The Disease of Addiction is Cunning
It’s unpredictable by nature, with no way of knowing whom it will affect and how severe it may become. There is no biological test for this disease. A doctor cannot simply draw some blood and report back to the patient, “I’m sorry to tell you this, John, but you’ve got the addiction.” It just doesn’t work that way.
Addiction progresses gradually. People do not start out with addiction. They may drink like the average person or use drugs recreationally. But at some point the behaviors change, and the person becomes addicted. What was once “a little bit on the weekends” can turn into “as much as possible every day.” Although the illness may progress at different rates for different people, it can be defined by several stages.
The Timeline of Addiction
Depending on the drug involved, the progression of addiction can take months or even years to develop. In the beginning, a person may try a substance out of opportunity or curiosity. They then discover the effect of the drug: euphoria, relaxation, excitement, courage. At this stage, the negative consequences are usually minimal.
As the progression of addiction continues, the person may start to seek out the drug, wanting to experience its effects repeatedly. For many people, drug use can be a way of “self-medicating,” helping them escape from emotional pain, physical pain, anger, boredom, or stress. As the person continues to seek out the drug, the consequences become more severe: spending too much money, missing work, frequent hangovers or blackouts, emotional outbursts, and stress on the relationships with family and friends. Typically, there is also an increase in the level of dishonesty as the person starts to lie not only to others but also to themselves.
The person eventually develops tolerance to the drug, meaning that they must take more of it to achieve the same effect as before.
Losing the Power of Choice
Eventually, with continued and increased use, the person comes a point of dependence: they use not out of opportunity or hope for pleasure but out of necessity, as a way to avoid pain. The substance no longer offers an escape from reality: it IS reality. At this point there are usually multiple consequences that have occurred, such as the loss of a job, legal troubles, hospitalizations, and physical dependence on the drug. The person will likely experience intense drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit. Depression and anxiety may be prevalent and are often accompanied by denial. The addicted person may tell themselves they can quit whenever they want to, and may refuse help when it is offered.