Here at Beacon Counselling Trust we have come to the same conclusions as many other organisations to describe the stages of addiction for a particular substance or behaviour. For our purposes, we’ll look for common denominators for all five addictions we address in this introduction. The stages are use, misuse, abuse, dependence and addiction.
Use – A married couple enjoys their sex life, a woman takes her pain medication as the doctor prescribed, we all enjoy eating, we might make a small bet with a friend, and we all are happy to help people who are in need. In this stage, people use substances and enjoy behaviours responsibly with no painful consequences.
Misuse – In this stage, people begin to experience negative effects of their choices in their relationships, work and health. A man occasionally views pornography, but he hides it from his wife. A pattern of deception begins to develop. A woman may look in the mirror and decide her body isn’t what she wants it to be, so she skips lunch a few times. She loses a few pounds, even though her weight was already in the normal range. A man bets more than he can afford to lose. A teenager tries an inhalant with a friend.
Abuse – When people continue using a substance or practicing a behaviour in spite of negative consequences, they are in the abuse stage. They are no longer deceiving only those they love; now they are deceiving themselves. The woman taking too her painkiller to get high rationalizes that she “has to have it to keep her pain under control.” The sex addict becomes obsessed with orgasms and fantasies. The young woman now believes that she must have the same body shape as the models in the magazines, so she begins to exercise two hours a day, and she skips many meals. A man is lonely, but when he eats, he feels better about life. On nights when he feels particularly disconnected from others, he eats a whole pie and a box of cookies. In this stage, family members know something is wrong. Some of them avoid the person, but the compassion of others causes them to worry insatiably about the person who’s wrecking his life.
Dependency – In this stage, the substance or behaviour is the focal point of the person’s life. Money, time and relationships now exist only to provide the drug, pay for the prostitute, get a slimmer body, eat more food to feel warm inside, or get enough money to win big and get out of debt. If substances are used, those using them develop a physiological tolerance. Now, more and more of the substance is needed to get the same feeling. Though their behaviour is now having clearly negative effects on them and others, they rationalise, excuse and minimise the problems. Caring family members now are truly alarmed by the behaviour of those they love. Sometimes they yell and demand change, and other times they remain quiet and hope the problem will just go away. When they can help the wayward person, they feel indispensable and powerful, but when they fail, they feel deeply ashamed. Gradually, they develop a compulsion to fix the loved one’s problems. All of family life revolves around the person abusing substances or behaviours, but they try to avoid the subject like the plague.
Addiction – A person becomes addicted alcohol and drugs when stopping their use causes withdrawal symptoms. The effects of tolerance now means they have to drink far more and use more or stronger drugs…not just to get high, but to prevent tremors, nausea, anxiety and seizures. For addictive behaviours, such as sexual addiction, compulsive gambling, overeating and co-dependency, the “drug” that keeps the person high is adrenaline. They are on constant alert, compulsively seeking the behaviour and defiantly insisting they have no problem at all. In this stage, the life of the family is consumed the addicted person’s choices and behaviour, and others’ needs are often overlooked and neglected. Family members plead and threaten in attempts to control the person who is clearly out of control. In response, the addict often makes dramatic promises to change, but after a few days, things are back the way they were-miserable and confusing