cycle addiction and relapse

The Cycle of Addiction and Relapse

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Sometimes people believe that there are some individuals have the traits of addiction while others don’t. That mindset might lead people to believe that someone who is suffering from substance abuse or addiction might have taken a single drink or taken an illegal drug once then became addicted immediately from that one use. But, the entire process of substance abuse disorder and addiction is much more complicated.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a chronic disease impacts the brain’s motivation, memory, pleasure, and reward. Just as any other chronic illnesses, addiction develops over time. Someone who once could enjoy a casual drink or avoid drug abuse has an addiction to alcohol or drugs after things fall into place. Addiction and relapse is a troubling cycle that leaves the patient needing help and care.

Addiction and Its Stages

The process of developing an addiction spans six stages. These stages might occur quickly, or it might take a longer period. Some addictions develop over weeks or months while others take years.  An individual who has a social drink on occasion could become an alcoholic after several years. Some drugs might have an addictive potential so strong an almost instant addiction might seem to develop. But, for the most part, those struggling with different addictions go through different stages of substance abuse or substance use that contributed to the addiction. The stages of addiction are:

  • Initial use
  • Abuse
  • Tolerance
  • Dependence
  • Addiction
  • Relapse

Some stages might occur simultaneously. You might use an illicit substance for the euphoric experience or high, but just even one usage of an illicit drug is classified as abuse. Some illegal substances can lead to tolerance just after a single use, so they quickly become addictive. In most cases, the chronic addiction cycle of addiction and relapse involves all these stages.

Initial Use

The reasons an individual tries a substance or starts abusing a substance can vary for many reasons. It could be as simple as being prescribed opioids for pain after an injury or trying your first drink on your 21st birthday.


After the initial use comes abuse and this might happen later down the road. But regardless, the individual starts using the substance in a harmful way. It might be by taking higher doses than prescribed of a prescription pain medication or it could involve binge drinking. Either way, whether the substance is being abused sometimes depends on the specific substance and how it reacts on the human body.


After an individual abuses drugs or takes prescription medications for a while, the substance could lead to brain changes that cause tolerance. That means that the substance doesn’t produce the same results physically or mentally causing the user to want to reach a high by taking higher volumes of the substance.


There will come a certain time when the brain starts becoming dependent on that specific substance or drug to function properly. An individual who has used cocaine for a period might think it is impossible to find pleasure in life without using the drug. There is also physical dependence. This is when a person has to use a substance in order to feel “normal.”


A specific and chronic mental condition that has defined behaviors and symptoms that can be used for an accurate diagnosis. Addiction has 11 signs or symptoms, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

  • Using more of the substance than intended or planned
  • Inability to quit using the substance
  • Suffering from relationship problems because of use of the substance
  • Spending a lot of time either looking for the substance, using it, or recovering from it
  • No longer participating in favorite activities because of using the substance
  • Unable to regularly keep up with daily responsibilities because of substance use and abuse
  • Craving the drug or substance
  • Not stopping use of the drug or substance despite knowing and experiencing serious health effects
  • Using the substance in dangerous situations, such as while operating machinery at work or while driving
  • Becoming tolerant to the drug or substance
  • When use is stopped, experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal

If an individual is suffering from two or three symptoms, they have a mild substance abuse disorder. If they have four or five of the symptoms, they have a moderate disorder. If the individual suffers from at least six symptoms, they have an addiction or severe substance use disorder.

Relapse of Substance Abuse

As with any chronic condition, there is a possibility for relapse for an individual who has suffered from addiction or substance abuse disorder. Just as with other chronic conditions, such as asthma or lupus, relapse is common as the medical professionals and the patient work together to come up with the most effective treatment to manage the chronic condition.

Addiction and relapse require support and care from a supportive, experienced team.  Ocean Hills Recovery in California has helped many patients as they faced addiction and relapse. Call today to learn how we can help you beat addiction.

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