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A modern, community-based approach to addiction treatment for Men and Women in Charleston, SC

Cycle Of Addiction – What Is It And How To Break It

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Key takeaways:

  • Drug addiction is a vicious cycle that not only affects the individual but also their family, leading to feelings of helplessness.
  • Addiction involves changes in brain circuits and neurotransmitters, leading to a compulsive need for drugs and negative emotional states when access is prevented.
  • Factors such as family problems, the loss of a loved one, and life pressures can contribute to substance abuse and addiction.
  • The addiction cycle has stages, including initial use or exposure to substances, abuse or misuse, tolerance and substance dependence, addiction, attempted sobriety, and relapse.
  • Self-imposed sobriety may occur but can lead to relapse due to withdrawal symptoms and a lack of knowledge about recovery.
  • Relapse is the hardest part of the cycle, with individuals experiencing depression, anxiety, mood swings, and isolation.
  • Support is crucial in ending the addiction cycle and seeking professional addiction treatment is recommended for recovery.

The vicious cycle of addiction has destroyed the life of many individuals but even then it has not stopped people from becoming victims of drugs or alcohol. Not only does the addict suffer but his family suffers even more as they often feel helpless in these situations.

Drugs have a certain way of taking control of the brain and the mental state of the sufferer who may feel his drug dependence is only temporary but in reality, illicit drugs and substances had become such a huge part of their life that recovery may seem a far-fetched idea. 

  • Drug addiction involves the dysregulation of motivational circuits in three stages.
  • The binge/intoxication stage includes changes in dopamine and opioid peptides in the basal ganglia, leading to rewarding effects and the development of drug-seeking habits.
  • The withdrawal/negative affect stage involves decreases in dopamine function and activation of stress neurotransmitters in the extended amygdala, leading to negative emotional states and stress-like responses.
  • The preoccupation/anticipation stage is characterized by craving and deficits in executive function due to dysregulation of key afferent projections from the prefrontal cortex and insula to the basal ganglia and extended amygdala.
  • Molecular genetic studies have identified transduction and transcription factors that play a role in the development and maintenance of addiction, affecting vulnerability, maintenance, and relapse associated with addiction.

Substance Abuse Treatment is the first step towards a life without drug addiction but if a problem has to be solved we have to look at its root causes.

Why Does A Person Get Addicted

Substance Abuse or Addiction is not something that happens overnight. There are a number of factors that lead to alcohol and drug use. Sometimes it’s family problems, the departure of a loved one, and sometimes the pressures of life have just gotten too much. But these symptoms keep getting ignored. The symptoms that these issues lead to include depression, isolation, anxiety, erratic behavior, and sometimes even a mental health disorder

These things eventually start having an impact on the physical health of the person too but even then the symptoms are just ignored. What we need to do before anything else, is to start paying more attention to the people around us and help them! The pain that someone might be suffering from often becomes the reason for their addiction.

The Cycle of Addiction

The Cycle of Addiction, like any other thing in life, is a phased addiction cycle. Addicted people go through a variety of things over a period of time. Usually, there are five to six stages of this cycle of addiction namely: Initial Use or Exposure to Substance, Abuse or Misuse, Tolerance and Substance Dependence, Drug Addiction, a failed attempt at Sobriety, and finally Relapse.

“The progression from recreational to compulsive substance use is associated with downregulation of the brain reward systems and upregulation of the brain stress systems.” (Individual differences in the neuropsychopathology of addiction, George, Koob, 2017)

This is a recurring cycle that involves complex changes in neuroplasticity, reward, motivation, desire, stress, memory, cognitive control, and other related brain regions and brain circuits. Individuals go through these stages at a different pace but every addicted person is bound to feel the pain of the cycle of addiction because of their substance abuse. Let us find out more about these stages of the drug addiction cycle and how it affects people when they initially use the substance to when they momentarily stop using drugs or alcohol but then again become addicted, termed as the final relapse stage after which help and substance abuse treatment becomes necessary.

Addiction cycle
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Explaining The Cycle Of Addiction Through Its Stages

Initial Use Or Exposure To Substances

This is the only stage where the addict is actually in control but from this time onward things their dependence on alcohol starts building and they are set on their way to addiction. Initial Use or Exposure usually begins as something fun; probably on Friday night with friends or something you chose because it’s a prescription medicine to manage pain. And so much more reasons like this.

The first contact may be innocent and often stop due to guilt or the way it makes them feel, not everyone feels great after getting high or drunk! Although most users instantly after using drugs or alcohol feel instant relief, the temporary relief that people get is one of the many reasons that they ‘need’ substance.

Abuse Or Misuse

The leap from substance use to substance abuse is made in this second stage of the addiction cycle. The need for drugs or alcohol becomes essential to the life of the individual and without the presence of these substances, a wide range of withdrawal symptoms are observed among people. Often people start misusing substances thinking that they may help alleviate their mental or physical pain, their body may temporarily be relieved but in the longer run, they’ve done more harm than good.

