How Does The Process Of Addiction Work?

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Addiction, also referred to as substance use disorder, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. It is characterized by compulsively engaging in rewarding stimuli (often, dangerous, risky, and/ or unhealthy) regardless of the ensuing negative consequences. An individual that struggles with addiction will prioritize satisfying his or her substance cravings above all else. This can wreak havoc in all areas of one’s life leading to damaged relationships, financial difficulties, legal complications, as well as developing a slew of adverse physiological effects. The type of substance abuse, the duration of one’s substance abuse, the potency of the drug abused, one’s personal health history, as well as one’s family health history will all contribute to the length of time it may take for an individual to develop an addiction. The cycle of addiction occurs in five stages, as outlined below: 

  1. First Use: An individual cannot become addicted to a substance without trying it, first. The initial exposure to drugs can ignite an individual’s curiosity regarding experimentation of other substances.
  2. Regular Use: Individuals that begin to abuse drugs regularly will exhibit certain patterns of incorporating drugs into their lives. The term regular is subjective, as patterns of regular drug use will present distinctly in different people (e.g., one person may regularly use drugs on the weekend, whereas another person may regularly use drugs daily).
  3. Risky Use: Individuals that continue to abuse drugs even when it knowingly negatively impacts their lives and/ or the lives of their loved ones. Individuals are also likely to engage in risky, dangerous behaviors while intoxicated (e.g., driving drunk). 
  4. Dependence: Individuals that have developed a dependence on the substance or substances they are abusing and are unable to stop without experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which manifests though the following three steps:
    1. Tolerance: the individual requires increased amounts of the substance to achieve its desired effects.
    2. Physical dependence: the individual is unable to limit substance intake without going into a state of withdrawal.
    3. Psychological dependence: the individual experiences a pervasive, uncontrollable need to continue using; possibly arising from fear that they will be unable to function in its absence. 
  5. Addiction: After an individual has developed a dependence on his or her substance of choice, he or she is extremely close to developing a full-blown addiction. The DSM-5 provides eleven different criteria that define substance use disorder. 

The precise reason behind why an individual develops an addiction remains unknown. There are, however, several risk factors that have been reported to increase one’s propensity for developing an addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), these include environmental risk factors, genetics, drug of choice, method of use, and the age an individual started abusing drugs and/ or alcohol. Every individual is different and will have or lack various predispositions that can contribute to developing an addiction. Nevertheless, it is important to note that anyone can develop an addiction, regardless of social status, beliefs, or background. 

For Information and Support 

If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding substance abuse and/ or addiction, we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. If left untreated, substance abuse can result in long-lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. Keep in mind: you are not alone! There is an entire network of professionals that are available to help and support you and your loved one throughout the recovery process. The earlier you seek support, the sooner your loved one can return to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.

Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions regarding our specific program at Haven House Addiction Treatment and/ or general substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment-related information. Our highly trained staff is readily available to discuss how we might best be able to help you and your loved one. We can be reached by phone at 424-318-3777. You are also welcome to contact anytime us via email at 

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