The two most common reasons why teens experiment with drugs are curiosity and peer pressure.  Of course, other factors play a role, but according to the NIDA, many people who tried a drug before age 18 had a substance use disorder by age 20.  So, teens need to be aware that when curiosity leads to addiction, the fun is over and life as they knew it has changed.

7 Stages of Becoming Addicted to a Substance

Most addictions don’t happen overnight.  Generally, it is a process of repeated substance use that follows a pattern.

This pattern is composed of several stages including:

  • Initiation
  • Experimentation
  • Regular use
  • Risky use
  • Dependence
  • Addiction
  • Crisis/Treatment

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Let’s look at each stage to better understand the process of addiction.


1st Stage:  Initiation

When curiosity leads to addiction, it is usually the result of the person wanting to fit in or to find out what it feels like to be high.  But, a teenager’s frontal cortex has not finished developing.  This affects their decision-making skills.  So, they may try drugs without first considering the consequences.

Of course, just trying a drug once doesn’t mean the teen is certain to develop a substance use disorder (SUD).  But, in many instances, drug use doesn’t always stop after one use.   This is when a person enters the second stage of addiction.

2nd Stage:  Experimentation

In this stage of addiction, a person is now using the drug to relax, manage stress, or have more fun at a party.  They are making a conscious decision to use the substance.  Generally, in this stage, there are no physical cravings for the drug.  The person may be using it impulsively but has not yet developed a dependency.  At this point, it would be easy to quit the drug.

3rd Stage:  Regular Use

At this stage, periodic use becomes regular use.  A person may not use the drug every day, but they have developed a pattern of use.  For instance, using every weekend or using to deal with stress, boredom, or other emotional issues.  When this happens, begin using the drug while alone.  They show up at school or work hungover, or skip it altogether.  This form of mental reliance on a drug makes it more difficult to quit, but it is possible to do so without outside help.

4th Stage:  Risky Use

Regular use has increased and is having a negative impact on a person’s life.  Missing school or work becomes a regular event.  Their substance use is becoming noticeable to others.  The individual may experience financial problems from skipping work and funding their substance use.

Some signs of risky use include:

  • Stealing money.
  • Neglecting responsibilities.
  • Hiding the substance.
  • A new group of friends.
  • Doctor-shopping (for prescription drugs).
  • Lack of interest in old hobbies or activities.
  • Social isolation.

By now it’s apparent that a problem is developing with their substance use.  But, the person has no desire to stop.  Sadly, when curiosity leads to addiction, a teen may lose the chance to reach their full potential in life.  The drug becomes their main focus and all their goals for the future are forgotten.

5th Stage:  Dependence

Recreational use of the drug has turned into a reliance on the drug.  If the person tries to stop using, withdrawal symptoms begin.  In most cases, the individual prefers a quick solution the withdrawals, so they reach for more of the drug rather than seeking treatment.  Once this point is reached, addiction is the next step.

6th Stage:  Addiction

The terms dependence and addiction are often used interchangeably.  However, there are distinct differences.  Once dependence becomes an addiction, drug use is no longer a conscious choice. The person may feel that they can’t function without the substance.  All aspects of their normal life are neglected or forgotten, including friends or family.  They begin lying about their drug use and become more and more out of touch with reality.

Professional addiction treatment is their best chance of recovery at this point.

What to Do When Curiosity Leads to Addiction

Teens aren’t the only ones affected when curiosity leads to addiction.  Adult drug users may go through the same stages of addiction as teens.  If you think you are in any of these stages with your drug use, please seek help.  Contact us at New Beginnings today to learn how our programs can help you defeat this relentless enemy.

  • – Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment