The Six Stages of Substance Use
Note: “Negative consequences” is defined as anything that would be considered non-pleasurable. Hangovers, for instance, are a negative consequence of drinking too much.
Abstinence: Not using at all. All people start off abstinent. People can also return to abstinence after a period of experimentation or using. People who unknowingly ingest substances are also considered “abstinent” if they did not willingly take said substance.
Experimentation: Becoming curious to use to see what a substance does/feels like. At this stage, substance is usually not sought after but provided either by friends or family. Negative consequences usually do not occur at this stage.
Recreational or social use: At this stage, one is seeking out a substance to experience a desired effect, however, use is irregular and has no established pattern. Negative consequences usually do not occur at this stage. (Most people would consider themselves “recreational users,” but if there is any type of pattern to your use, you usually do not fall under this category!)
Habitual use: At this stage, a definite pattern of use has evolved (daily, every other day, every weekend, etc.) and a stronger craving for the drug is developed. Negative consequences at this stage may not occur, but is more likely.
Abuse: Habitual use becomes abuse when negative consequences occur and yet use still continues. For example, if you are drinking alcohol every weekend and experience hangovers each time, you may fall under this category.
Addiction: Abuse becomes addiction when there is an apparent compulsion to use. At this point, tolerance has developed (needing to take more of the drug in order to experience the same desire effect), withdrawal symptoms are present, attempts to moderate use or stop completely are ineffective, negative consequences are occurring, the drug has become a priority, anxiety is present when the substance is not available, and the substance is often needed to function (whether emotionally, physically, or other).
“But I’m a functioning addict?”
Congratulations, you’re in denial.