Understanding the Addiction Cycle
The first step of getting help with the addiction problem is understanding the cycle of addiction. As an addict carries on using the drug of his choice, he gets used to the effects. After a certain period, he needs more dosage to get the same high. This results in creating a dangerous pattern that further leads to addiction.
Once the addiction is established, the drug or alcohol user gets trapped in a vicious cycle. It becomes pretty hard for an addict to avoid the compulsions, resulting in withdrawal symptoms, such as severe cravings, seizures, anxiety, depression, hallucinations, etc. Moreover, the desire to experience the gratifying sensation of substance use is almost uncontrollable. All these factors contribute towards the cycle of addiction, which is difficult to escape without an expert’s assistance.
The Six Stages of Addiction – Can We Break the Cycle?
Addiction doesn’t happen overnight – it is something that takes time to develop. There are various stages of drug or alcohol use a person goes through (that may occur simultaneously) before developing an addiction. However, the process may differ from person to person.
Factors like type of drug, genetic predisposition, amount of drug used, etc., play a vital role in developing any addiction. For illegal or banned drugs, even one use can be considered as abuse, while alcohol users might need to drink heavily to be considered as abuse. Another factor that progresses a person from one stage to another is his tolerance towards the substance.
The Six Stages of Addiction are –
- Initial Use
Initial Use – Also known as experimentation or ‘trying it for the first time’ stage. To develop an addiction, you have to try that substance first. This usually takes place around friends under ‘peer pressure’ situation. Many newcomers, usually teenagers and youngsters, are curious about new drugs, and they think to themselves, “I will give this drug a try and see what happens.” Alcohol and prescribed medicines are the most frequently used and abused substances that develop an addiction. However, not ever first-timer will become an addict personality.
Abuse/Prolonged Use – It is reported that after the first time, the person will continue to use the substance again more often. The more you enjoy the trip the substance gives you, the more your brain will want you to keep taking it. There is the reason we take a drink or two after a long day or take Aspirin if we have a headache.
Your own body will tell you that a particular drug is required to feel better. You might do not realize any signs of addiction just yet. At this stage, a person can even take a long break from substance use and still don’t feel any withdrawal symptoms.
Tolerance – When a person is exposed to a certain substance for an extended period, his brain undergoes certain changes that give birth to ‘tolerance.’ This condition is defined by Merck Manuals as one in which the original amount of substance no longer has the same psychological and physical effects. This results in increasing the dosage or frequency of using a substance in order to attain the same high. It works for a while, but with time your brain again develops a tolerance and gets used to the new dosage.
Tolerance is a sign that your brain has changed its response to the substance, resulting in loss of several chemical receptors or reduction in chemical processes.
Dependence – When you have been using the substance for a long period, your body becomes dependent on it. You often develop withdrawal symptoms when you take a break from consumption. It is at this stage when your body experiences the adverse effects, including vomiting, muscle cramps, cold sweat, insomnia, depression, heart palpitations, and so on. In worst cases, not taking the substance might result in strokes, heart attacks, or even death. Intervention from a family member, friend, or an expert becomes necessary at this stage.
Addiction – Addiction is a chronic condition that includes uncontrollable and irresistible cravings for a substance. During this stage, an addict experiences several physical and psychological symptoms. These symptoms are also noticed by family members and friends of an addict. Some of these symptoms include:
- Strong desire to use the substance daily, sometimes several times a day
- Cannot stop using the drug of choice
- Increasing the dosage to experience the same effect
- Spending money on the substance even if you don’t have enough
- Failing to meet work deadlines or taking responsibilities
- Stealing money to meet your addiction needs
- Losing or gaining weight
Relapse – Relapse occurs when a person starts using the substance again during the recovery process. Some people think that there is no going back from the relapse, but it is entirely wrong. Relapse can sometimes be an important part of the recovery process. Some treatments are specifically tailored in a way to reduce the possibility of experiencing them.