An Insight Into the Cycle of Addiction


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Addiction is a disease that can influence lives in more ways than we know. Not only do drugs and alcohol take a toll on an addict’s body physically, but they can affect a person mentally and socially. The cycle of addiction is one that is more complex than what you may have heard. Addiction is more than mental toughness. The cycle of addiction is influenced by several factors that we will dig deeper into.

What Is the Cycle of Addiction?

Addiction is defined as a chronic brain disease that affects the brain’s reward, pleasure, memory, and motivation. There are multiple phases of addiction that occur gradually. Depending on several factors, individuals may develop a substance addiction quickly or even over the course of years. 

The term “cycle of addiction” is used to describe a general struggle of developing addiction-forming habits and the journey of recovery, which may require numerous attempts to maintain. According to several studies, the addiction cycle consists of six phases. 

Initial Use

The initial use stage of addiction is characterized by an individual’s first use of a substance. It is important to note that this stage does not necessarily cause addiction. A person may be exposed to a substance for the first time and enjoy the relief of an uncomfortable feeling. At the same time, another person may gradually build up to an addiction. No matter which story is more fitting, the initial use stage poses several risks.

A number of factors can contribute to the initial use phase. These include family history, peer pressure, depression, or social problems. Any of these factors can increase a person’s likelihood of becoming addicted.


Once an individual begins to use substances in a way that is not intended or to ease their discomfort, this is the stage known as abuse. In the abuse stage, use becomes more frequent and more intense. They might need a higher dose to get the same feeling as before. In some cases, individuals may graduate with a more potent drug. This stage of the addiction cycle can be dangerous because it is when it becomes harder to stop using. 


At the tolerance stage, the individual has become accustomed to soothing with the use of substances as a daily part of their routine. Their brains have adjusted drastically as a response to the substance. One of the major changes in the brain is that it begins to produce a smaller amount of dopamine. This is just one of the few ways the brain changes, leading to dependence. 


Dependence is the stage in addiction where the person becomes heavily reliant on a substance. It becomes challenging for them to perform daily activities that would usually give them pleasure without drug or alcohol use. Issues may begin to show in their personal lives. 

When a person develops a dependence on a drug, it is likely that their attitudes toward friends and family will change. The things that they previously loved or enjoyed will no longer bring that same pleasure, and it may cause them to experience major life changes. 


The addiction stage is where an individual may begin to notice the impacts that their substance use has had on their life. They may begin to confront their addiction and acknowledge that they need help. While they are aware of their addiction, they might not immediately take action to change it. 

Those who take action might have enrolled in a rehabilitation program or asked their loved ones for support. 


The final stage of the addiction cycle is relapse. For some, the discomfort of withdrawal or detox will cause them to fall back into their substance use. Withdrawal symptoms can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable and cause a person to seek their drug of choice to cope with it. 

Ironically, this final stage can cause individuals to fall back into the dependent stage of the addiction cycle. 

Can the Cycle Be Broken?

The short answer to this question is yes. People do it every day. Recovery is a lifelong process that can take multiple tries to reach a place that can be maintained. The stages of addiction can be matched with the following stages of recovery.


The precontemplation stage occurs when the addicted person has not considered any substance use or behavior changes. 


Contemplation is the part of the process where progress begins. This part of the process occurs when the individual has begun thinking about making a change. 


In the preparation phase, the individual is preparing to make a change. This may look like building up the courage to ask for help or making their own attempts to make a change. 


Action is when the individual has decided to take action in their recovery. They may seek treatment from a rehabilitation program, seek help from friends or family, enroll in some type of counseling, or even attempt self-help. 


Maintenance is a lifelong phase of the recovery process. In this phase, the individual will cope with healthy habits and find new ways to live without substances following their recovery program.

The absence of outside help may cause this phase of recovery to be difficult. For this reason, individuals may choose to find help in support groups or other recovery programs. 

Let Magnolia Ranch Recovery Help You

At Magnolia Ranch Recovery, we fully understand how difficult the addiction cycle can be for individuals and their families. We offer treatment that allows individuals with addictions to go on and live lives that they are proud of. We acknowledge how important it is for individuals seeking addiction treatment to learn coping skills they can carry throughout their recovery process. 

The addiction cycle can be a difficult one to break. We know that recovery is not a one-size-fits-all approach. This is why we offer personalized care options for everyone who walks through our doors. If you are seeking addiction treatment, we can help you. Do not hesitate to contact our Magnolia Ranch Recovery team today. Let us break the addiction cycle together. 

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Picture of Esra Ahmed - MS, NCC, LPC, MHSP
Esra Ahmed - MS, NCC, LPC, MHSP

Experienced Clinical Director with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & health care industry. Skilled in Anger Management, Healthcare, Medicine, EMDR, and Life Transitions. Strong healthcare services professional with a Masters Degree focused in Psychology from The University of Memphis.

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