Stage 1: Experimentation

At this stage, the user is someone who has never used drugs. But, he/she is around people who have or are using it. Either due to peer pressure or curiosity, the user begins to experiment or try the drugs. It could happen in any context. For instance, at a social gathering, people gather to try substances such as marijuana. Some may find it disgusting, and stop. While others, may like the effect the drug has in relaxing them.

Users may find that it helps them to forget their troubles. Others may find that harder drugs like heroin and hashish offer a better way out of their problems. It's at the experimentation stage, that users begin their relationship with drugs. Addicts are usually the people who have found "the solution" for life in their drugs.

Stage 2: Regular Use

The user may or may not be addicted by this stage. There are people who continually use drugs, but do not get addicted. It doesn't become their one and only tool for living. They don't feel they will die if they don't use. But, they enjoy the drugs, and thus, will use it on occasions. These regular users are not addicts.

But, within this stage, you will find the addict. They are the users who have to use it. What makes them different from average users, is the compulsion to increase in dosage. The brain of the addict, through regular use, will tolerate lower doses of drugs. Over time, it will take more drugs to get the initial high.

Drug tolerance will develop for both non-addicts and addicts alike. But, the difference here is the reaction to tolerance. For non-addicts, they will control the amount used, even if it increases. They have a stopping mechanism in their brain. Addicts, for lack of this ability to stop, will have no control over the amount used. The incline in use will result in severe consequences. It's this unmanageability that makes addiction, a disease of the midbrain.

At stages one and two, it's difficult to separate addicts from non-addicts. Both people continue to regularly use drugs to smother emotions. Drugs help them to relax and avoid shameful as well as painful feelings.


Stage 3: Abuse / Risky Use

Regular use of drugs continue to bring pleasure to the life of the user. But, when risky behaviours develop and get ignored, using becomes dangerous. Non-addicts would usually cave-in by this point. The negative consequences alone would be enough to stop. And they have the mental ability to do that. But, the addict, as much as he/she shares that desire, will continue regardless. It's at this stage, that we can tell who is an addict and who isn't.

Do you or a loved one continue to use regardless of negative effects? Are you unable to stop in spite of disease, poverty, crime, family problems, etc? If so, then, you are an addict. And as an addict, you will need treatment for your illness.


Stage 4: Addiction

Why can't the addict stop? Why is it that non-addicts can? Non-addicts do not have an addictive neurology. Their brain does not crave drugs as addicts do. Addicts crave drugs like humans crave breathing. The using becomes a survival mechanism, that without, will disrupt normal functioning. In active addiction, addicts use to function. Severe withdrawal such as stopping suddenly has resulted in seizures, coma, and death.

Drugs become life itself. It overtakes everything and everyone in the addict’s life. This is because over the course of using, the addict has created a neural pathway. His brain has accepted that he needs drugs to survive. Unlike non-addicts, he has no control over what his brain has become - addicted to drugs.

At this stage, it's important to detoxify the addict's body to rid the physical craving for the drug. Thereafter, the addict will need residential treatment to change their neurology. It will take time to remove the addictive neural pathway to one of recovery. Addicts do not have the ability to quit on their own. They need professional and medical treatment to live a drug-free life.