What Is The Addiction Cycle?
The addiction cycle is used to help illustrate how quickly drug use can develop into addiction, and why it’s so difficult to simply quit using once a person is addicted to a drug. The stages of the cycle include drug use, tolerance, dependence, addiction, and relapse. A person can break the cycle at any point, as long as they get the right help.
Stage 1: Drug Use
The addiction cycle begins from the very first time a person uses a drug. People often tell themselves that they’re just going to try it once to see what it feels like, especially if it’s a widely used drug like marijuana.
Whether someone passes off drug use as experimentation or they’re using it recreationally as a means of enjoyment or escape, intentionally using a drug to achieve a euphoric “high” feeling is considered drug abuse from the very first instance.
No matter why someone is using, drug use can rapidly begin impacting the brain and body. With strong substances like fentanyl and heroin, a person can begin to feel addicted from the very first use.
Stage 2: Tolerance
Each time you use a drug, chemical changes happen inside your brain. With each use, you may find that the effects of the drug feel a little more subdued.
Regular use will cause a person to take more of the substance in order to continue feeling the same outcome, which feeds into the cycle.
Some people think they can avoid developing tolerance and addiction by cycling between many different substances, but that is not a strategy you should try on your own. Tolerance is complex and while doctors may use cycling to help improve the efficacy of a prescription medication, it’s not something a recreational user should attempt.
Any drug with a similar mechanism of action that is chemically affecting the central nervous system can lead to tolerance, even if you jump from one to another. For instance, all drugs that lead to a dopamine rush (a euphoric “high” feeling) can lead to addiction, no matter how often you switch from one substance to another.
Stage 3: Dependence
As a person gains tolerance to a drug and continues to use it a little more and little more, they will likely not realize that their body is growing dependent on the substance. Dependence can be physical or psychological.
- Physical dependence is marked by chemical changes in brain structure, causing a person to experience withdrawal symptoms if they go for an extended period of time without taking the drug.
- Psychological dependence is marked by an increase in risky behaviors as a person tries to satisfy the urge to use a drug, even if it’s negatively impacting their health and relationships.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that dependence does not necessarily constitute addiction. For instance, in cases where a person suffering from a chronic medical condition relies on a prescription drug to feel normal, that is not addiction. In those cases, the body was not able to work properly before the person started taking the drug, and the medication is being used to correct that.
In all other cases, like in situations where a person is using a drug to self-medicate for a mental health condition, the lines between dependence and addiction quickly blur.
Stage 4: Addiction
Once physical and psychological dependence forms, a person is considered to be addicted. The symptoms and implications of drug addiction varies depending on the type of drug they’re using, but it doesn’t change the fact that recovering from addiction is extremely difficult.
Clinically, you may hear addiction referred to as a “substance use disorder.”
A person can remain in this stage of the cycle of addiction indefinitely and it’s not actually the final stage of addiction. While you can break the cycle at this point by getting the right help, there is another stage that can send you right back to square one.
At Zinnia Health, we believe every individual can recover from drug use as long as they have the right support behind them. If you’d like more information about our approach, call (855) 430-9439 to speak with our team.
Stage 5: Relapse
After using a drug for some time, a person can find themselves trying to quit. However, due to the severe withdrawal symptoms that take place when you are depriving yourself of a substance that you have become physically and/or psychologically dependent on, a person quitting on their own is at a higher risk of re-entering the addiction cycle.
Withdrawal symptoms can range from severe and uncomfortable to potentially fatal. The only way to ease them is to use the drug again, throwing a person who is trying to quit into relapse. Oftentimes, when people relapse, they will binge on a drug, worsening their addiction. It can also lead to a fatal overdose.
Instead of quitting on their own, it’s important to understand how far substance abuse treatment programs have come.
How Can You Break The Addiction Cycle?
Breaking the addiction cycle is not easy, and the hardest part is usually the withdrawal period, which can last 2-3 weeks. If you have been using a hard drug for a very long time, you may even continue to experience psychological symptoms for months after quitting.
Without the right therapies and support, it can feel impossible to overcome them.
The best way to break the cycle and get help is by pursuing a qualified addiction treatment specialist. Not only can they help you understand your behavior and what originally led to that initial use, but they can also support you through the withdrawal period and beyond by providing:
- Evidence-based programs to help you get on the road to recovery
- Prescription medications to lessen withdrawal symptoms
- Support groups to help you talk through your experience
- The option to stay at a residential treatment center away from triggers
- Outpatient services, including counseling
The best programs not only help you manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms, but they can also limit the accessibility of drugs and alcohol while protecting you from triggers when you’re most vulnerable. They can even help you get a proper diagnosis for co-existing health issues or assist you in creating a strong support network.
Ultimately, with the help of a treatment program, you can get to the next stage beyond the addiction cycle and break free of your drug dependence for good.