The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other organizations have done many studies on drug addiction.  Their studies show that the majority of people try drugs long before they become adults. According to SMAHSA – about 2.8 million people (age 12+) used an illegal drug or abused a legal drug for the first time.  This introduction tends to begin in the teen years.

Stage 1: Introduction to Drugs

How and why people get introduced to drugs:

  • Curiosity
  • Peer pressure and the need to be “one of the cool kids”
    Once someone has tried alcohol or drugs, they may move along to experimentation or they may stop once their curiosity has been satisfied.

Stage 2: Experimentation

If someone moves along to Experimentation, they typically do so in specific social situations:

  • At parties
  • In times of stress

Opportunities move on to experimentation:

  • Drugs are readily available
  • Friends are using drugs
  • Stressful family environment – physical or emotional abuse, mental illness, or alcohol or drug use in the home
  • Physical/Mental health conditions – Anxiety depression, ADHD

Opioid (and other drug) abuse tends to be socially driven – fun, unwinding, no sense that there are consequences
At this stage, drug use may be controllable – they are not used regularly, or at least there is no dependency on them

Experimentation is the point where an intervention and potential patient treatment (suboxone or other medication) work best. Users have not become a dependent on the substances and the effects both mentally and physically are very minimal.

Stage 3: Regular Usage

In this stage, opioid (and/or other drugs/alcohol) use becomes a frequent occurrence.  It may not be an everyday habit but occurs on regular occasions – weekends, parties or under stressful circumstances. Use may occur when among others, but also begins to happen when the user is alone.  School and work become dispensable, and escape into a drugged condition becomes a regular thing.

Stage 4: Problem Use

Drug usage begins to have regular – and negative – consequences. Driving while using can lead to getting a DUI or having other legal problems. Performance at school or work deteriorates and so too do relationships with others. Old friends tend to get dropped, new ones who think and act alike are found – your behavior tends to be built around drugs.
Problem behavior starts to threatens not only your safety but that of others, BUT the issue has not reached the point of being classified as a drug use disorder.

Stage 5: Drug Dependence

Dependence is a clear-cut stage that includes:

  • Psychological dependence – Tolerance to drugs has grown, and there is a need to consume more and more drugs to feel “okay.”
  • Physical dependence – Going without drugs causes the pain of withdrawal.

Physical dependence based on an ever-higher level of tolerance creates an ever-increasing psychological dependence.

Stage 6: Active Dependency

The symptoms are clear the user:
Addictive actions

  • Can’t face life without using drugs
  • Use can’t be controlled
  • Negative consequences have no effect – usage continues and may actually increase

Negative attitudes and behaviors

  • Lying about use, particularly about how much
  • Avoiding family and former friends

Active dependency means that life for the user is totally oriented towards drugs. Active dependency is a chronic disease, usually occurring after a long period of being psychologically and physically dependent. Recovery is possible but will take time and active involvement in treatment.