Substance abuse is a pattern of harmful usage of any substance to get mood-alterations. It includes both illegal substances like Marijuana, Cocaine, Opioids etc., and abuse of legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Substance abuse also includes misuse of prescription medications which have sedative, analgesic or stimulant properties. Depending on the substance of abuse, it will lead to health problems, social problems, financial problems, injuries, violence, accidents, suicides, physical dependence or mental addiction. Despite of numerous negative effects, many people are getting addicted to substance use.

According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2008 report, 20.1 million Americans aged 12 or more were illicit drug abusers representing 8 percent of the population. The report also stated that 51.6 percent of Americans were current alcohol drinkers which represents more than half of Americans aged 12 or more and around 70.9 million Americans aged 12 or more were current tobacco users. These statistics clearly state that many people are suffering from substance abuse, which is considered as a disease these days. This disease has different stages which are described below.

There are 5 different stages of substance abuse. They are experimentation, regular use, risky use, dependence, and addiction.

Many of the abusers start taking a substance without knowing the future effects of it. Experimentation generally starts at a very early age when they are young. People start experimenting with a substance because of peer pressure, stress or by watching others doing it. It might also start because of marital conflicts or work pressure. The users feel resolution of their problem and start using it regularly. Few of them probably may stop using on their own but few of them get into the next stage.

Regular use
After experimentation, they get into regular use. They start feeling that substance or drug use is the answer to their problems. In this stage, they start deciding on when to take the substance or drug, like before bed or on weekends. Their want for the substance increases before the decided or planned time. They start being dishonest with their friends and family members depending on amount of usage. Then slowly, they tend to increase the use of the substance. Some people in this stage can also stop using the substance based on his/her personal effort. Or else, the person will get into risky use.

Risky use
The transformation from regular to risky will be totally dependent on the individual, and it differs from one individual to another. In this stage the person will have negative consequences like not caring relationships with friends, family and spouse. These negative consequences start hindering the daily activities. The heavy users start feeling that they cannot sustain on seeing the drug and start craving for it. They get involved in crimes such as stealing or cheating for getting money to purchase the substance. If this actions are left unchecked, the person will slip into next stage. People easily and unknowingly pass from risky use to dependence stage.

There is just a thin gap between risky use and dependence. People will be preoccupied with use and development of tolerance. In this stage, people will have a strong urge to use the drug in order to stop the illnesses like nausea, headache, body pains etc. In this stage, they fail to fulfill family, school, college or work responsibilities. There will be increase in dangerous and risk-taking drug-related behaviors. They start committing serious crimes to get the abusing substance. This, finally, leads to addiction.

This is the last stage of substance abuse. This involves serious psychological and physical changes because of heavy intake of the substance abuse. The symptoms of addiction include irresistible craving or seeking substance of abuse. The person will be emotionally and physically dependent on drug. The severity of drug abuse depends on the personality of the addict. In this stage, there is a great possibility of substance overdose which would result in death or serious damage. If a person is not treated at this stage, it will get much worse. Once a person is brought out of addiction through treatment there are many chances of relapse.

Substance abuse is a complex problem which may result because of combination of hereditary, psychological and environmental factors. It is important for everyone to avoid substance use. Even one use can lead to addiction. If treated in early stages, there are better chances of recovery with less effort and spending. There will also be less chances of relapse when treated in early stages.