Cycle of Addiction - What is Addiction - The Hader Clinic Queensland

Cycle of Addiction

Addiction is a deceptive illness and while trapped in the cycle of addiction sufferers often believe that they will be able to quit using drug and/or alcohol unassisted.

Addiction is a deceptive illness and while trapped in the cycle of addiction sufferers often believe that they will be able to quit using drug and/or alcohol unassisted.

You or a loved one may be thinking about seeking help for a drug and/or alcohol addiction, but might not be sure whether or not treatment is actually necessary?

This is not an uncommon situation.

In most cases periods of excessive drug and alcohol consumption are interspersed with periods of self-imposed sobriety, which gives addicts the impression that quitting for good is simply a matter of firmly making up their minds.

However, periods of clean living are just as much a part of the cycle of addiction as times of heavy drug use.

Understanding the cycle of addiction can be the first step towards committing to an addiction treatment program; so if you or a loved one can identify with the following it may be time to seek out professional treatment.

The Cycle of Addiction

Broken down into its most basic components, the cycle of addiction repeats the following sequence indefinitely:

  • Relief
  • Consequences
  • Pain
  • Crisis


Using drugs or alcohol is initially a source of tremendous relief.
That first hit or first drink can be as refreshing as a cold shower; suddenly a person feels able to think, go to work or engage with their partner.

Whatever a person’s main source of stress or unhappiness may be, drugs and alcohol offer immediate relief from their circumstance.

However, persons suffering from addiction are unable to stop after that first hit or drink, no matter how good their intentions.

As a person’s tolerance for their substance of choice increases and the desired feelings of relief become more and more elusive, use is bound to skyrocket.

When this happens drugs and alcohol become necessary to function rather than providing feelings of elation – and thus become the focus of an addict’s everyday life.


Addiction tends to affect all areas of a person’s life.

Relationships suffer, especially as a result of broken promises (i.e. “This is the last time”, “Of course, I’ll be on time” “I won’t drink Christmas day, don’t worry”) and the addict’s unpredictable behaviour.

Finances are almost certain to bear the brunt of addiction, as neither drugs nor alcohol are particularly cheap. Once an addiction takes hold, financial commitments such as rent often become secondary concerns.

Work, to a person suffering from addiction, is merely a way to obtain money for their substance of choice. People caught in the cycle of addiction rarely perform to the best of their ability in the workplace and are often unable to maintain their career of choice.

Mental health is hugely affected by substance abuse issues. Whether a person is experiencing depression and anxiety as a result of their drug and alcohol use, or is experiencing a full-blown psychotic episode – very few individuals make it through addiction without suffering from mental health concerns.

Legal issues are almost impossible to avoid if an addiction continuous for a prolonged period of time. While extreme cases of addiction can lead to criminal acts (i.e. stealing, embezzling money from work, acts of violence), the most common legal problems associated with addiction are charges of driving under the influence or disorderly conduct.


As the consequences of addiction become harder and harder to ignore, the initial relief provided by substance abuse turns into emotional pain.

Often the first response of the addict is to escalate their drug and/or alcohol use as a means of escape from this pain; but this, of course, is never a successful strategy.

As the pain and self-medication increase, so do the consequences – until the addict reaches a point of crisis.


A crisis following a period of drug use can take many shapes; however, the most common moments of crisis are:

  • Relationship breakdown, a partner leaves
  • Loss of employment
  • Being evicted from accommodation
  • Bankruptcy
  • Arrest

The crisis is followed by a moment of clarity, in which the addict decides that things have to change drastically.

This desire is sincere and the promises that are subsequently made to loved ones are heartfelt and therefore very convincing.


Promises made during a moment of crisis are commonly followed by a prolonged period of sobriety, during which the addict once more experiences profound relief.

The wreckage of their lives has been resurrected by sheer power of will, it seems, and things often go very well for quite some time.

However, an untreated drug addict, who abstains, faces consequences for not using drugs – which is why self-directed rehabilitation is rarely ever successful.


Living for an extended period of time without using drugs and alcohol is not impossible; however, as time goes on remaining sober will in most cases become more challenging rather than easier.

Abstaining addicts tend to become bored, depressed, restless and anxious – “life without drugs doesn’t quite sparkle enough” – and often find themselves simply unable to cope.


Not using drugs can be just as painful for an untreated addict as substance abuse itself.

The effects of unmonitored withdrawal can take their toll emotionally, spiritually and physically – until the pain eventually becomes too much to bear and the cravings for relief become unmanageable.


The moment of relapse has been described as the “F*!! It Moment” as in “F*!! it, I’ll have a beer/a smoke”.

It is the moment when the cycle of addiction comes full circle and the addict once more experiences immediate relief through using.

While a relapse may initially not be full-blown drug use, before too long the use will spiral out of control again… back into the circle of short term relief and pain.

No rock bottom

The biggest misconception about the cycle of addiction is the concept of ‘hitting rock bottom’.

Within the cycle of addiction, rock bottom does not exist.

There is no cataclysmic event powerful enough to suddenly make a person immune against the emotional pain following the periods of relief.

When the pain comes there are only two possible reactions: either an addict experiences the delusion of clarity and embarks on a spell of abstinence, or the urge to use again becomes uncontrollable and a relapse occurs.

A repeating cycle

People trapped in the cycle of addiction lurch from one crisis to another and have no control about their position within the ever-repeating sequence of relief and pain.

There is no ‘growing out of it’ when it comes to addiction; if left untreated the cycle can continue for decades.

Breaking the cycle of addiction

If you or a loved one feel you can identify with the cycle of addiction it is probably time you start looking for a successful addiction treatment program.

At the Hader Clinic Queensland understand that addiction is not merely a physical illness, but linked closely to a person’s emotional state and mental programming.

Our rehabilitation program does not simply help you attain sobriety, we want to give you the tools to get better and stay better.

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