How Rituals Play a Role With Addictions

Rituals Are One Stage of the Addiction Process

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Most healthcare professionals believe that addictions do not occur instantly, but over the course of several stages. If you suspect someone has an addiction, confronting them can be a very precarious, difficult time. You want to be mindful of their feelings and keep yourself from making false or hurtful accusations. But if you understand the stages and telltale signs of addiction, you can have a better idea of when you need to step in and how to do it in a supportive way that gets positive results.

Stages of Addiction

Addiction can have varying levels of severity and difficulty. Someone at risk of developing an addiction, or even someone who is already addicted, may be able to conquer the addiction before hitting rock bottom. Getting treatment at the earlier stages can increase the chances of successfully recovering.

The most commonly recognized stages are:

  1. Experimentation
  2. Use of Rituals
  3. Risky Use
  4. Dependence
  5. Full Addiction

Rituals and Addiction

Stage 2, where there is regular use of rituals, may be one of the easiest times to recognize symptoms of addiction and intervene. It is also the last point before the behaviors can become risky or dangerous. 

The ritual stage is defined by regular use of an addictive behavior or substance and a specific routine that goes along with it.

This is a time when the person is no longer just experimenting; the behaviors have become a major part of their daily life. Their day-to-day schedule revolves around their addiction. For instance, someone with a sex addiction may come home from work, shower, and then go into a chat room or forum to locate potential partners. They may meet a new person every day at a specific time at a specific location.

For some, the actions of the ritual are as important as the substance itself. It can fulfill certain urges, and the time of day, technique, and location can carry significant meaning to the user. Some of the behaviors of rituals actually feed into the addiction; a user may deliberately work themselves into a state of agitation by having a ritual that is easily interrupted, therefore giving them a reason or justification to use the substance more. 

This often becomes a subconscious routine. The person will continuously seek out and engage in the same behaviors, in the same order, every day. Eventually, lifestyle habits are created that revolve around addictive behaviors

Everyone experiences the stages of addiction differently. Some people may be in the ritual stage for just a few weeks; others may go through rituals for months. However, this is only a stage that will eventually evolve into the next part, engaging in risky behaviors. Getting help during the ritual stage is essential to prevent potential dangers and risks, such as injury, financial ruin, or contracting an illness. 

Get Help

If you are concerned a loved one is going through the stages of addiction or is practicing rituals for substance misuse or other addictions, find a therapist specializing in treating these sorts of behaviors. They can help you recognize warning signs and help you decide on next steps, such as discussing the addiction issues directly with your loved one and treatment options. 

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Principles of effective treatment. Updated January 2018.

  2. Stanford Children's Health. Stages of substance abuse. 2021.

  3. Gray MT. Habits, rituals, and addiction: an inquiry into substance abuse in older persons. Nurs Philos. 2014;14(2):138-151. doi:10.1111/nup.12041