Different Stages in an Addiction Cycle
First, I need to make a couple of general points about labelling what people do when
they overuse or over-
What we should be doing is describing the person more accurately as someone who:
1. Is suffering from deep emotional pain, or emotional wounding usually carried from
childhood. What they are doing in the short term is medicating, usually over-
2. Is in denial. Which is a rather judgemental way of saying that while they are under the influence of their particular medication (their addiction) and, or while they are suffering from deep emotional pain, it is impossible for them to see clearly what others can see them doing. Usually they are in one or the other state, which is why it's often said that all addictions involve denial.
3. Is trapped in "an addictive cycle" because this is really what is happening inside them.
I have written about this in more detail below and described the various stages in the cycle which people we like to call "addicts" are really going through as they get trapped further and further into their addictive cycle.
Below, I also describe the various stages in the cycle which people we like to call "addicts" are really going through as they get trapped further and further into their addictive cycle. .
As I explain there someone trapped in an addictive cycle is not a "bad" person, even if the things they do are very wrong. They are not giving in to a "bad habit" which they could easily overcome with a little willpower. Even if they could stop medicating they would still have the emotional pain and in many cases that is unbearable.
I also have a personal rule that no one has the right to label anyone else an "addict" unless they acknowledge that they too are one and therefore have some real understanding of what is going on, so at that point I need to go on record here and acknowledge that I too am a recovering addict, from not one but several different forms of medication. I too spent many years trapped in my own addictive cycles. It and it took some amazing people in a number of different Twelve step groups, and some absolutely wonderful addiction counsellors to teach me how to get out of the trap and free myself from the cycle. By the way, as any recovering addict will explain to you I may be in recovery but I will never be free of the addictions themselves. The day I believe that I am free of them is the day they will return.
What is medicating?
1. Using external substances like alcohol, nicotine, sugar or illegal substances which in turn produce brain chemicals which relieve the emotional pain.
See the link to Overview of Addictive Substances and Activities at the foot of this page
2. Medicating on internal substances. These are brain chemicals and hormones produced
by the body as a result of physical activities, for example gambling, excessive exercise,
workaholism, anorexia, bulimia, and co-
See the link to Overview of Addictive Substances and Activities at the foot of this page
It is normal for people to try to reduce their pain so there is nothing essentially wrong if someone is trying to reduce their emotional pain. A person experiencing severe emotional wounding or anxiety is extremely vulnerable and will do whatever they can to block it. When the helpful inner selves in your inner village run out of ways to reduce the hurting usually the next thing is to try substances or processes from outside the village. At first these often seem to work almost miraculously, so the process is repeated more and more often. But sooner or later the treatment starts to lose its effectiveness.
What is described as "an addiction" exists when someone finds themselves trapped in a cycle in which he or she keeps increasing the amount of their (external or intrnal) emotional pain reducing medication.
They are doing this primarily because their chosen medication is not working as well as it did at first. One of the features of all addictive cycles is that at first their pain reducing powers appears so miraculous that even when this starts to lessen, the individual or fully expects it will soon start performing miracles again.
So, rather than the term ‘addiction’ it would be more accurate to describe what is happening as a cycle that is happening inside a person in the place we describe as their inner village.
In the same way, the person we typically call an addict could be more accurately
described as someone who is ‘trapped in an addictive cycle’. The addictive nature
of the cycle is made worse as he or she starts suffering side-
The last thing needed at any point is for anyone to use a shaming and inaccurate term that labels the individual as for example an ‘addict’; "substance abuser" an ‘alcoholic’ or judges them as a ‘bad’ person who has selfishly adopted a ‘bad habit’ . Worse still is the shaming assertion that if the individual was a "good" person they would easily be able to get rid of their "bad habit". Shaming of this kind often does irreparable harm and makes the addiction much harder to handle.
It would be far more helpful, for instance, to recognise that they are a person who
is trapped in the grip of an addictive cycle, and, at the same time, help them to
become aware just how much they are suffering serious side-
An addictive cycle
A person who is likely to get into an addictive cycle goes through several distinct stages:
Stage 1 -
1. Increased emotional pain -
2. Failure of previous ways of adapting -
3. Trying something outside me -
This new external form of adaption or ‘medication’ usually does work better for a while. The initial effect of all medications is to provide some alteration in mood or energy levels. This can include:
* Mood moderation (more relaxed, more joy, less shy, more confident)
For some fortunate people this is as far as the external medication process goes. They find an acceptable dose rate and follow it. Their medication might be a cup of coffee at morning tea time, a glass of wine in the evening, a sedative to help with occasional sleeping problems or a few drinks at a party.
