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The Cycle of Addiction: Stages of Drug Abuse

The Cycle of Addiction

Addiction is a sensitive and complicated subject that’s hard to talk about, so it’s not surprising that a lot of people don’t have a clear understanding of what it is.

Many attribute addictions to a person’s character, but the truth is that the cycle of addiction is more complicated than that. It requires careful analysis in order to be understood.

So, in this article, let’s explore what the cycle addiction is, its phases, and how the cycle can be broken is.

The Cycle of Addiction

The cycle of addiction gets its name from a common pattern that is exhibited in most addiction cases.

The vast majority of addicted people go through a set of stages that are quite similar, and thus the term addiction cycle is used to describe the process.

It covers all types of addictions, including the well-known alcohol and drug addictions, as well as gambling, overeating, and even sex addictions.

The duration and prevalence of each phase can differ greatly depending on the person and the addiction. However, usually, all of the phases of the drug addiction chart can be boiled down to the six phases we will explore in the next section.

What Are the Phases of Addiction?

As previously mentioned, the phases that make up the cycle of addiction represent the usual process when a person succumbs to addiction.

However, it’s important to note that while all of these phases are present, they can happen at varying intervals, and sometimes many or even all of them can occur almost simultaneously, depending on the specific type of addiction.

Let’s explore the specific cycle addicts go through below:

Initial Use

Every addiction starts the same way, with the person trying the substance or the addictive activity for the first time.

The reasons for why a drug addiction cycle may begin can vary, and can sometimes are hard to pinpoint.

In some instances, an addiction can begin with doctor prescribed medications for pain, which can later evolve into dependence (and then tolerance). For people struggling with alcoholism, it can begin with a few recreational drinks with friends.

The bottom line is that in many cases, addiction has seemingly innocent beginnings, and it can be hard to pinpoint the moment when it actually becomes a problem. However, family history, living environment, and mental health can all be contributing factors to consider.


In its most basic definition, abuse is defined as excessive use of a substance that is harmful to the person using it.

As pointed out in any common drug addiction chart, abuse is the next stage after the initial use, and its primary symptom is taking the substance in amounts that cause harm to a person’s health, mental condition, or his/her relationships.

With some of the more dangerous drugs such as heroin, abuse starts from the very first time the drug is used. But, with most substances like alcohol and tobacco, the transition from the first to the second stage is more gradual.


Next on the stages of addiction chart is tolerance. This is the process of the brain developing a tolerance for the substance, and the original dose no longer producing the same level of intoxication for the user.

A common example is alcohol addicts who have transitioned from light drinking to heavy binge drinking because they are no longer able to feel the same effects from lower amounts of alcohol.

At this stage, people will either increase the dosage of the substance or the frequency in which they consume it, to try to recapture the effect. However, as their tolerance grows, the dose needs to be increased even more.


After the substance has been used for a certain period of time, the brain adjusts and becomes dependent on the substance to be able to function normally.

It’s important to distinguish addiction-based dependence on condition-based dependence.

When someone has to take medication for his condition, that is not called an addiction because the person is merely managing a symptom of the body working incorrectly.

On the other hand, an addiction-based dependence revolves around the person taking the drug to feel good and not treat a specific condition.


When a person becomes dependent on a substance, it eventually evolves into an addiction, which starts consuming every part of their life.

At this stage in the addictive cycle, the person’s entire world revolves around the substance that they are addicted to, craving it, seeking it out, and using it.

Naturally, this results in a decrease in other social activities, deterioration of relationships, and the inability to maintain a person’s duties and responsibilities.


Just as any chronic condition, the cycle of addiction is also quite prone to relapse, which means that even if a person manages to stop abusing the substance, there is always a risk of them relapsing.

Relapse can often happen during the withdrawal stage, when the person is experiencing unpleasant and difficult symptoms because their brain is craving the substance that they are trying to stop using.

Interrupting the Cycle

For many addicts, the cycle of addiction repeats itself multiple times. That’s because they often don’t have a clear understanding that they have an addiction and how addictions tend to progress.

However, with the help of professional counsel, it is possible to break the cycle of addiction and use cognitive and behavioral therapies, as well as peer support, which can help develop effective tools for preventing a relapse in the future.

Countrywide Testing

When trying to break the cycle of addiction, it’s crucial to be able to prevent a person from relapsing and using again.

At Countrywide Testing, we provide a variety of drug tests that can help detect various substances and control their use. If you want to learn more, shop now or contact us today at (469) 389-2120.