Breaking The Cycle of Addiction
At first, addictive behavior is pleasurable. However, when it becomes a full-blown addiction, the experience feels like enslavement. At that point, consistently and chronically consuming an addictive substance is no longer a choice governed by willpower. Instead, when an individual has transitioned into an addiction cycle, they feel helpless and unable to stop. The most frustrating aspect is that even when the addict has a good reason to stop, such as an ultimatum from a spouse or loved one or trauma from an accident, they still can’t stop. Using their drug of choice governs every aspect of an addict’s life. The desire and NEED to use drugs become stronger than anything else, even if the individual has all the willpower in the world. An addict’s brain has changed, and there are now neurological and psychological mechanisms at play that fuel the cycle of addiction.
The main aspects of an addictive cycle usually include:
- Drug-seeking behavior
- Drug using behavior
- Instant gratification
- Symptoms of withdrawal
How the Cycle of Addiction Starts
How and why does this deadly cycle of addiction begin in the first place? Life can get tough and can include financial, professional, emotional, relationship, or family issues. These burdens produce stress, anxiety, resentment, anger, and, most importantly, fear. Often, these circumstances and situations prompt feelings that people do not want to feel or handle. Using a substance to numb their emotions may feel like a simple solution for many individuals during these difficult times. As a result, the cycle of addiction often begins when someone wants to feel better and alleviate their suffering.
In their quest to avoid pain, addicts turn to their drug of choice for a solution that provides rapid relief, beginning the toxic cycle we call addiction. In addition to rapid relief, addicts may also look to escape their problems and avoid addressing the issues firsthand. Unfortunately, addictive solutions are easily accessible and obtain “results” quickly. For some individuals, alcohol is a go-to choice, while others turn to cannabis, cigarettes, or another substance for instant pleasure.
Making a habit out of this coping mechanism impacts the brain and its reward system. Addictive substances alter the brain’s grey matter and direct which path the brain will take the next time the substance is used. This is called neural plasticity. When this alteration occurs, the brain’s powerful role in human behavior pushes addiction further and pulls individuals into the toxic cycle.
The Addiction Cycle Explained
How do these addictive substances alter brain activity? The answer comes down to one very important neurotransmitter: dopamine. Dopamine has been nicknamed the “happiness hormone” and is produced naturally by the body.
Dopamine plays a role in our survival instincts, such as eating, as well as activities that bring pleasure to the body naturally. However, when an addictive substance, like a drug or alcohol, stimulates dopamine artificially, the brain prompts individuals to more frequently engage in addictive behaviors. This is because, once dopamine has been stimulated by artificial factors, the brain keeps asking for more, leading to continued substance use. Current research has indicated that the effects of dopamine from drugs are much more exhilarating than the dopamine produced naturally.
It is undeniable that a drug’s effects are exhilarating in the moment, including a very real sense of relief from pain and suffering. But what is the downside? After this instant pleasure, the effects fade fast and the easily achieved exhilaration makes way for dissatisfaction and guilt.
Once dopamine levels decrease, all of the earlier stress, anxiety, resentment, anger, and fear resurface. The individual hasn’t resolved the issue that initiated drug use in the first place, has dealt with nothing, and is back at the starting point, facing their issue with even lower comparative levels of dopamine. Substance abuse and addictive behaviors do not solve any issues but instead exacerbate whatever someone was running from in the first place. As soon as another problem appears, the addiction cycle begins once again, getting worse each time.
Rather than assessing their support structures, individuals often seek rapid relief. However, if they choose a different direction, leaving the addiction cycle can become achievable. The first step in stopping this cycle would involve help from family, friends, professors, therapy groups, and other support systems. In doing so, an addict’s self-esteem and confidence get stronger and they become better equipped to handle the ups and downs of life without toxic coping skills.
5 Ways to Break the Addiction Cycle
Breaking a cycle of addiction, which typically includes both bad habits and unhealthy rituals, requires action and maintenance. There are strategies to combat the addictive cycle, but it is important to remember that these are not ways to completely stop an addiction. Below are five effective strategies that can help break the addictive cycle:
1. Identify the problem behaviors.
2. Identify alternative healthy habits to replace the bad habits.
3. Attend therapy to explore the root of your bad habits and work through unresolved issues. “You can’t defeat what you don’t understand.”
4. Practice healthy habits consistently.
5. Make a routine out of practicing those healthy habits in order to maintain them.
Other behaviors that can contribute to breaking the cycle include:
- attending addiction treatment (inpatient or outpatient)
- cultivating self-awareness
- developing a support network
- creating a sense of accountability
- working with a therapist you feel comfortable with
- finding a strong relationship with a higher power
- being active in a recovery program
According to research published by The European Journal of Social Psychology, forming or breaking a habit takes an average of 66 days. However, every addict is unique and there is no set number of days that it takes to stop the addiction cycle. Setting a specific number of days when you are supposed to break a habit is an obvious way to get frustrated and give up on your sobriety. An addictive cycle includes a range of bad habits, which means that breaking a cycle ill require breaking each of the habits involved in that cycle.
At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we work closely with our clients to pinpoint their personal triggers and help them distance from their old ways. Contact our team to find out how we can help you or a loved one break the cycle of addiction and achieve successful recovery. We are a recovery center that understands addiction and are waiting for you.