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The Cycle of Addiction

The Cycle of Drug & Alcohol Addictions

The cycle of addiction can be broken down into 4 main areas: drug intoxication, drug craving, drug binge and drug withdrawal. Let us start with drug intoxication.

Drug intoxication is exactly like it sounds: once you abuse or use drugs or alcohol, the brain releases neurochemicals into the body— generally dopamine or serotonin— creating that euphoric feeling and elevated mood. Repeated action of indulging signals the brain to engage in the next step of the cycle.

Drug craving is a learned response based on the frequency of use or abuse of the substance, which can involve social and environmental cues. For example, every time you have a stressful day and you use your drug of choice to combat that stress, your brain will cue a craving for that drug of choice every time you are stressed. This repeated cue will develop into a trigger, which will spark a desire to use more until the brain is corrupted enough for the next step of the cycle: the drug binge.

The 4 Phases of Substance Abuse Addictions

Compulsive drug administration or binging is the next step. At this point, the brain associates the “pay off” of the repeated use to be the only relief when cued or triggered. In this part of the cycle, instead of your brain saying: hey you have had a bad day, you should take a little bit of your drug of choice.

It now says, “Hey, you know today will be stressful, you should just do nothing but your drug of choice to avoid any and all stress.” So, instead of drinking after a stressful day, you begin to drink early in the day, or maybe all day. In the drug binge part of the cycle, this is where tolerance, dependency, and drug seeking behavior are most prevalent leading to the next stage of the cycle of addiction.

The drug withdrawal stage results when there is a disruption of drug abuse, or overindulgence, causes negative reactions to the body. Because your brain or body has developed a dependency for the substance, there is physical and mental withdrawal until a drug is re-introduced into the system.

A Loss of Control and Proper Judgement: Drug Seeking Behaviors

Once the brain has been affected and changed by an addiction, our ability to make sound and healthy choices becomes impaired. This impairment is not often noticed by ourselves, but by people around us.

As addiction progresses, willpower is no longer enough, and the most defining symptom is the loss of control over their choice to use.

There are many types of addictions, many involve substances such as Alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and Nicotine. However, other addictions, such as gambling, food, sex, shopping or stealing involve the same brain chemistry that we’ve already discussed, and will be just as, if not, more difficult to manage or solve due to the fact that the object of the addiction involves primal needs that we must have to survive.

These behavioral addictions or process addictions, involve common behaviors and risk factors and may respond to similar treatments, but will progress and become more severe if left untreated.

In most cases, addiction requires intensive treatments specifically designed to address the behavior, thinking patterns, psychological conditions, and medical risks involved in the physical withdrawal process.

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