The Cycle of Addiction
by Ned Wicker
Imagine a clock on a wall, ticking away the seconds. Each tick is a separate event and we track time by the movements of the hands, seconds, minutes and hours. The clock cycles around a 12 hour period and then begins a new journey.
Imagine the stages of addiction as being points on the clock, not regulated by precise increments of time, but measured by the progression of disease, as a person has their first experience with a drug.
Breaking the cycle of addiction can take months, years or decades.
The cycle of addiction has no particular time constraint, nor does addiction have a direct connection to intent. By that I mean that people don’t just get up in the morning and decide to become an addict. There is an event that triggers a reaction in the brain, and the ticks on the addiction cycle clock begin.
Addiction is a disease of the brain and the reason one person can use a drug and never get hooked, while another may have one encounter and begin a downward spiral is entirely personal. Imagine a lioness waiting in the tall grass, ready to pounce on prey. Addiction waits for an event to pounce on an unsuspecting user.
Initial use of a drug, be it alcohol or subscription medication, may be for legitimate purposes. People have a drink to relax and socialize. The alcohol gives them pleasure. People take an opioid analgesic to relieve pain, and taken in the proper amount, under the care of a physician, there should be no concern about addiction. However, the clock ticks with some people.
The difference between legitimate use and abuse can be rather thin at times. So what is abuse? Abuse is defined as taking a drug for something other than its intended purpose, or going too far with alcohol, the having the proverbial one too many. People using Oxycontin for pain may rationalize that if one pill takes away the pain, then two pills will do that better. When the use of the pain medication goes outside of the prescribed dosage and frequency, the user runs the risk of developing a physical dependence on the drug.
The cycle of addiction includes dependence and OFTEN goes unnoticed.
Physical dependence sneaks up on users, who think they can quit at any time, only when they try, it doesn’t work that way. As the addiction cycle advances, the legitimate need to relieve pain morphs into something else. Perhaps people use just so they can feel “normal,” or they can’t function without the drug in their system.
People who are abusing prescription pain medication run the risk of a making a terrible decision that can lead to the destruction of their career, their family life and cause a myriad of social problems.
The legitimate meds are expensive and prescriptions run out. People have to look for an alternative source and they turn to the street. Perhaps they can find a dealer, but the drugs are expensive, so they turn to a less expensive alternative—street heroin.
The Abuse Continues and the cycle of addiction rolls on.
Long after the medical need for the drug has passed, the abuse of the drug leads to dependence and addiction. The user can no longer say “no” and must use.
As the disease grows and progresses, the person diminishes. They lose interest in family and friends, their job performance suffers, they drop all of their favorite hobbies and the only thing that is important is getting drug.
Even if there was a period of time when abusing the drug was a form of recreation and pleasurable, the disease has progressed to the point where the user must use just to function, as taking away the drug would produce a terrible withdrawal.. Sometimes addicts fear withdrawal more than anything else.
Drug controls brain, they will ANYTHING to get their drug of choice, it’s part of the cycle of addiction.
Because the addict needs to get the drug just to function, they will do anything. Otherwise law-abiding, nice people will turn to stealing from their own family, robbing houses, stealing from retail outlets to get the cash needed to support the habit.
It’s not uncommon for a person with no job, no friends and no visible means of support to support a drug habit costing hundreds per day. That money has to come from someplace, so they run afoul with the law. They may be drug dealers themselves, or they turn to prostitution, or they commit unthinkable acts.
Left unchecked, drug addiction is like committing suicide by the installment plan. Drugs and alcohol lead to the death of the user. People literally do drink themselves to death. People overdose, or they inject bad drugs into their veins. It happens.
Must interrupt cycle of addiction!
Something has to interrupt the cycle. Using our clock analogy, something has to stop the hands from moving. Treatment is the best answer. Sometimes people can stop using, but the nature of addiction is mean-spirited and some people can try to stop with every fiber of their being and fail miserably.
Because we are body, mind and spirit, all three elements of the human condition need to be addressed. Sometimes the cycle from use, to abuse to dependence to addiction is interrupted by treatment. Relapse is a part of the disease, to the cycle continues at some point, but treatment is always the solution.