The Cycle of Addiction: How to Break Free From It and Recover

Addiction is defined as a chronic brain disease. This disease affects the brain in all areas: reward, pleasure, motivation, and memory. The cycle of addiction does not occur overnight. The process is gradual and often related to many influencing factors taking place in a person’s life. Miracles Recovery Center is committed to walking you through the steps of breaking the cycle of addiction that is occurring in you or your loved one’s life.

One of the greatest reasons for addiction, however, is due to genetics. The makeup of your brain can cause you to need a larger amount of stimulation. This stimulation causes you to want to use drugs or alcohol for you to feel happier or more calm. 

Common substances such as drugs and alcohol become the vice that brings on those desires. The need for drugs or alcohol to fulfill these emotional needs starts to increase, and a habit is formed. Thus begins the cycle of addiction.

How Does Addiction Affect the Brain?

Addiction is a reward-driven behavior. The brain’s reward circuit is a major player in even the most basic neurobiological models for the function of addiction. Drugs and alcohol, as well as other mind-altering substances, increase the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are tiny molecules that operate as communication devices, flowing through various regions, and fulfilling a specific purpose.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. The euphoric pleasure most people get from drugs, alcohol, and other substances is caused by their release. Pleasure is detected by the brain because of the interaction of dopamine with the nucleus accumbens, which is the region where the reward circuit lives.

The cycle of addiction

The Prefrontal Cortex: Why This Part of the Brain Matters

The reward circuit establishes a link between drugs and pleasure, which then serves as a reward. Hence, this is why people become dependent and develop an addiction to prescription drugs (opioids), alcohol, and other substances. However, when someone engages in drug abuse, too much dopamine stimulation often causes an imbalance, which can harm regulatory parts of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex.

Much in the same way that the liver is meant to regulate toxins, the prefrontal cortex is supposed to be a regulatory coordinator, and keep the regions responsible for pleasure in check. However, when the prefrontal cortex is damaged due to addiction, it begins to lose its functioning, and can no longer regulate the reward system.

It’s important to note, that continual use of drugs and alcohol despite negative consequences is a definitive characteristic of addiction and a strong indication that damage to the prefrontal cortex has taken place. The cycle of addiction begins.

Overcoming addiction’s pleasure-driven impulse system requires the use of particular tools and treatment approaches. This can help teach and rebuild critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and informed decision-making.

As a result, a person’s treatment and recovery plan for substance use disorder will focus on detox, managing withdrawal symptoms, as well as, trying to repair damage and redevelop the regions of the brain that have been affected by substance abuse, including the prefrontal cortex.

Stages of the Addiction Cycle

The process that takes place as you become addicted to drugs or alcohol is known as the stages of addiction. The disease of addiction affects everyone differently, and therefore, the time it takes for someone to experience the cycle of addiction depends on various factors and will vary for each person. The stages are as follows:

  • First Stage: Initial Use
  • Second Stage: Abuse
  • Third Stage: Tolerance
  • Fourth Stage: Dependence
  • Fifth Stage: Addiction
  • Sixth Stage: Relapse

You may be at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder if you’re faced with challenges such as:

  • An unstable living environment
  • Depression
  • Trauma
  • Abuse or neglect
  • A family history of substance abuse or mental illness
cycle of addiction

The initial use of substances is often the start of a cycle that is hard to break. Addiction is a chronic disease, and while it affects everyone differently, the stages it takes to get there aren’t. At the sign of substance abuse, it’s important to try and get help for yourself or a loved one. While the first step is challenging and stressful, treatment is necessary for any chance of recovery.

Initial Use
The initial use of drugs or alcohol can occur as much in innocence as it could happen intentionally and knowingly by taking an illegal substance. It may begin with a prescription for medication to relieve pain. It may be as simple as your first drink in college or the first time you were pressured by your peers to smoke marijuana.
Substance abuse occurs when drugs and/or alcohol have affected your life in a harmful manner. After a person becomes dependent on a substance from repeated use over time, the powerful euphoric effects can quickly cause the individual to become addicted. If you are using the drug or alcohol to feel a “high” or to self-medicate a physical or mental health issue then substance abuse is occurring.
The use of substances over an extended period of time can cause your tolerance level to increase. For you to continue to feel any side effects, there is a need to consume more or increase the number of times the substance is used. This increased tolerance level is caused by chemical changes in your brain.

