Menu Close

Understanding the Cycle of Addiction

a woman struggles to break free from the cycle of addiction without help

The brain of an addicted person is physiologically and chemically different from that of a non-addicted person. This clearly demonstrates that addiction is a neurological disorder. The cycle of addiction is the process by which the addiction continually manifests in someone who is actively abusing alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription medications. When that cycle is broken, and the person is living a healthier lifestyle, then they are in recovery. Understanding how the cycle of addiction perpetuates is key to figuring out how to disrupt the cycle so that recovery can begin. Unfortunately, without outside intervention from professional counselors, doctors, and rehab programs, most addicts are unable to break addiction’s repetitive cycle.

At Northpoint Recovery, we understand the struggle of addiction and want to help our clients move out of addiction’s cycle and into recovery. Our team of professionals works hard to create individualized programs that meet each patient’s needs so they can find hope on their journey toward a healthier life. We are committed to providing compassionate care, education, and support so you can recover. Learn more about our programs or find addiction information by calling 208.486.0130.

The Definition of Addiction

Before one can understand the cycle of addiction, first addiction itself must be identified. In terms of substance abuse, addiction is when a person obsessively thinks about and compulsively needs and seeks drugs or alcohol in spite of negative consequences. It is characterized by:

  • Tolerance – The need for ever-increasing amounts of the substance to achieve the same effects
  • Withdrawal – Uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms resulting whenever the substance is discontinued
  • Physical cravings – An intense desire to use or drink, and
  • Emotional obsession – Constantly thinking about acquiring and using drugs

The Addiction Spectrum

Addiction exists on a continuum that gradually worsens over time. This pattern includes:

  • Misuse – This is when a person experiments with drugs or alcohol recreationally or uses those substances to ease physical or emotional pain. When they experience the temporary pleasurable effects of alcohol or drugs, they are motivated to use them again.
  • Abuse – This is when the person increases their drug and alcohol use in order to escape reality and prolong the desired euphoric effects.
  • Addiction – By this time, the majority of the person’s time and effort is spent in the acquisition of more drugs or alcohol.

Ironically, the problems from which they are trying to escape are still there. In fact, new problems invariably arise as a result of constant substance use. This is the point at which a person becomes dependent upon the substance, and satisfying their craving starts to become their existence.

The Risks of Addiction

Negative consequences start to appear in every area of life for a person struggling with addiction, including:

  • Physical health
  • Emotional
  • Social
  • Financial
  • Legal

Addiction and the Brain

Of all of the organs in the body, there is no denying that the human brain is the most complex. It is responsible for practically everything a person does on a daily basis. It stores your memories, helps you drive a car, keeps you breathing, and does so much more. Most of the actions your brain is responsible for are things you don’t even think about. When drugs and alcohol are introduced to the human brain, the effects are profound and dramatic.

Your brain is made up of many different parts that all work together as a team. Substances cause problems within the different parts of the brain. This means that you have the risk of losing many of the basic functions it’s responsible for. When the brain isn’t able to communicate within the different parts, behaviors typically change. The brain is made up of billions of neurons, or nerve cells. Using substances has a direct, negative impact on these cells. This impact results in different ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. This is exactly why people with addiction take risks, make poor decisions, and behave the way they do.

Addictive Behaviors

Addictive behaviors can refer to any number of actions. Most people think of addictive behaviors as being related to the use of drugs and alcohol. However, they are actually so much more than that. Substance abuse is only one aspect of the behavioral component of addiction. Research has shown that various behaviors can actually become addictive in nature as well. For instance, shopping, sex, the internet, and cell phone use can all be addictive. When these behaviors were studied, it was found that the brain exhibited significant changes. These changes were similar to those that were demonstrated by people addicted to substances.

There are several patterns of addictive behaviors, such as:

  • Not being able to stop
  • Easily relapsing
  • Losing control
  • Having the desire to use or act, but no pleasure
  • Having more than one addiction at once
  • Using substances or behaviors to self-medicate

Whether you struggle with alcohol or you’re addicted to sex, the problem is still the same. You are at risk of entering a dangerous cycle of addiction.

