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Addiction is something that can negatively affect multiple areas in someone’s life. Such as memory, motivation, family, and more. Some people may say that addiction lies inside of a person’s character.

If they were to have even just a single sip of an alcoholic beverage, they would become addicted. However, addiction is a lot more than just a person’s character.

It’s a lot more complex in the brain. Drug addiction is a chronic brain disorder according to the American Psychological Association.

The way the addiction cycle works is it is created by a change in the brains chemistry. However, this doesn’t happen quickly.

This occurs throughout different stages. These stages can be short time frames or even months or years to develop.

A lot is happening to the brain during an addiction. First, let’s be clear what counts as an addiction.

An addiction can be things from drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, money spending, and more. Commonly, each addiction follows the same cycle.

“The brain goes through a series of changes, beginning with the recognition of pleasure and ending with a drive toward compulsive behaviour,” said in “Understanding Addiction,” a Havard Health article.

When you do something that you are addicted to, the brain releases dopamine. This is also known as the feel-good neurotransmitter.

Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that makes us feel enjoyment.

When you take drugs or become addicted to anything, you become dependent on that substance or activity. This leads you to not being able to feel happy without taking the drug.

What is the Addiction Cycle?

A person can move on to a healthy lifestyle and quit the addiction through recovery. However, recovery can take anywhere from months to years to even decades.

Although an addict might understand and recognize the cycle they might still have a hard time beating it. They must seek help and want to change their life. So, what is the addiction cycle?

The addiction cycle consists of 6 different stages:

  1. Initial use
  2. Abuse
  3. Tolerance
  4. Dependence
  5. Addiction
  6. Relapse

We shall discuss each of these stages below:

The first time you use can be the one time it takes to become addicted. There could be multiple ways that a substance is introduced to you. These ways could be anything from, family history of substance abuse, peer pressure, and more. People might also start using to escape their everyday lives or heal physical pain without a doctor.

No matter what reason is it and how the person becomes addicted to what they are addicted to there are risk factors. These risk factors can vary from person to person and determines how likely is it the person to have an addiction. These factors can include, social problems, depression, family problems, abuse, and others.

After the first time, the person might feel enjoyment or have a relieving feeling of discomfort. This will drive the person to continue to use the substance or activity to keep them feeling happy. This is what leads to the second stage of addiction.

Once the addict reaches this stage they continue to use to keep the effect of euphoria and escape from reality. This is the stage where the addiction becomes a lot more intense and the user starts using more.

The person will use a higher dose to get the same feeling he did when he first used it. Some people might even move on to harder drugs to get the same high. An example of this could be a person who uses cocaine because drinking wasn’t giving them the same feeling anymore. This when the addiction gets harder to stop.

Sometimes the addiction can happen if a person uses a prescription drug to self help themselves. At this point using drugs has become the addict’s new lifestyle and dealing with cravings. Once the person uses a higher dose this increases their tolerance, which is the next stage.

At this point, the user has been using it for quite some time now. The brain has made a huge change in response to the substance. The brain doesn’t produce the same amount of dopamine as it did when the person first used.

This leads to the addict using more drugs or just a higher dosage to get the same high. Smoking or injecting drugs achieves the high quicker which is why most addicts prefer or at one point move on to those types of drugs.

This can also cause users to move on to a harder drug like methamphetamine or cocaine. This is what causes the brain to lose chemical receptors. This will make the person feel depressed when not under the influence.

Slowly, the brain starts to change over time to how it reacts to the drug. This physiology change leads to the next stage of addiction which is dependence.

At this stage, the addict becomes heavily dependent on the substance or the activity they are addicted to. This is when it becomes extremely hard to find pleasure without the drug. However, there can be times that a person is dependent on a drug but for medical reasons, this would not be counted as an addiction. There are multiple symptoms that a person will experience during this stage. These symptoms can include.

  • Using in inappropriate areas
  • Having relationship or family problems
  • Spending more time searching for the substance
  • Increase in cravings of the substance
  • Decrease in social activities
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

During this stage, addicts can go through withdraws when they don’t have the substance. Going through withdrawal symptoms can be tough for the person. The type of withdrawal symptoms may vary from drug to drug. Some of the withdrawal symptoms can include.

  • Feelings of hostility
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Bodily pains
  • Anxiety

Many addicts use more during this stage and It works as a temporary relief from the withdraws but it just pushes them further into the cycle. This makes the symptoms even more intense.

This stage is the almost end. This is when the addict has gone through the addiction cycle and knows they have a problem. At this point, the person’s health, finances, and social life are all affected by their addiction. As said by “PsychCentral” in their article, “Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder” there are 11 symptoms.

  • Use more of the substance
  • Have a hard time stopping/worrying about stopping or their use
  • Have a lot more cravings
  • Spending a lot more time doing drugs or whatever they are addicted to
  • Go through withdraws
  • Building up a higher tolerance
  • Keep using even when it causes problems in relationships with others
  • Keep using even when it causes health problems (depression, anxiety, sleep change, blackouts)
  • Reducing time with activities and replacing them with drugs
  • Using in inappropriate areas
  • Using in dangerous areas

If a person displays at least 2 or more of these symptoms in a 12-month time frame, they will be diagnosed with a disorder.

This is the final stage of addiction. At this point, the person going through the addiction experiences extreme withdrawal symptoms. So extreme that it gets overwhelming for the person.

So much that the person then seeks out ways to get a hold of the substance. They do this to get back the emotional support from the drug or activity to be happy again.

This will cause them to fall back into the dependent stage of the addiction cycle. This is the stage that holds most addicts back from recovering.


The 5 Stages of Getting Back on Track

However, as said in “Explaining The Cycle of Addiction” by Recovery Connection, “relapse can occur during the action or maintenance stage which means the addict or alcoholic again enters the cycle of addiction.”

The action and maintenance stages are referred to as the process of a person trying to get help and quit their addiction. If a person is trying to quit an addiction there are 5 stages of getting back on track.

These stages are:

  • Precontemplation – this is when the person has not thought about stopping their habits
  • Contemplation – the person might have started thinking about stopping
  • Preparation – the person is getting ready for change and preparing to get help
  • Action – the person has taken action by seeking out help, the person also stops using
  • Maintenace – the person keeps a straight path and follows a recovery programme

Getting help for your addiction

When a person is ready to quit their addiction they need to seek out help. A person might go through multiple attempts to recover and they might relapse and fall back into the cycle.

There can be multiple ways to fix an addiction some being, therapy, support groups, and treatments. These things can help a person learn to manage their disorder.

With the right people and the right motivation, a person can be on the road to recovery in no time.

If you or someone you know are having trouble with an addiction, seek out help. There are a lot of people willing to help!

The recovery hotline number is 0800 140 4690.

References

  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/health-consequences-drug-misuse/introduction
  2. https://psychcentral.com/addictions/substance-use-disorder-symptoms/