Every year, drugs, including alcohol, negatively impact the lives of millions of Americans, either directly or indirectly. They can cause damage to one’s ability to make a living, legal problems, marital and familial strife, homelessness, and health problems, including death. Learn to better understand the stages of substance abuse to prevent and overcome drug and alcohol abuse as well as help friends and family avoid addiction.
Who Does Substance Abuse Affect?
Substance abuse is problematic for both adults and adolescents alike and crosses socioeconomic and gender lines. Generally, substance abuse doesn’t occur overnight. In many cases, there are circumstances that lead people down a path toward abusing substances of either a legal or illegal nature.
The path to substance abuse can vary from one individual to another; however, there may be some common factors that affect whether or not a person goes down a path of substance abuse. One’s ability to cope with stress and difficulties in life, the friends that they keep, and even their family or role models who abuse drugs or alcohol can set a person on a path of abuse. For some people, particularly younger individuals, the path toward addiction may begin from using substances that they deem harmless.
Prescription or over-the-counter drugs, for example, are often mistakenly believed to be less harmful or addictive than street drugs. Illness is yet another reason that people may go down a path of addiction as they may become dependent on medications that reduce pain or otherwise make them feel better. As they use the drug of choice, they initially may feel in control, only to lose that control as the drug becomes a part of their daily lives.
What Is Substance Abuse?
In most cases, people use the terms “drug abuse” and “drug addiction” interchangeably. This is not accurate, however, as they differ in some very specific ways. Drug abuse typically precedes drug addiction. When a person is a substance abuser, they regularly use the substance, often to the detriment of obligations and personal relationships.
With substance abuse, the individual is able to stop the use of the substance, although they may not choose to do so. Abuse often leads to addiction, as it causes changes in the user’s brain. With substance addiction, a person is unable to cut back or stop the use of the substance that is being used. The user may need greater amounts of the drug or alcohol for it to be effective. With substance addiction, a person may also depend on the substance to the degree that there is a physical response or physical dependence that results in withdrawal symptoms if the drug is stopped. Substance addiction is considered by health professionals to be a disease of the brain.
Stages of Substance Abuse
There are stages that an individual dealing with substance abuse goes through that lead to addiction. Most often, there are five of these stages:
- Regular use
- Risky use or abuse
Experimentation is the stage when a person uses a substance very casually, often out of curiosity or with encouragement from peers. There is no pressing desire for the substance at this stage. The regular use stage is exactly what it sounds like. A person begins to use the substance of choice more frequently until it becomes a regular part of their lives. A pattern of use may develop here and does not need to occur daily in order to be regular.
The “risky” stage is the stage where substance abuse comes into play. At this point, a person is using the substance to the point that it is creating problems, even legal ones, in their life. Dependence finds people using drugs much like the risky stage, but the use of the substance has increased as the high or feeling associated with it is not obtained without higher quantities.
As noted previously, the individual may find it difficult to stop using the substance. A person who is in the dependent stage is still able to use the drug at certain designated times and is able to continue working and have somewhat of a life. The addiction stage of substance abuse occurs when a user loses all control. Health problems are often developing at this stage, and physical dependence has likely become a factor.
Ending the Stages of Substance Abuse
The best way to combat substance abuse, regardless of the substance, is to prevent the abuse from starting in the first place. By understanding how it begins and what sets a person on the path of abuse, individuals and their families can take care to avoid it. Additionally, recognizing the stages of abuse can also help a person from slipping into addiction. With the right knowledge and effort, the we can reduce negative impact of substance abuse in the U.S..