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Ending the Endless Cycle of Addiction

Ending the Endless Cycle of Addiction

Substance abuse or addiction can seem like an endless cycle.  It’s a process with no clear beginning or end.  Even if the individual wants to stop their drug use, they don’t know where to begin, so the cycle continues.  In far too many cases, overdose or death occurs before the person gets a chance to make a change.  So, what happens during the endless cycle of addiction that makes it hard to break?

Understanding the Stages Involved in the Cycle of Addiction

The stigma surrounding addiction suggests that substance users lack willpower.  In truth, willpower is only a fraction of the complex process that leads to substance abuse.  

The definition of addiction, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM):

“Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become  compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”

Addiction can occur quickly, depending on the substance involved.  Or, it can take months or years to develop.  But, the process involves a series of stages that make the cycle of addiction so difficult to break.  For instance, some of the stages may occur together.

To better understand the cycle of addiction, familiarize yourself with the following stages: 

Stage #1:  Initial use of an addictive substance.

Each person has their own reasons for experimenting with drugs or alcohol.  Whether the first-time use leads to addiction depends on several risk factors such as:

  • Neglect or physical/emotional abuse.
  • Dysfunctional living environment.
  • Loneliness, depression, or other mental or emotional issues.
  • History of substance abuse among family members.
  • Peer pressure, social issues, low self-esteem.

Of course, these risk factors don’t always lead to substance abuse.  But, when influenced by the other stages of addiction, the possibility increases.  

Stage #2:  Substance abuse.

In this stage, the individual begins repeated substance abuse despite adverse consequences.  For example, someone who uses prescription painkillers will increase the dosage or frequency of use.  An increased dosage can cause:

  • drowsiness, sedation
  • confusion
  • shallow breathing
  • nausea, vomiting
  • anxiety, irritability
  • muscle pain
  • addiction

Substance abuse is the point where a person’s drug use is specifically for euphoric reasons.  

Stage #3:  Tolerance increases.

Repeated drug abuse causes changes in the brain that result in increased tolerance.  What this means is that it takes more of the substance to produce the desired effects.  The person using the drug will increase the dosage or frequency of use to experience the euphoria they seek.

As a person increases the amount ingested, they start on a path to the next stage of addiction.

Stage #4:  Dependence.

In this stage of addiction, the brain can no longer function the way it should.  The person no longer feels pleasure without the substance in their system (anhedonia).  At this point, the individual needs more of the substance to feel “normal.”  However, it’s important to note that dependence does not always signify addiction.  

Stage #5:  Addiction becomes obvious.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) states that addiction is comprised of specific symptoms and behaviors.  The 11 signs and symptoms include:

  1. Using more of the substance than intended.
  2. Inability to stop using the substance.
  3. Relationship issues due to SUD.
  4. Seeking and using the substance is a person’s primary focus.
  5. Lack of interest in hobbies or activities that were once enjoyable.
  6. Unable to perform daily responsibilities.
  7. Intense cravings for the substance.
  8. Continued use despite negative health problems or other consequences.
  9. Engaging in dangerous situations or behaviors while using the substance.
  10. Increased tolerance for the substance.
  11. Withdrawal symptoms occur when the substance is withheld.

Generally, experiencing two or three of the above signifies mild substance use disorder (SUD).  Four of five indicates moderate SUD.  Someone experiencing six or more of the above has severe SUD or addiction.

Stage #6:  Relapses are part of the endless cycle of addiction.

According to NIDA, about 40 to 60 percent of people in recovery from addiction will relapse.  Relapse happens for many reasons depending on the individual and their unique situation.  However, relapse is not a sign that the treatment failed.  Furthermore, relapse doesn’t mean the individual has failed at recovery.  

If relapse occurs, the best option is to seek further treatment or try another program.  Sometimes, a person can benefit from a different approach or additional time in a secure, nurturing environment.  

We Can Help You Overcome the Endless Cycle of Addiction 

Each person experiences different responses to treatment.  So, the programs should be flexible enough to adapt to their individual needs.  At Cycles of Change Recovery, we offer a unique and proven approach to treatment. We can help you achieve the substance-free lifestyle you want and deserve.  Our treatment options focus on establishing a solid foundation for you to build on as you progress through recovery.  

Contact us today to learn more about our programs.  You’ll discover that the endless cycle of addiction does have a finish line.  You just need guidance in the right direction to find it.  


  • asam.org – Definition of Addiction
  • drugabuse.gov – Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction: Treatment and Recovery

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