What are the Stages of Opioid Addiction?

In Michigan, as in many parts of the United States, the opioid crisis has taken a significant toll on communities. The perception of addiction, especially opioid addiction, is often misunderstood. Some believe that addiction is a simple matter of character, where one might try a drug once and become instantly addicted. However, the journey to addiction is more intricate than this.

The Complex Path to Addiction

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a chronic brain disease affecting various brain functions, including reward, pleasure, memory, and motivation. This disease doesn’t just appear overnight. It’s a culmination of various stages, often leading to a cycle of addiction, treatment or abstinence, and relapse.

The stages of addiction include:

  • Initial use
  • Abuse
  • Tolerance
  • Dependence
  • Addiction
  • Relapse

For many in Michigan seeking opioid addiction treatment, understanding these stages is crucial. The path to addiction can be swift or gradual. For instance, someone might start with a legitimate prescription for pain, leading to misuse, and eventually, addiction.

Understanding the Addiction Journey

Initial Use

The journey often begins with a single encounter with opioids. This could be a prescription for pain relief or succumbing to peer pressure to try it.  The reasons for this initial use are varied, but it marks the first step towards potential addiction. Factors like family history, environment, peer influence, and personal mental health can influence the progression from this stage.


This stage sees the individual consume the opioids in harmful ways. For instance, someone might increase their dosage of prescribed opioid medication without a doctor’s advice. With illicit drugs, the very first use might be considered abuse, while with legal substances or prescriptions, abuse might be characterized by consumption for the euphoric effects rather than its intended purpose.

Struggling with addiction? Find Opioid Addiction Treatment in Michigan with Aegis Medical. 


Over time, the body adapts to the opioids, leading to diminished effects at the same dosage. This phenomenon, known as tolerance, prompts the individual to consume more to achieve the same effects. This escalation can lead to heavy abuse. The brain undergoes changes in response to the drug, altering its reaction to the substance’s presence.


With prolonged use, the body becomes reliant on opioids to function and avoid severe discomfort. Those who have been on opioids for an extended period may experience intense physical and emotional distress in the drug’s absence. It’s crucial to distinguish between dependence and addiction. Dependence doesn’t always equate to addiction. As an analogy, someone might rely on blood pressure medication to maintain healthy levels, but this isn’t an addiction. However, when dependence on opioids results in chasing euphoria beyond its pain-relieving purpose, it can set the stage for addiction.


This stage is characterized by a chronic mental health disorder with specific symptoms.

These include:

  • Overconsumption beyond the intended amounts
  • Inability to quit despite attempts
  • Strained relationships due to substance use
  • Prioritizing substance use over daily responsibilities and favorite activities
  • Cravings
  • Continued use despite adverse health effects
  • Developing tolerance and experiencing withdrawal symptoms

The severity of the addiction can be gauged by the number of symptoms present. A mild disorder might have 2-3 symptoms, a moderate one 4-5, and a severe disorder would exhibit 6 or more.

Read Six Major Characteristics Of Addictive Behavior


A defining characteristic of chronic conditions, including opioid addiction, is the risk of relapse. Just as individuals with conditions like diabetes or asthma might experience setbacks while fine-tuning their management strategies with healthcare professionals, those battling opioid addiction face similar challenges.

There are instances where the initial approach to opioid addiction treatment might not fully address the individual’s needs, or they might attempt to quit without adequate support. Over time, this can lead to a loss of control and a return to opioid use.

Breaking the Cycle

Recognizing opioid addiction is the first step toward recovery. Once diagnosed, the cycle of addiction, abstinence, and relapse can be interrupted with professional intervention. Evidence-backed treatments, including cognitive and behavioral therapies, Medical-Assisted Treatment (MAT), peer support, and others, empower individuals to navigate and control their opioid dependency. 

Aegis Medical offers online opioid addiction treatment for those suffering from addiction. When you choose Aegis Medical, you can use your own pharmacy, benefit from our board-certified expertise, and receive treatment from anywhere from a judgment-free practitioner whose sole purpose is to help you walk your recovery journey with confidence. Dr. Peter Farago is licensed throughout the US and Canada and is a member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine, and the American Board of Preventive Medicine. Aegis Medical is also HIPAA Verified and accepts most insurance plans.