There are many definitions of addiction or alcohol dependency, usually focussing on an increase in tolerance, physical and psychological dependence, but it can be a personal choice when exactly drinking or using drugs is getting out of hand.

I like the stages set out by as it’s in relatable English.  I’ve adapted the stages to a checklist… the further down the list you tick, the more likely you have a problem (and somewhere around the middle it’s likely that others are telling you have a problem before you believe it for yourself).

It might be helpful for you to think about where you would draw the line for yourself:

[Tick each point that applies to you]

Stage 1:  Initiation

  • I started drinking/using this drug out of curiosity
  • I feel pressured to keep up with my friends
  • I stop drinking/using after my curiosity is satisfied

Stage 2:  Experimentation

  • I drink or use drugs occasionally in social situations
  • I associate drinking/using drugs as fun and without consequences
  • I don’t feel physically compelled to drink/use more

Stage 3:  Regular Use

  • There is a predictable pattern to my alcohol/drug use
  • I am drinking/using drugs more frequently
  • I drink/use drugs to manage stress, boredom or loneliness
  • My social circle is becoming more alcohol/drug related
  • I drink/use drugs when I’m alone

Stage 4:  Problem Use

  • Drinking or using drugs is taking a negative toll on my life
  • I have driven under the influence of alcohol/drugs
  • My intimate, work and social relationships are suffering
  • I begin to use other people to manage my feelings as I would alcohol/drugs
  • My other behaviours start to resemble addictions (sex, porn, gambling, risky behaviour etc)
  • I am encouraging others to drink/use drugs for the first time, or match my level of use
  • I am supplying drugs to others 

Stage 5:  Dependence

  • I require more alcohol/drug of choice to achieve the same high (Tolerance)
  • I feel withdrawal symptoms if I go without alcohol/drugs (Physical dependence)
  • I experience cravings
  • I’m using higher doses and more frequently
  • I use again after attempting to quit (Psychological/chemical dependency) 

Stage 6:  Substance Use Disorder

  • I can’t face life without drugs or alcohol
  • I can’t control my use
  • I continue to use despite the harm to my health and life
  • I lie about my use (especially how much)
  • I avoid friends and family
  • I have given up activities I enjoy
  • I don’t recognise problems with my behaviour or relationships

In my experience, most people seek help when they are at Stage 5-6 (or Stage 4-5 if they are influenced by loved ones).  If you’re in therapy, it might be helpful to talk your alcohol and drug use through at earlier stages (and I’d recommend it if you’re ticking your way through Stage 3).

You can download and print this checklist for yourself here.

Take care


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