Different stages of addiction

alcohol and drug addiction

In almost every form of rehabilitation treatment or recovery program, most counselors across the board agree that there are different stages of addiction: experimentation, habitual or daily use, abuse or over use and dependency or addiction. Each phase is a stepping stone toward having a life that is consumed by drug or alcohol physical dependency. These are stages of addiction classified by the treatment industry. The Saint Jude Retreats organization does not support the disease theory of addiction, but rather supports the idea that drug or alcohol use is a habitual choice.


Experimentation occurs when an individual begins to use alcohol or drugs for fun or in some cases to help them to deal with a situation or problem. Experimentation can be a onetime event or it may occur sporadically without any regularity. In most cases, experimentation with alcohol and/or drugs can occur without any legal or negative repercussions. At the experimentation stage of addiction, the individual can stop their substance use and not suffer any consequences. However if the individual does not cease their alcohol or drug use, they may be in jeopardy of progressing to the habitual or daily use stage.

Habitual or Daily Use

According to some drug and alcohol counselors, it is possible to use drugs and alcohol on a daily basis and not become an addict or alcoholic. While it is still possible to quit alcohol and drug use at the daily use or habitual stage, there is a danger of crossing into the third stage, abuse or over use, in which it is likely that the individual with substance use may become physically dependent. In this second stage, the individual can predict that they may be in trouble with their drug and alcohol use if they find themselves exhibiting certain behaviors such as:

  • Depression
  • Driving while intoxicated
  • Driving under the influence
  • Erratic or violent behavior
  • Abuse or Over Use

If an individual continues their excessive and chronic use of drugs and alcohol regardless of any legal or negative consequences they may be facing; most counselors would agree that the individual has crossed into the third stage of addiction: abuse or over use. There are a multitude of signs and symptoms that indicate that the individual may be at risk of progressing into the fourth and final stage of addiction, but according to addiction counselors, many substance users will not heed. The signs and symptoms are:

  • Consumed with thoughts of using drugs or alcohol
  • Getting drunk or getting high
  • Becoming depressed
  • Anxious and irritable
  • Having fatigue when they do not use drugs

Dependency or Addiction

Once an individual has become physically dependent on drugs or alcohol, most counselors agree that there is an addiction. The signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol dependency or addiction include:

  • Strong urge to use drugs and alcohol even though they may be dealing with legal and other negative consequences of their use
  • Suffer withdrawal symptoms within a few hours of the last time the substance was used
  • Decline in physical health
  • Struggle with family issues, potential for career loss and financial implications