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Understanding the 5 Stages of Addiction for Veterans

stages of addiction

Addiction is a challenging disorder that threatens the lives of veterans each and every day in the United States. To better know how to combat the symptoms of this disorder, one must first understand the five stages of addiction for veterans. Here, we cover all of the stages of addiction in order to help veterans know how they can protect themselves from the dangers of substance use and, most importantly, start recovery today.

1. Starting to Use Drugs or Alcohol

The first stage of addiction starts with the first uses of drugs or alcohol. There are many reasons why people might drink or use drugs: for social gatherings, to unwind after a long day, for prescribed pain relief, and more. While this first stage of addiction can seem innocent enough, it can be beginning of much more serious concerns.

This is especially true for people who are at a higher risk of developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol. The causes behind addiction are vast but some of the most common include having:

  • A family history of substance abuse
  • Traumatic experiences
  • Access to prescription drugs (opioids, painkillers, etc.)
  • Undiagnosed or untreated co-occurring mental health disorders

As a result of these risk factors, veterans are one of the groups of people who are most likely to struggle with substance use. Not only do veterans have less access to mental health care to receive treatment after their time serving, but there is also an expectation that veterans should silently deal with their pain. This harmful expectation is what makes the beginning stages of addiction so dangerous. Without any other outlet for negative feelings, substance abuse becomes the only way to cope.

The truth is that a lot of people who struggle with substance use feel as though they have a sense of control in the beginning stages of addiction. In step one, using drugs or alcohol is typically a choice. But this quickly takes a turn for the worst as addiction is something that is entirely out of the person’s control.

2. Frequent and Consistent Use

veteran alcohol addiction

Next in the stages of addiction is frequently and consistently using drugs or alcohol. For some people, it can be challenging to differentiate between “recreational” drinking or drug use and knowing when it actually becomes a problem. Keeping note of how frequent the drug or alcohol consumption is can help users know if they might have a problem with addiction.

Studies show that women who drink at least eight alcoholic beverages and men who drink at least 15 alcoholic beverages per week fall into the category of alcoholism. Similarly, using prescription drugs outside of the intended dosage and/or recreationally using illegal drugs on a weekly or daily basis are major red flags of addiction.

3. Risky Use of Drugs or Alcohol

This third stage is one of the most dangerous phases of addiction. Both drugs and alcohol can significantly alter one’s ability to make informed and safe decisions. Thus, when a person starts to develop an addiction, the symptoms can have ripple effects on their life. This is actually one of the DSM-5’s defining criteria necessary to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder.

Some examples of risky use include:

  • Driving while intoxicated
  • Engaging in unprotected sexual activities
  • Performing job tasks under the influence
  • Trying new drugs without knowing what they are

Making risky and dangerous decisions while drinking or using drugs can not only put the person’s life at risk but can also endanger the people around them. Additionally, risky behaviors can lead to significant consequences, such as the person losing their job, their close relationships, and even facing legal repercussions.

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4. Physical and Emotional Dependence

veteran alcohol rehab

After risky use of drugs and alcohol comes the dependence stage of addiction. Developing a physical and emotional dependence on drugs or alcohol is an inevitability for most people who struggle with addiction. Simply put, the more of the addictive substance one uses, the more they begin to rely on that substance to function.

Research proves that drug dependency, for example, can have such a strong influence on a person’s body and mind that it actually changes the way their brain functions. Drug and alcohol dependency can cause irreversible brain damage that leads to memory loss, worsening mental health concerns, and physical deterioration.

The phases of drug dependence don’t just include the physical side of things, of course. Mental and emotional dependency on these addictive substances can be just as serious. For veterans who turn to drugs or alcohol during times of emotional distress, recovering from the mental health aspect of addiction can seem nearly impossible. This is because they have been relying on addictive substances to numb the pain of untreated mental health issues.

Luckily, recovery from the physical and emotional dependency on drugs and alcohol is possible. However, veterans need professional treatment to stay safe during recovery. This includes a safe detoxification program to heal from a drug and alcohol dependency. From there, the focus can shift to overall physical and emotional recovery with treatment options such as individualized therapy, nutrition education, recreational therapy, and many more.

5. Rock Bottom and Recovery

Finally, in the stages of addiction, the last step usually occurs when the person struggling with substance use hits rock bottom. Rock bottom looks different for everyone but can include some of those repercussions discussed above, such as losing one’s job or facing serious health consequences as a result of the addiction. Rock bottom is a challenging step to overcome but going through this lowest moment can motivate people who struggle with addiction to get the help they need.

What’s important to remember is that recovery isn’t a linear process. It often includes making mistakes and even relapsing in drug or alcohol use. The behaviors that lead to relapse often look like:

  • Stopping treatment
  • Social isolation
  • Thinking about using drugs or alcohol again
  • Surrounding oneself with people using drugs or drinking

But even if relapse does happen, it doesn’t mean that the recovery process is over for veterans. Instead, recovery can start up again at any time with the right support and treatment opportunities.

Breaking Free from the Stages of Addiction

Regardless of where you or your loved one might be in these stages of addiction, help is available to you. Heroes’ Mile is a facility that is made for veterans by veterans who understand just how challenging addiction and any co-occurring disorders can be. In addition to physical and emotional healing that occurs during the recovery process, the treatment options at Heroes’ Mile prepare each patient for life after rehab.

If you are looking for more information on the stages of addiction as well as how you can start addiction recovery today, give our facility a call at 888-838-6692. Not quite ready to talk? That’s okay—you have the option to fill out a confidential contact form to express your experiences with the stages of addiction and all of your recovery goals.


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