Addiction Warning Signs

The cycle of addiction definition indicates that it is an ongoing process. Generally, a person begins using, decides to stop, and then relapses. This cycle happens over and over again. There are several different addiction warning signs that you should be aware of. You may not even be sure that you have an addiction. These warning signs can give you an indication that something isn’t right. If you wonder if you have an addiction, you may notice:

  • That when you want to stop using, you’re not able to
  • That you go through withdrawal when you stop using
  • That you continue to use even though you’re suffering from health problems
  • That you are making sacrifices in your relationships or social activities in order to use
  • That you are always careful to ensure you have drugs or alcohol on hand
  • That you take risks as a result of your behaviors or substance abuse
  • That you continually deny that you have a serious problem
  • That you are obsessed with using substances or participating in the compulsive behavior
  • That you have become isolated from the people you love the most
  • That you center your entire life around the focus of your addiction
  • That you don’t feel like yourself unless you’re using
  • That you continually use or act, even when you told yourself you wouldn’t

It’s definitely not always easy to recognize when you’re battling addiction. However, once you notice some of the warning signs in your life, it becomes much easier. If you do have an addiction, all hope is not lost. It’s never too late to recognize the cycle of addiction for what it is. If you’re struggling, you need to know that there’s something you can do about it. The right treatment can change everything for you.

The Seven Steps of the Cycle of Addiction

The cycle of addiction has seven steps that, while distinct, may present variably for different users. For example, a person who abuses a substance daily may actually rotate through that cycle a number of times during the day, while a person who binges may move through the cycle at a different pace.

  • Frustration – Substance-seeking as a means of relief
  • Fantasizing – Thinking about using or drinking
  • Obsessing – Uncontrollably thinking about how it will feel after using or drinking
  • Using or drinking – Achieving relief for the pain or frustration
  • Loss of control – Inability to regulate frequency or amount of use
  • Dissatisfaction – Feelings of remorse, shame, and guilt for using or drinking
  • Promising to quit – Resolving “never again”

Unfortunately, this proves to be an empty promise because when the emotional or physical frustration turns, the addicted person begins to re-experience the fantasies of relieving their pain with alcohol or drugs.

How to Break the Cycle of Addiction

The cycle of addiction is broken when the addicted person becomes abstinent and makes lifestyle changes that substitute dysfunctional, self-destructive behaviors for healthier, productive ones. Here are the stages of readiness for that change:

  • Pre-contemplation – At this point, the person has not even considered stopping drinking or using.
  • Contemplation – The person begins to consider quitting.
  • Preparation – The person begins to mentally prepare to quit using or drinking.
  • Action – The person seeks treatment, begins counseling, or starts attending self-help groups. At this point, the person has stopped using.
  • Maintenance – Following a recovery program, the person is now living a healthier, substance-free lifestyle.

One important thing to keep in mind is the fact that a relapse can occur at any stage of recovery. This is why continuing aftercare and ongoing support are so important for successful, long-lasting recovery.

Addiction Treatment

All types of addictions can be treated successfully. There aren’t any addictions that cannot be treated. This should give you some hope. You should know, however, that there are different ways to treat addiction. People are all very different, and they require different treatment approaches. This is how addiction treatment is the most successful. The following are just some of the ways addiction can be treated:

  • Inpatient rehab – Inpatient rehab gives people time away from the stressors of their everyday lives. It allows them to focus completely on recovering.
  • Counseling – Individual counseling sessions allow patients to work through the issues that led to their addictions.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment – Mental health conditions frequently contribute to addictions. They can make it very difficult to recover unless they’re addressed.
  • Detoxification – Detox helps with the withdrawal phase of recovery.
  • Long-term care – This allows patients more time to recover from their addictions. It is great for those with severe addictions. It can also be effective for those who are unable to return home because their home lives are dangerous.

Start Your Journey at Northpoint Recovery

At Northpoint Recovery, we understand that there is hope in every situation. Our team of experts strives to provide creative and innovative approaches to addiction treatment. We understand that each person and their addiction are different, which is why we tailor our services specifically for each individual.

Learn more and get started today by calling 208.486.0130 or contacting us online.