The signs and symptoms of addiction are not always easily identified. The following descriptions provide details of the four phases which were identified by researchers Jean Kinney and Gwen Leaton.
1. Prealcoholic phase: During this phase, a person has his or her first contact with alcohol or another drug, begins drinking or using, and becomes psychologically dependent. This means that there are no physical withdrawal symptoms if the person doesn’t drink or use, but he or she feels the need to drink or use to deal with life. The contact phase may last many years.
2. Prodromal phase: In the next phase, tolerance starts to increase. It takes more of the drug to get the same effect. It is often during the prodromal phase that people start experiencing blackouts (if their drug is alcohol); begin to hide from others the amount they’re drinking or using; begin drinking/using faster or strictly for the effect; begin avoiding talking about their drinking/use with others; and experience their first loss of control and physical withdrawal.
3. Crucial phase: In the third phase, loss of control progresses, so that drinkers or users can’t be sure how much they will drink or use once they get started. Alcoholics and addicts in this stage often quit for a while to prove they aren’t really dependent, but return to uncontrolled drinking or using when they try to go back to moderate use. They start trying other ways to control their drinking or using, and to escape the consequences. Addicts or alcoholics in the crucial stage start experiencing more physical and psychological damage because of drinking or using. Other people will notice that their health and personalities are going downhill. Their lives are more and more disrupted and full of conflict as the crucial stage progresses. Prolonged periods of use start—benders for alcoholics, several-day runs for methamphetamine users, and so on.
4. Chronic phase: This is the final stage. In the chronic stage, life falls apart, if it hasn’t already. This is the stage where people may drop out of their families and social situations, become unemployed, become homeless, be hospitalized due to the effects of drinking/using, and have frequent encounters with the law. This is the stage where some people die and others hit bottom and decide to do whatever it takes to change.