Unless they progress to Stage 2 they may not become trapped in an addictive cycle. But they may still have to face three problems associated with any medication
1. They need the help of something outside them to cope with something inside them; so if they run out of it they will have problems
2. Unseen side-
Using even moderate amounts of any medication (substance or process) may have unseen
And this is the big one .....
3. The person using it will build up a tolerance.
The miraculous pain reducing powers of the medication get less and less over a period of time. If just using moderate amounts appears to produce "improvements" like those below, the person will connect these with their use of the medication. This in turn will encourage them to increase their use of that medication. (If two drinks make me feel less sad, six should make me really happy.)
Early changes during the Stage 1 trial period that encourage heavier use include:
* Enhanced Mood reversal (Example -
* Feeling much higher self-
* Improved perception of life (my friendships/work/relationships/car driving/sex life/ dancing/ even my reality etc. suddenly get so much better)
* Reduced emotional pain or anxiety
* Elevated energy levels
Stage 2 -
4. Increasing need to use their medication combined with build-
The trouble I s that at the same time the effect wears off, as with any pain reducing medication being used repeatedly, The longer you use it, the more you need of it and the more often you need it, in order to get the same reduction in pain or anxiety.
Stage 2 is triggered by growing feelings of anxiety or vulnerability, more guilt,
fear, shame, blame, greater loss of self-
5. Rationalising -
The person using the medication suggests reasons that (to them) appear to be completely logical and rational. Their "reasonable" arguments are often presented to support or justify their increasing use of their chosen medication. Example: "I just enjoy the taste of it", "It just helps me relax" "Everybody needs at least one little vice", "There is no evidence to show that it does any harm.", "Other people might be addicted but I am not like them." , "It’s because you nag me about it so much. That only makes me need it more often!"
To the outside observer these rational reasons may not be nearly as convincing as they are to the person who expresses them.
6. Denial -
This is really just a more extreme version of rationalising described above. The reasons offered are often quite bizarre and to observers far from convincing. In extreme cases the individual may deny that the events that took place ever occurred or claim that they have been exaggerated out of all proportion by biased observers. Example: "So what? It didn’t do any harm and nobody got hurt." "No, that never happened." "Somebody is making up stories about me." "I am totally in control, I can take it or leave it."; "I can give it up any time I want to."
7. Withdrawal Issues -
If a person can’t get their medication they sometimes find themselves having to have to face their ‘intolerable pain’ again. Withdrawal symptoms when the person is unable to get their medication are among the first observable signs of a developing addictive cycle.
8. Stashes and backup supplies
To avoid the pain of withdrawal they start to organise a secondary source they can call on if their usual supply runs out. This stage in the cycle is another of the first noticeable signs as the individual starts organising ‘backups’ or ‘stashes’ (open or hidden) in case they cannot access their usual supply.
A heavy drinker start hiding bottles of alcohol in cupboards or out of the way corners or in the boot of their car. A smoker hides packets of cigarettes at the backs of drawers or cupboards and also keeps a spare packet in the glove box of the car. Gamblers used to have hidden stashes of cash but with the advent of the automatic teller machine their stash is conveniently available via a piece of plastic.
You may however observe that the gambler has several spare pieces of plastic in case one doesn't work. That is their present day stash.
Sex addicts may keep a string of partners available so that one is not able to help with their medication they can simply go to the next one. Workaholics take their work home with them and insist on taking their laptop and mobile phone when they go on holidays "in case of emergencies". If the factory, shop or office doesn't ring them you can be sure that they will be ringing someone at work to get their fix.
The more I use any medication the more serious the side-
ê reduction in everyday skills and abilities
ê reduction in moderation and ability to balance polarised inner selves, inner selves
ê health problems directly due to overuse of the medication
ê losing touch with reality including increased denial about these side-
ê less awareness, inner selves more in control of life
If someone you know (or if you) reach this stage, (pointers 7 to 9 above) it is time to start describing the process as ‘addictive’ because from here on it becomes much harder to stop the cycle.
