The Transition from Recreational Drug Use to Addiction


Most people come across opportunities to use substances recreationally or socially more than a handful of times in their lives. The stigma of drug experimentation is much less than those who have fallen into the depths of addiction. Generally, the attitude towards drug experimentation, especially for young adults, is that the behavior is harmless as long as it remains casual and only occurs two to four times a month, on average. However, there is a pipeline between casual drug experimentation and addiction that should not be ignored.

Phases of Substance Use

Broadly looking at the transition from drug experimentation to dependency and addiction can give some insight into how quickly even casual substance use can spiral out of control. Many people who indulge in drug experimentation are not aware of the fact that these substances themselves have highly addictive components within their chemistry that can, and will, eventually override the body’s ability to choose if it wants the drug. It will become a situation where it needs it to feel normal. The phases include:

  1. Drug Experimentation: This is the time someone usually encounters a substance and tries it for the first time. Often, this happens out of curiosity, peer pressure, and sometimes even sadness or negative emotions.

  2. Recreational Use: When substance use becomes more frequent and is planned ahead of time, sometimes only over weekends, or a few times a month, the negatives consequences are not likely to be felt by the user, and they think they are in control of their consumption.

  3. Regular Use: At the point of daily use, the person may have already had several bad experiences due to their actions, such as a DWI or run-ins with the law due to possession.

  4. Risky Misuse: Despite drastic consequences, a person who continues to use beyond this point is on the precipice of having substances control their lives and actions. During this time, personal relationships are most turbulent, and they are at risk of addiction.

  5. Dependency: When a person’s life has entered a steep decline due to their substance use, they have likely become dependent on the drug and its effects despite their limited ability to function normally in their everyday lives.

  6. Addiction: The final stage of heavy drug use enters substance use disorder. Those in this position have very little control over their lives other than seeking out and acquiring the substance they need. People at this stage are no longer chasing the “high” of a substance like in the days of drug experimentation, but are instead looking simply to avoid painful withdrawal symptoms.

Many underlying reasons cause someone to consider drug experimentation, and often, it happens early on in life, around adolescence. The experiences that a person incurs during that time frame can significantly impact their decision to continue only recreational substance use or spiral into something much more dangerous that could potentially lead to substance use disorder.

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