Five Stages of Use In A Nutshell
1. Experimentation, trying it out
2. Social use, regular use -- doing it often
3. Problem use/risky use -- when use gets in the way, hurts oneself or others and causes problems
4. Dependence -- can't seem to do without it
5. Addiction -- life going down the drain
Stage 1: Drug Experimentation
Drug experimentation is defined as the use of alcohol or illicit/mood-altering drugs at any time for experimentation. While in and of itself experimentation may not appear to be abusive, even a single episode of experimentation can result in substantial harm to self or to others. Examples of potentially harmful experimentation include using any alcohol or other drugs during pregnancy, which could result in harm to the fetus; experimental use of alcohol or drugs while driving, which could result in serious harm to the user as well as others; children may be injured when left unsupervised while a parent is intoxicated. Also, if experimental use continues or serves as a gateway to additional use (as it often does), patterns of alcohol/ drug abuse may develop.
Stage 2: Social Drug Use, Regular Use
Social drug use is the use of any drug or combination of drugs in social situations, or for social reasons. If such social use causes any harm, physical or otherwise, to the user or others, it is also considered abuse, even if the word abuser is not used. Social use of alcohol or other drugs often leads to further and elevated use. Severity increases.
Alternatively, those with strong tendencies to isolate themselves socially may move from experimentation to regular use in the absence of social situations.
Stage 3: Problem Use, Risky Use
Binge drinking is heavy use of alcohol periodically. This can result in harm to the physical health of self and others, and negative behavioral consequences, which may result in bodily harm to self or others. For example, harm may be caused by heavy periodic use of alcohol or other drugs while pregnant, driving while intoxicated, or either neglecting or inflicting violence on self and others while under the influence. The National Household Survey On Drug Abuse (NHSDA) defines binge alcohol use as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion at least one day in the past thirty days.
The characteristic feature of substance abuse is the presence of dysfunction related to the person's use of alcohol or other drugs. HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [HHS/SAMHSA], 1994) describes substance abuse as "the use of a psychoactive drug to such an extent that its effects seriously interfere with health or occupational and social functioning." Substance abuse may or may not involve physiologic dependence or tolerance. For example, use of substances in weekend binge patterns may not involve physiologic dependence; however, it may have adverse affects on a person's and possibly others' lives.
Stage 4 and 5: Chemical Dependency and Addiction
With continued use, many persons' use of alcohol or other drugs becomes a disease in which the substances/alcohol have caused changes in body, mind, and behavior. As a result, people are unable to control their use of their substance of choice despite the negative consequences that occur as a result. Addiction is a chronic, progressive, relapsing disease that is more difficult to treat the longer it goes on. But people can get help and treatment at any stage of the disease.
If you need help coping with addiction, check out the resources and professionals in your area listed on Recovery Guidance.