Addiction refers to substance misuse and other behaviors and activities, such as gambling. Treatments are available, and researchers have proposed a three-stage framework to describe substance use disorder, including binge, withdrawal, and anticipation.

Some scientific literature describes addiction as the compulsion to use substances or participate in addictive behaviors, such as gambling, eating, and working, even when doing so causes harm.

People who develop addictions may feel unable to stop using the substance or participating in an activity even if they want to because of the physiological changes addiction causes.

The three-level staging model illustrates this process and explains why prolonged use of a substance increases the risk of addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 20.4 million people in the United States received a diagnosis of substance use disorder (SUD) relating to addiction in 2021.

This article examines the stages and signs of addiction alongside detailing treatment.

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Addiction is a chronic disease that causes a person to continue to use substances or engage in addictive behaviors despite adverse consequences, such as legal problems, financial problems, or health issues.

Relapse, which means returning to a previous condition or state of being, is a hallmark of addiction.

People with addictions feel emotionally dependent on a substance or behavior. In many cases, they also develop a physical dependence.

Addiction causes a number of physical and emotional changes that can make it very difficult for a person to stop using a substance or participating in an activity.

Learn more about addiction here.

One of the most characteristics of an addiction is a powerful craving. An individual may not be able to stop a particular behavior or using an addictive substance despite expressing a desire to quit.

Treatments are available but it is essential to recognize the signs.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), the key signs of SUD include:

  • taking substances in dangerous settings
  • continued use despite it causing social issues such as with relationships or jobs
  • neglecting life responsibilities such as work
  • engaging in illegal activities, such as harming or stealing
  • withdrawal
  • increase in tolerance
  • taking larger amounts to satisfy the need
  • trying but failing to quit
  • spending more time using drugs to satisfy an intense craving
  • continued use despite affecting physical and mental health
  • giving up recreational activities to take

Learn more about the symptoms of addiction here.

Studies on the neurobiology of SUD nominate a three-stage cycle framework.

The framework consists of the following:

  1. Binge or intoxication: This is where casual substance use transitions into chronic use, which includes changes in dopamine or the reward system in the body, making a person feel “good” when taking the substance. The body and brain begin to adapt to the regularity of substances.
  2. Withdrawal or negative affect: This is where the body and brain begin to have adverse effects without substance use.
  3. Preoccupation or anticipation: This is when the body begins to crave the drug to treat the adverse symptoms or withdrawal.

Learn more about what causes addiction.

Many different treatment options can help a person recover and develop a better relationship with the substance or activity. Some people need to try multiple interventions before they get better. Treatment options include:

  • medication, including medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms
  • inpatient or outpatient rehab, which usually combines several treatment modalities
  • psychotherapy
  • 12-step programs and other support groups
  • lifestyle and environmental changes, such as avoiding places and contexts that have associations with addictive substances or activities

Learn more about treatments for addiction here.

Addiction is the intense urge to engage in certain actions or behaviors, even harmful ones. Those with addiction may experience relapse, sometimes even after long periods of abstinence.

The more frequently a person uses substances or participates in an activity, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. While most people do not develop a SUD after using substances, it might be the first step toward this outcome.

Treatment can help a person recover. People who think they may have an addiction should seek support from a healthcare professional.