When you find that you can no longer cope without drugs or alcohol, you have developed a dependence on the substance(s) you have been using. However, A substance use disorder is different than dependency. It’s important to distinguish the two. There are 2 types of dependency when it comes to drug use, psychological and physical dependence.

The psychological side causes numerous physiological changes (emotional and cognitive) symptoms. Whereas, physical dependence is normally associated with the development of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms that are not primarily emotional or cognitive in nature. Some signs that a person may be dependent include:

  • Cravings for the drug or alcohol
  • Lack of responsibility for daily activities
  • Intense focus on finding and using the substance 
  • Unstable relationships with family, friends, and peers

The repeated use of drugs or alcohol causes addiction. Defined, addiction is a complex chronic mental health disorder that is the result of compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences. Addiction overwhelms a person’s life to the point that the substance is their primary focus. Professional treatment is required to successfully treat drug abuse and any co-occurring mental disorders.


The final stage of the cycle of addiction is relapse. It occurs after a person’s failed attempt at ending their addiction to drugs or alcohol. Relapse causes them to seek out the substance that first led them into the addiction cycle. If a person has relapsed or is at risk of doing so, a relapse prevention plan can be created as part of their treatment plan. If left untreated, injury, overdose, and death have commonly occurred as a result.

Why The Cycle of Addiction is Hard to Quit

Engaging in excessive drug use and drinking alcohol changes the chemistry of the brain, and thus, how it functions. Serotonin and dopamine are the neurotransmitters in your brain that are affected. For the addiction to be satisfied, signals are sent that trigger the need for the drug or alcohol.

The mental conditions that are created with the use of the drug or alcohol will cause the body to feel good while using the substance. It then also causes the body to crave the substance when that level of comfort decreases. When you try to stop using the substance your brain sends mixed signals that create confusing physical and mental feelings.

The battle of addiction is a difficult one to face. This roller coaster of emotions can cause you to relapse. The consequences of drug or alcohol addiction are very serious short-term and long-term. Long-term use of drugs or alcohol can lead to various physical and mental complications. This is why it’s imperative to receive professional help. Treatment can help prevent worst-case scenarios, such as severe brain damage or even death.

Is The Cycle of Addiction Breakable?

It is very possible to break the cycle of addiction with professional treatment, and support from loved ones including family and friends. Whether it be drug dependence or drug addiction, the journey to the final point of sobriety may be a roller coaster ride of ups and downs that may include relapses and other struggles. The cycle of addiction may be broken for several reasons. This can be due to the following:

  • Legal issues – consequences that occur with law enforcement 
  • Financial troubles – inability to pay your bills
  • Medical complications – some health issues that arise out of the drug or alcohol abuse may include heart problems, high blood pressure, liver problems
  • Social problems – circumstances that bring the addiction to light in your peer or friend groups

Breaking the cycle requires a lot of work and dedication on your part. You will need to accept help from medical staff, possibly be admitted to a detox facility, and commit to continued support to reach and maintain your goal of sobriety.

Treatment Programs That Help to Break the Cycle of Addiction

The substance abuse treatment services we offer that aid in maintaining a break in the cycle of addiction include:

Relapse can occur when you become frustrated or feel overwhelmed by the process of breaking the cycle of addiction. Everyone is different in how they handle the stages of reaching and maintaining their sobriety. It is important to remember that it will take time and patience to get the right treatment and recovery plan in place.

Treatment Options Available at Miracles Recovery Center

The cycle of addiction that can take place due to drug or alcohol abuse is very tough. Not only does it affect you, but also your family and friends. Without professional help the chance of relapse is tremendous.

If you are looking for a rehab facility that will provide guidance and professional treatment please contact us today. The staff at Miracles Recovery Center, located in Port St. Lucie, Florida, is ready to take your call and work with you or your loved one to break the cycle of addiction and begin the path to recovery. It is never too late to begin the process of having and maintaining a sober life.

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