The 3 Stages of Addiction

Drug addiction changes the brain and these changes continue for a long period of time even after the person stops taking the drug. Addiction progresses through stages and here is a look at those stages.


Initially, when a person consumes a drug or alcohol. s/he feels euphoria. The majority of American adults consume alcohol in varying degrees. A large number use marijuana.

For most people, substance use stays at experimental or recreational use, without disrupting their lives. But for some people, there is a risk of developing substance abuse disorder.


In some people, repeated drug or alcohol use leads to changed neural connections in the brain. without using the substance, the person becomes unable to function or feel normal.

Without drug or alcohol, they experience physical and psychological distress or withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms can range from discomfort to being potentially fatal.

Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Irritability/anxiety/depression
  • Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Severe muscle pains and cramping
  • Chills, alternating with excessive sweating
  • Confusion and hallucinations
  • Seizures

Preoccupation with the Substance

With the initial withdrawal, the person realizes that the easiest way to relieve the distress is to use the drug or alcohol. This can soon become a vicious cycle of cravings and drug-seeking behavior.

The prefrontal cortex in the brain regulates self-control and decision-making. Addiction changes this part of the brain, disabling the person’s ability to think rationally, decision making, and resist the urge to consume the drug or alcohol.

So, addiction has nothing to do with a lack of will-power, as is commonly believed. It is a disease involving changes in the brain and if left untreated, substance abuse disorders turn chronic, progressive, and eventually fatal.

Fortunately, there is hope with the right substance abuse treatment. With help and time, the person can recover completely and return to a productive, drug-free life.

Skip to content