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The Path to a Substance Use Disorder is Well Worn

Back when the New Kids on the Block were, in fact, new and kids, the popular boy band had a hit called “Step by Step.” The song suggested that the boys in the group had a step-by-step plan for romance. (In reality, the steps they actually list in song do not seem all that well thought out.)

The idea of taking a series of steps to accomplish a goal is a common one. Unfortunately, however, it is also possible to take a series of steps that lead to a negative outcome. 

For example, there are a series of steps that reliably lead to the development of a substance use disorder. We are going to walk down this frightening path in this blog entry in the hope that you will not find yourself on it—or that if you do, you will get help right away.

Let’s take a look at the steps one at a time.

Step One: Using for the First Time and Developing a Pattern

It probably goes without saying that you cannot develop a substance use disorder if you simply never use drugs or alcohol. But for the sake of completeness, we want to start at the very beginning. The first time you use drugs or alcohol is the first time you put yourself at risk of heading down the path toward a substance use disorder. Obviously, this does not happen to everyone, but again, this is the place where every substance use disorder begins: first use.

If you enjoy that first use, it is likely there will be a second use and a third and so on. That development of a pattern of use points you down the road toward the development of a disorder.

Step Two: Ongoing and Increasingly Regular Use

This is the step on the path where substance use becomes a regular part of your life. That might mean it is, for example, a once a week thing for a while. But you might soon find yourself drinking or using drugs more frequently. It probably does not feel like any big deal in the early days of this stage. But as you continue to use drugs or alcohol, you will eventually find yourself at the next milestone.

Step Three: Developing a Tolerance for Drugs or Alcohol

At first—including your first use and perhaps for quite a while afterward—you will likely feel the effects of taking drugs or drinking alcohol quite quickly. It will not take very much to achieve the feeling that you enjoy, the one that keeps you coming back for more.

But as time goes on, you will develop a tolerance for the substance you are using. That means it will take more and more of it in order to make you feel what you used to feel with far less. As you take more and more, you put your physical and mental health at increasing risk of negative impacts. You are also headed toward the next step on the path to a substance use disorder—and it is a doozy.

Step Four: Becoming Dependent on Drugs or Alcohol

This step can be described as being caught between a rock and a hard place. At this point, your body and brain think you need the drug or alcohol to function. If you try to quit, you are likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms that will push you back toward the substance you are addicted to in order to ease those negative feelings. Meanwhile, your mental and physical health are almost certainly continuing to deteriorate. You can’t quit, but you can’t keep going this way. 

Step Five: Trying to Live With a Substance Use Disorder

At this point, it should be clear to you—and probably to those around you—that you have developed a substance use disorder. The consequences of that fact will be catching up to you now, if they haven’t already. Your relationships are probably in trouble. You may be having problems at work or school—which in turn can put your finances on shaky ground. And as we have noted above, your mental and physical well-being are deeply compromised. 

If you have been putting off getting help because you have tricked yourself into believing you have everything under control, the time has come to set that illusion aside. You can replace it with a new—and newly sober—reality if you get yourself into treatment.

A New and Improved Step One: Seeking Treatment at French Creek

At French Creek Recovery Center—located in Meadville, Pennsylvania—we offer medically supervised detoxification, a rehabilitation program that can also address co-occurring mental health disorders, and a continuum of care that provides the support you need to start your recovery journey with confidence.

If you are looking for evidence-based, personalized treatment provided in a spirit of empathy, we can tell you that “[We’ve] Got It (The Right Stuff).”