Stage 3 -
10. Problems from over-
The worse these feelings, the more medication is needed and the greater the damaging
Stage 4 -
If the person continues to increase their rate of medication the cycle goes one of two ways from here. Either they reach a point of total breakdown (often called hitting rock bottom) followed by recovery or they continue the cycle until it ends in major disease and an early death.
11. Increased overuse of medication results in major losses -
Loss of jobs; loss of a home; poverty; imprisonment and as well loneliness when the addict’s family gives up hope and abandons the addict. Health problems become severe.
12. Deception, intentionally dishonest denial
The loss of touch with reality becomes more extreme. Denial now becomes deception (intentional dishonesty). Shame about what is happening leads to increased deceit.
Regardless of the substance or process involved these three pointers are almost always present and so help identify the stage the person has reached in their cycle.
Relationships with friends and family start to suffer severely. A person in the grip of their medication at this stage in the cycle is unable to have a functional relationship with any other human being. Their only significant "relationship" is with their medication. No one else really matters. This leads to massive problems including more losses and ultimately threatens their life.
Friendships are lost too, with the exception of fellow medicators who stay on, though there is no way at this point, that they can be classed as true friends.
Treating addictive cycles -
Do’s – there is only one
There s only one effective treatment for any addiction where the individual is medicating
their deep emotional pain, shame, guilt, fear, loneliness or any strongly negative
emotion. That is to increase the person’s ability to reduce, (and that means to reduce
permanently) the pain, shame, guilt or whatever it is that is the driving their need
for emotional pain reducing medication and their over-
Twelve Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous deserve to be recognised as one of the foremost successful treatments for all addictive cycles. Although their format remains incredibly simple and each group is conducted entirely by untrained volunteers, that group will include a number of people who do understand a great deal about teaching addicts how to reduce their emotional pain or wounding. And that is because they have had to do the same thing themselves and have managed to do it with some long term success.
The 12 Step program is effective because the group members are the best of all models
and teachers for recovery -
The groups are far from perfect but they have the reputation of getting more people out of addictive cycles than any other form of therapy or treatment.
There are now nearly two hundred different kinds of Twelve Step groups (each based
on the particular substance or process involved -
A sample ‘Twelve Steps for Dependents Anonymous’ is included on a separate page( See Link at h e foot of this page).
Recovery programs such as those offered at the South Pacific Hospital in Sydney, the Currumbin Clinic on the Gold Coast and The Meadows in Arizona, all achieve very good results but need to be followed by regular work with a therapist and group meetings for several years, perhaps for the rest of that person’s life.
1. Do not shame, do not blame and do not make the person feel guilty. This one "don’t"
stands out above all others. The person is over-
2. An addictive cycle is not a ‘habit’ and it cannot be broken by "will power". The only effective treatment is one that heals the deep emotional core pain and that may need to continue for the remainder of one’s life.
3. Never ask or expect an addicted person to ‘promise to give it up.’ The cycle they are in renders them incapable of the grown up behaviour needed to honour such a pledge. I suspect the person asking for such a promise is also being less than grown up if they believe it.
4. There is no ‘fast treatment’. People may ‘sober up’ overnight, using will power,
but that just means that a more powerful stronger inner inner self (inner self )
has stepped and taken temporary control the medicating and enabling selves . Any
‘rapid’ recovery, that involves the individual simply switching to a new medication,
for example, from alcohol to chocolate or from gambling to increased smoking and
drinking for example is not sobering up at all. In most cases it will only last for
a few months. Or the new medication will simply take over from the old one on a long-
5. Any reduction in an addictive cycle based on punishment is only temporary. It’s much the same as if you had a really bad back injury and needed to take eight aspirin a day to block the pain.
Some concerned friends might consider this as evidence that you were addicted to aspirin and with the very best intentions might use some form of punishment to force you to stop taking aspirin. Your friends might then congratulate themselves that with their dedicated help you had beaten your aspirin addiction.
But you would still have the backache and you would still have to cope with pain. As long as the pain in your back is greater than the pain of the punishment, understandably, you will soon be back on the aspirin again.
FOOTNOTE: All addictive cycles are connected in some way to brain-
In both cases the end result is that grown up awareness and the more functional moderate inner selves in your inner village are constantly being anaesthetised by the particular chemical and so that they have no chance of helping.
Example of the Twelve Steps (Dependants Anonymous)
Copyright © John Nutting 1996-
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