While some substances are so addictive, a person can become psychologically and/or physically addicted with only one use, drug addiction is generally a process. The earlier stages of addictions may be easier to conquer.
The occasional recreational or social use of a substance doesn’t necessarily result in addiction. Drug addiction occurs in stages:
• Association of drug use with certain activities. This occurs when a person begins connecting substance use with a regular activity, such as smoking marijuana every time they go out with their friends. This mindset can reach the point of being awkward or “boring” if the substance use isn’t a part of the activity. As cigarette smoking in public places has become illegal, certain businesses (for example, bars, pool halls, and bowling alleys) have suffered decreased patronage. Smoking was always associated with those activities. Cigarette tobacco has several toxins and perhaps the most addictive substance, nicotine.
• Expanding the association of using the substance with many activities. This process leads to connecting the drug use with every activity. Daily use develops during this stage. And most drugs lose effectiveness as the user builds a tolerance for the substance. The daily user has to increase dosage to achieve the same effect.
• Psychological dependency happens when the user becomes convinced they need the drug to face the normal stresses of each day. By this point, in order for the user to stop, they have to learn new ways of handling stress. If they stop using, but don’t develop new stress management techniques, they will very likely relapse.
• Physical addiction is when the monster has its claws deep into the psyche of the user. Indeed, the addict’s body has learned to function with the substance at a certain level. If the addict doesn’t maintain that level, the body goes into withdrawal. As a relatively mild example, if you are accustomed to a certain level of caffeine intake every day, and you skip it one day, you can expect severe headaches, lethargy, body aches, and nausea. On a more severe case, the prescription pain medication Oxycontin is so severely addictive that suddenly stopping its use can cause heart failure.
If you are addicted to drugs, get professional help right away. If someone you know is in some stage of drug addiction, talk to them. Let them know you care and want to help them. Don’t judge them or their actions. Drug addicts are driven by their addictions to do things they would never do otherwise. Direct them specifically to professional help. Be supportive, but do not enable them to continue using.
Getting help as early as possible in the stages of the addiction can mean the difference between success and failure, life and death, freedom and bondage. In the earlier stages, the levels of the substance and the frequency of use may be lower, and psychological and physical dependency takes time to develop.
If you are using drugs and think you might have an addiction, seek help right away. The longer you wait, the harder it is to beat it. Certain personality types are susceptible to swift addiction. Take it very seriously.