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Progression Rate of Addiction

How far down can they go?

Intervention Services uses the S.M.A.R.T. Model of Interventions, which tries to outline the idea that the problem isn’t so much a drug or alcohol problem as it is one of impaired coping mechanisms. The drug or alcohol use is just one of many symptoms of this failure to deal with uncomfortable feelings and life situations in a healthy manner. As an alcoholic or addict uses substances to cope with uncomfortable life situations then their ability to deal with these same situations sober becomes less and less. Over time, this failure to deal with life manifests itself in the form of many classic symptoms that can change over time. Perhaps the best model of these changes is what is sometimes referred to as a “Jellinek Curve” or progression curve of addiction.
Demonstrated below is an Intervention Services Progression Curve which we use during our presentations which can be applied to both alcohol and

S.M.A.R.T. Model Progression Curve

Understand, however, that progression rates, or how long it takes to reach the bottom of the curve, do sometimes vary depending on the substances used, the frequency and the amount. For your information, we have supplied a breakdown of the average progression rates for the most commonly abused substances in the list below:

Approximate Progression Rate of Drugs

Substance Progression Rate

  • Alcohol 10 to 30 years
  • Barbiturates 2 to 7 years
  • Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Klonipin, etc) 5 to 10 years
  • Cocaine 2 to 10 years
  • Crack 1 to 5 years
  • Marijuana 10 to 30 years
  • Methamphetamine 2 to 7 years *
  • Opiates (Heroin, Oxycontin, Vicadin, etc) 2 to 7 years
  • Methadone, Suboxone 3 to 10 years
  • Club Drugs (Ecstasy, LSD, GHB, Ketamine, etc) Unknown
  • Inhalants (huffing) Unknown

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A common misconception is that if you switch from one substance to another then you start at the top of the
progression curve again. In actuality, if you do change substances, then you will take over roughly where you left off on the previous substance’s progression curve. For example, let’s say that you spent 10 years drinking and started experiencing some problems and were somewhere around the middle of the alcohol progression curve. Then you decided to quit drinking but switched over to a much more rapid progression substance such as cocaine. Basically, you would progress more rapidly but you would continue at the middle of the progression curve even though you had never touched the new substance before. Oftentimes we will see an addict who has been drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana  for years at a slow steady decline and then he switches to opiates or crack cocaine and then the progression speeds up. The family then mistakenly feels that their loved one “has a crack or heroin problem“ because the decline is so sudden, but in actuality, the problem has existed for years at a much slower rate with a different substance.

SPECIAL NOTE: Many interventionists consider methamphetamine the most dangerous of all interventions
due to their explosive, random, sometimes violent nature. This difficulty is due to the fact that by the time a methamphetamine user reaches the bottom of the progression curve he is oftentimes delusional, psychotic, or even insane.

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