When you’re trapped in addiction, it can be easy to feel all alone in your experience—but you aren’t. In fact, addiction is so common that experts have been able to break it down into a pretty predictable, standard cycle.

Understanding the cycle of addiction can help you better understand your or your loved one’s situation. This is sometimes a powerful first step in preparing you to break the cycle in your own life by finding the courage to seek help.

Read on to learn more about the cycle of addiction, including answers to some frequently asked questions.

Understanding the Cycle of Addiction

American Addiction Centers breaks the cycle of addiction down into six distinct phases: initial use, abuse, tolerance, dependence, addiction, and relapse.

Initial use refers to the first time you use the drugs or alcohol to which you later become addicted. Of course, initial use doesn’t always lead to addiction; many people try a drink on their 21st birthday or even experiment with drugs at a party without spiraling out of control.

While initial use doesn’t always lead to addiction, addiction does always start with initial use. Trying a substance is the first step in this cycle, which is why many schools implore students to “just say no” to drugs or alcohol.

According to the World Health Organization, an addict moves to abuse when he or she begins to use a substance in a harmful or hazardous way. For illegal substances with a high risk of addiction, even one instance of use is considered substance abuse.

For legal substances like alcohol, however, the line can sometimes be blurred. Check out this blog for more information on casual drinking versus alcohol abuse and addiction.

If you’re unsure whether your substance use has crossed the line into abusive behavior, one thing to look for is tolerance, the next stage in the cycle of addiction. Tolerance occurs when you need to indulge in drugs or alcohol more often or in larger doses to achieve the “high” you once enjoyed. This is an indicator that your body is getting used to the presence of a certain substance, a dangerous progression in the cycle of addiction.

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As tolerance increases, most users soon move into the dependence phase of the addiction cycle. Dependence occurs when your body is so used to the presence of drugs or alcohol that you start to experience withdrawal symptoms if you go too long between uses. When you start taking drugs or drinking alcohol just to avoid those painful withdrawal symptoms, you are crossing the threshold into addiction.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, symptoms of addiction include continued substance use despite negative consequences, denial, increased tolerance, physical dependence, cravings, and a loss of control.

At this point in the cycle of addiction, it’s common for an addict’s life to begin to fall apart as their work, relationships, health, and more are all impacted by their substance abuse. This can lead an addict to finally seek help from a professional.

While it would be wonderful to say that the cycle ends here and that all addicts beat their addiction with the help of rehab, that’s unfortunately not true. There’s one more phase in the cycle of addiction, and that’s relapse.

Relapse is a return to substance abuse after an attempt to quit, and it can happen in response to a number of relapse triggers immediately after completing therapy or years down the road. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that between 40 and 60% of people who receive treatment for drug addiction will relapse at some point.

This doesn’t mean that an addict stuck in the cycle of addiction and relapse should just give up, however. Instead, it’s a reminder that relapse is a normal part of the journey to recovery. With the right tools and relapse prevention therapy, addiction can be overcome for good.

FAQs About the Cycle of Addiction

Here are a few frequently asked questions about the cycle of addiction. If you don’t see your question answered below, contact us today to speak with an intake specialist. We’re always available to help.

What are the risk factors of addiction? Not everyone who has an incident of “initial use” will progress to addiction, but certain risk factors increase the chances of that downward spiral. The Mayo Clinic reports that risk factors include family history of addiction; mental health disorder; peer pressure; lack of family involvement; early use; and taking a highly addictive drug, such as stimulants, cocaine, or opioids.

What is drug or alcohol detox like? Withdrawal symptoms vary based on the substance to which you’re addicted. Trying to detox on your own can be very painful and even dangerous. However, a medically supervised detox is an opportunity to detox as safely and comfortably as possible.

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How can I break my addiction to drugs or alcohol? If you’ve ever tried quitting an addictive substance on your own, you already know how difficult that can be. For most, it’s impossible. Instead, a treatment plan led by professionals who provide evidence-based treatment, experiential therapies, and holistic health services is a great way to recover from addiction.

I’ve relapsed in my addiction. Now what? Know that relapse does not mark the end of your recovery journey. Check out this blog on what to do after you relapse and contact us to discuss whether a return to rehab is right for you.

Break the Cycle of Addiction in Hawaii

If you or someone you know is trapped in the cycle of addiction, call us today at 866-491-8009 to learn how we can help.