Understanding the Cycle of Addiction

Understanding the Cycle of Addiction

Addiction Cycle: Alcohol and drug addiction research clearly shows that the addicted brain is chemically and psychologically different from the normal brain. The idea of addiction being a neurological disorder is critical to understanding the development of addiction and the recovery process.

Eventually, due to internal turmoil and conflict or through outside interventions such as alcohol and drug rehab treatment, a person can try to stop the addiction cycle and enter a healthier lifestyle called recovery.

Everyone is different though, it may take months, years or even decades before this process leads an individual to the path of recovery. An addict or alcoholic might be able to understand the cycle of addiction but they'll remain unable to break the repetition of the cycle until they have developed the insight to seek help.

Understanding Addiction

Addiction is defined as obsessive thinking and the compulsive need for drugs, alcohol, food, sex or anything despite negative consequences. Addiction includes the development of tolerance combined with withdrawal symptoms.

In addition to tolerance, an addict or alcoholic will experience intense physical cravings for the drug and an emotional obsession to take alcohol or drugs regardless of any resulting consequences. Addiction develops over time and usually begins with misuse, moving toward abuse and then resulting in addiction.

Drug and Alcohol Effects on the Brain

Addiction alters the brain chemistry affecting the process of thought and decision-making. The definition of addiction also includes strong references to denial, minimization and justification, all of which are primitive internal defense mechanisms.

After the addiction is acknowledged, the addict may ultimately be forced to decide to stop using drugs or alcohol, thus breaking the cycle of addiction but the abnormal addicted brain can't tolerate that decision. The cycle of addiction is extremely powerful, usually requiring outside interventions that include alcohol or drug detox and substance abuse treatment.

The Cycle of Addiction

  • Frustration and internal pain that leads to anxiety and a demand for relief of these symptoms.
  • Fantasizing about using alcohol and drugs or behaviors to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms.
  • Obsessing about using drugs and alcohol is how his or her life will be after the use of substances.
  • Engaging in the addictive activity, such as using substances to gain relief.
  • Losing control over the behavior.
  • Developing feelings of remorse, guilt and shame which leads to feelings of dissatisfaction.
  • Making a promise or resolve to oneself to stop the behavior or substance use.
  • After a period of time, the pain returns and the addict begins to experience the fantasies of using substances again.

Breaking the cycle of addiction

The stages of addiction can be matched up with some of the stages of the model of behavior change and its relationship to recovery.

  • Perception - The addict has not yet considered stopping the behavior or use of substances.
  • Contemplation - The addict is starting to consider making a change in behavior.
  • Preparation - The addict is mentally and possibly physically prepared to make a change.
  • Action - The addict has taken an action such as seeking treatment, self-help groups or counseling. Treatment has been provided and the addict has stopped using.
  • Maintenance - The addict is maintaining his or her new lifestyle and behavior following a recovery program.

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