Author: David Kraft
The addiction cycle is a term, often used by psychiatrists, to describe the phases that people go through when coming to terms with their habit. There are a huge number of addictions and these include: alcohol addiction, drug addiction, sex addiction, porn addiction, cigarette addiction, gambling addiction, and the addiction to prescription medication. Often doctors will describe the various stages of addiction, and, to some patients, it is important to consider these factors when dealing with their habit. The stages are probably most useful for describing alcohol and drug addiction. See below:
1 Initial use
There are all sorts of reasons for using drugs or alcohol. In the latter, there is usually a social reason to drink and, particularly in this country, drinking alcohol is often acceptable. And, it is very difficult to evaluate levels of normality. Alcoholics, however, are clearly different from those who enjoy a social drink. Individuals with alcohol addiction drink in the morning and are unable to cope with life with alcohol. Drugs, in some circles, are also acceptable. Both alcohol and drugs have a deleterious effect on health and well being; however, there are some drugs which can completely destroy people’s lives, and the lives of their family and friends, in a short time. Reasons for having an addiction problem include: having a chaotic lifestyle and home life, neglect and abuse, a family history of abuse or mental health problems, loneliness, depression, personal health issues, depression and peer pressure.
The word ‘abuse’ here refers to an individual who takes a huge amount of drugs, or drinks excessively, over a period of time.
When a person has been taking drugs or drinking for a long period of time, they develop a tolerance. As a result, they increase the dosage or drink much more. Over a period of time, the brain makes adjustments to the effect of the drug or of the alcohol; and, in order to get the desired high, some individuals increase the amounts of the drug.
After a period of time, people become dependent and are unable to cope with life without the drug or alcohol. This can cause problems for the individual, especially when they are denied access to their substance. Examples of this are when people are on holiday, in hospital or when their dealer is unable to provide them with the substance.
Addicts experience at least three or more of the problems below:
- Withdrawal symptoms including panic, sweating, irritability, anger
- Using more and more of the substance than originally intended
- Being unable to stop or reduce the substance
- Relationship issues and problems with friends and family
- Spending large amounts of time and money on the substance
- Continuing to take the substance even though it is causing serious health problems
- Reducing or stopping regular pass-times in order to take the substance
- Being unable to lead a normal life with the substance
- Using substances in dangerous situations (at work, while driving or taking care of children)
In all the addictions, there is a potential to relapse. The key is to keep trying and seek relevant support.
Many psychiatrists describe this as a chronic cycle of abuse; however, it is clear that a huge number of people go through the tolerance stage very early on. The above cycle may be more relevant to drug addicts but less important to aiding recovery. In terms of treatment, I question its effectiveness. I usually use the phrase, ‘A lapse doesn’t necessarily mean a relapse’, and lots of my clients find this helpful when coming to terms with their habits. With all the addictions, I use a combination of approaches. In the first instance, for serious addicts, I will use aversion therapy (covert sensitization) to help people to stop as quickly as possible. Aversion therapy is a complete abstinence programme; however, if the individual does lapse, a top-up hypnosis session is certainly a possibility. After this initial aversion work, I see clients weekly to keep them on track. When people give up drugs or alcohol, or stop gambling, there are always changes that have to be made in the social context and at home. In most cases, I take a counselling approach in this work, although I use some analysis to try to get to the root cause of the addiction.
Psychotherapist, David Kraft
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