Pre-addiction is a phase of substance use that precedes full-blown addiction. Addiction is a term used to describe the most severe substance use disorders (SUDs). But addiction typically develops over time with continued use. Pre-addiction is a serious but treatable condition. Recognizing and intervening in the pre-addiction phase can prevent the onset of addiction and improve overall health. 

If a person is using drugs or alcohol in an unhealthy way but their symptoms are not severe enough to be considered an addiction, they may be experiencing pre-addiction. Individuals experiencing pre-addiction may go on to develop full-blown addiction if changes are not made. Pre-addiction can present with different patterns of use, from regular use to binge use. 

Addiction is a chronic illness characterized by changes in brain circuitry. It includes symptoms of compulsive and persistent behaviors, such as using a drug or drinking, despite negative consequences. 

There are 11 potential diagnostic criteria for SUDs outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). SUDs range from mild to severe. Two or more of the 11 criteria is considered a SUD. When someone is experiencing 6 or more criteria, they are considered to have a severe SUD. Five or fewer of the criteria can be considered moderate or even mild SUD, or pre-addiction. 

The DSM-5 criteria are:

  • Using more of the substance, or for longer amounts of time.

  • Wanting to cut back or quit, but not being successful.

  • Using substances in risky settings that put you in danger such as drinking and driving or blacking out.

  • Continuing to use despite the substance causing problems to your physical and mental health.

  • Experiencing cravings or urges to use the substance.

  • Needing more of the substance to get the desired effect — also called tolerance.

  • Developing withdrawal symptoms when not using the substance.

  • Spending more time getting and using drugs and recovering from substance use.

  • Neglecting responsibilities at home, work or school because of substance use.

  • Continuing to use the substance even when it causes relationship problems.

  • Giving up social and recreational activities due to substance use.

It’s possible and highly advantageous to make changes at this stage. Behavior change can prevent full blown addiction, reduce negative consequences, and improve quality of life. Like many things that require lifestyle changes, like diet and exercise, the use of professional support, community, and tools or resources can help improve success rates. 

Getting support during the pre-addiction stage should be personalized and comprehensive. Typically, it is focused on establishing healthier habits, breaking negative thoughts and habits, and implementing lifestyle changes. Some people improve their relationship with substances and reverse pre-addiction symptoms without necessarily ‘going sober’ or giving up substances altogether. This is not required for pre-addiction support.

If you’re dealing with pre-addiction, you might feel like typical addiction treatment services are not appropriate for you, and are unappealing. That’s okay! You might benefit from virtual support through Confidant. We’ll build your plan to meet your needs and help you reach your goals.