may begin to experience loss of memory, and may exhibit aggressive behavior. It is also common for the individual to experience guilt and remorse after using.
The crucial and chronic stages of addiction
The crucial phase leads right into chronic use. This looks like using to the point of black out and memory loss. For some people, this does not have to be every day use. For example, drinking alcohol until black outs and memory loss on the weekends or just using alcohol until they black-out each time they pick up, regardless of the amount of time that has passed.
As the addiction progresses, the individual experiences difficulty talking about their problem, resentments build up, and friends and family are avoiding them or would like to avoid them. They begin neglecting their self-care, intoxication times are lengthening, and they are experiencing moral deterioration. Their obsession with using has become a priority in their lives, resulting in a loss of interest in other activities and hobbies. Their personality and friend circles are changing, and they are using lies and manipulation to continue their addiction.
Without treatment, a person may stay in this chronic addiction cycle for a long time, leading to the loss of their livelihood, serious family, financial and legal problems, and eventually premature death.
The rehabilitation stage of addiction
During the rehabilitation stage, the individual admits they have a problem and seeks treatment. They stop using alcohol and drugs and begin learning the skills necessary for recovery. While in treatment they meet former addicts who are normal and happy, and their thinking becomes more clear and hopeful. Their emotional, spiritual and physical health improves. They are eating nutritious meals, sleeping better, and participating in group and individual therapy to help them overcome their fears and regain their self respect.
Recovery in addiction
During this stage, individuals are actively involved in their recovery. They see a return of their self- worth. They surround themselves with healthy family and friend relationships. Thinking becomes clear, they can better control their emotions, and face their renewed life with courage. They find employment, regain economic stability, and take care of their bodies and physical appearance.
In recovery people continue with group therapy sessions. They regain the confidence of friends, family and employers, and may become an inspiration for others in their recovery journey. Many people in recovery lead grateful lives, appreciating the fact that they still have their life and another chance at happiness and a bright future.
Additional reading: Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation (2016). The Jellineck curve of addiction.
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