“Drug addiction can be defined as a chronically relapsing disorder, characterized by compulsion to seek and take the drug, loss of control in limiting intake, and emergence of a negative emotional state (eg, dysphoria, anxiety, irritability) when access to the drug is prevented” (Neurobiology of addiction: a neurocircuitry analysis, Koob & Valkow, 2016.)

Soon the use of drugs becomes more and more to get that euphoric feeling of relief and escape from reality but such a high amount of substance use is only destroying the health of the individual who feels that his or her brain is functioning better with drugs or alcohol.

Tolerance And Dependence

At this point of the addiction cycle, the person feels that they have hacked a substance and they’ve developed a certain level of tolerance only above which their use will be harmful. At this stage, actual chemical changes start happening in the brain of the addicted individual this means that the normal amount of drugs that they use to consume is no longer enough to get them high and as a consequence, the use of the drug and its dosage is constantly increased. This consistent increase in substance use is what will eventually lead to dependence.

The health of addiction ridden individual is constantly deteriorating and at this point, some guilt starts kicking in too. The guilt may stem from the uncontrolled substance usage or any erratic behavior shown as a result of the substance abuse. Someone whose body might now be dependent on drugs both in physical and mental aspects starts losing themselves to alcohol abuse. If you are someone close to an addict you must start seeing symptoms that they need immediate help i.e. addiction treatment at Lantana.


Using alcohol and drugs is now part of drug users’ life and the time to stop has passed. They may console themselves that they will stop when they want to but without medication addiction treatment, it will be impossible to regain control of their life.

Although it is important to note here that not every addiction can be easily seen. Many people continue to live their life and continue working despite being addicts, the only way to find out if they are actually going through something is by keeping a close eye on them and looking for possible consequences of addiction. Remember that addiction is a chronic mental health condition and someone with this condition may always resist treatment as the drug has taken such a toll on their life. Addiction will affect individual relationships, family life, work, studies, and much more but they will still avoid help because their brain is so used to addiction.

However, interference at this stage may be able to prevent a cycle of addiction.

The cycle of addiction
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Relapse And Self Imposed Sobriety

Surprisingly enough even after addiction, many people’s guilt pushes them to stop using drugs but this self-imposed sobriety comes with a lot of withdrawal symptoms which are extremely hard to manage depending on the kind of drug being used. The cycle of addiction represents diverse neurobiological mechanisms that are differentially involved in the transition from recreational to compulsive drug use and from positive to negative reinforcement and begins again after this self-imposed sobriety and a failed attempt at recovery.

Individuals tend to fail in this self-started recovery journey mostly because they are unaware of the triggers, they don’t know how to manage withdrawal symptoms, they don’t know about any medication or counseling they should be taking or sometimes even family problems lead to relapse. The lack of information about recovery and how it works is the reason that many people relapse so taking help from a professional addiction treatment center like Lantana is always recommended. The downward spiral back into addiction proves fatal to the health of many people so now is the time to get treatment!

Relapse is the hardest part of the cycle of addiction, addicts start feeling trapped in their desires and lose their will to live, many people develop suicidal tendencies, mood swings, compulsive behavior, and social isolation, and in severe cases, they tend to become extremely depressed and anxious.

Drug Rehab Near You

If you or your loved one is looking for a nationally recognized and respected addiction treatment center in South Carolina, Lantana Recovery is a specialized drug rehab in Charleston. Lantana Recovery provides part-hospitalization rehab services and outpatient rehab services to people struggling with addiction.  We extend its drug rehab services to Greenville residents as well as drug rehab services to Columbia residents and surrounding towns.

How To End The Addiction Cycle?

The addiction cycle will continue to destroy the life of your loved one unless you decide that you won’t let substance ruin their life anymore. The most important thing is the support of family members and their tolerance towards the affected person’s untoward behavior. They are the only ones who can make sure that he or she gets the necessary addiction treatment necessary for recovery, even though using drugs was a choice made by the individual and not by his family but even then their support is the most important part of recovery. Get your loved one into a substance abuse treatment program like ours that will make their transition into sober life easy with professional treatment.

Always remember that whether you are a family member or a sufferer there is no rock bottom! There is always a way for you to get back on your feet and start using your time for good again. The addiction cycle may have impacted your life in the worst way possible but you still have a chance.



Alan Goodstat

Alan completed a postgraduate degree in social work from Columbia University in New York City and is a licensed clinical social worker in FL, NJ, NC and SC. Over the past 30 years he has worked in various leadership roles in privately held organizations and private equity portfolio companies.

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Charleston South Carolina

Charleston South Carolina

Located on the historic peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina, Lantana Recovery takes a modern approach to Substance Use Disorder treatment, offering intensive clinical care while also immersing our clients in local Charleston culture.