Does the consumption of substances lead irremediably to addiction? No. A person will become addicted if and only if certain conditions or variables are given that allow the development of an addiction.

We’ll talk about addiction when we talk about dependence. This implies that the person relates to a substance from a need. He needs to use and if there is no substance he becomes distressed, irritated and suffers the symptoms of withdrawal. Let’s look at this in more detail.

The relationship between consumption and addictions

Let’s imagine a staircase with three steps. Each step is a different color. On the first one, green, we have the use of substances. In this case we’re talking about simple, non-problematic, sporadic use. This one does not present any difficulties in the short or long term and does not present very serious consequences .

The second step, which is yellow, puts us on alert. It is about substance abuse that refers to more complicated use. We can already think of an excess, of a lack of control and of setting limits. It can be an occasional but excessive use. The substance abuser, after consumption will observe some difficulties and unpleasant consequences. From drinking too much alcohol and acting out, to causing an accident.

Finally, on the red step, the highest, we place the most problematic consumption, which is addiction or dependence. The object of the addiction becomes a priority in the person’s life . The need to consume leads the person to perform acts that he/she would not otherwise do. He thinks all day long about consuming, works to consume, or steals to consume; in short, the addict lives to consume. The consequences are serious, on a personal level (physically and psychologically), at work, in the family, socially, or legally. Starting a treatment in this instance is something fundamental.

As we mentioned at the beginning, not all those who make a simple use of a substance will pass to worse scales , that is, not all consumers will be addicted.

If the substance user goes one step higher, he will transform his simple use into something that is around excess and risky. And if he goes one step higher, he will find himself trapped in his need to use no matter what.

The ladder… one-way?

A person can stay on the first step without having problems related to consumption. Or climb up to the second step and stay there, having occasional problems of excess and uncontrol , or he can also keep going and reach the top. This is the path of addiction, gradually ascending, so consumption is necessarily increasing. That is the path of ascent.

With respect to descent, in recovery from an addiction there are different theories and models. On the one hand we have the model of risk and harm reduction , which will help a person who has decided to use to do so in the most responsible and careful way possible, without seeking abstinence as a goal.

From this model it is possible to think that a person who has reached the level of addiction will be able to descend to the step of abuse and try to moderate it, and even reach the first step, sustaining a simple and responsible use of substances.

On the other hand, the abstentionist models maintain that whoever has reached the degree of addiction and decides to recover cannot consume again, even in a moderate way. Doing so could mean losing control again and starting on the road to addiction. Therefore, following the idea of the ladder, an addict could not go down the second or first step. He should not directly approach or flirt with consumption.


So, abstinence yes or no? As each case is unique, the recovery strategy will vary depending on the characteristics of the individuals and the type of link they have established with the substances. Therefore there is no single method or model valid for all cases of problematic substance use.
That is why the direction of the ladder will be defined by each person.