When did this happen? When we first realize we, or someone we love, has an addiction, it’s one of the first questions that pops into our minds. While you may never be able to answer this question specifically, understanding the cycles of addiction may help to shed a light on how it happened.
Substance Abuse and the Brain: the Cyclic Behavior of Active Addiction
After years of substance abuse, our brains sustain a chemical change — drugs and alcohol alter the amount of serotonin and/or dopamine your brain makes naturally. Using substances periodically seems to do no harm, and likely, at this stage, it doesn’t. However, for many people, this is the beginning of a very difficult path.
For example, it’s a well acceptable notion in society that everyone deserves a beer or a glass of wine after a stressful day at work. So one day, you have one. It takes the edge off and allows you to relax. No harm, no foul. But then, you have another stressful day and after the effective stress relief of that last drink, your mind quickly jumps to how nice another would be. Before long, the mind seeks to address every stressful situation with a drink.
Cycles of Substance Abuse
The above example is representative of the first cycle of addiction. This experimental stage focuses on the euphoric intoxication and relaxation effects of the substance.
Shortly thereafter, the next cycle sets in. This is the recreational stage in which you find yourself craving the stress-free state of mind you enjoyed while under the influence the first few times. Early on, this craving is controllable, and you may find yourself going days or even weeks without a drink.
Eventually, when you do find that next drink in front of you, it may be easy to do a little extra because you haven’t had it for so long. This begins the next stage.
This stage is early dependency. The people closest to you may notice this stage before you do. Your priorities change. You may not stay at work long enough to finish that project as you normally would because you want to make it to Happy Hour in time. You may start to notice that you look forward to that next drink too eagerly or too often. These changes may seem subtle but they are a sign of the final stage and shouldn’t be ignored.
The last stage of the cycle of substance abuse is full dependency. At this stage, your brain is fully reliant on the chemicals you have been consuming to make the serotonin and dopamine you need for daily life. If you don’t continue to provide it, your brain will not be able to adjust quickly enough and will send distress signals to your body. You begin to suffer the effects of withdrawals, which consist of nausea, vomiting, sweating, shaking, headache and many more symptoms as your body works to correct the deficiency.
Is Relapse Really a Part of the Journey?
Relapse is not a part of every recovery, but it does happen — this is nothing to be ashamed of. The most important thing to do after a relapse is get help immediately. Your therapist or counselor can help you to identify the cause of the relapse and adjust your after care plan accordingly.
During rehab, it’s likely you’ll discover your triggers for substance use if you don’t already know them going in. Avoiding these triggers will be your biggest defense against a relapse early on. If you used when you were around the wrong kind of people, spend more time with your sober peers or go to more meetings.
Use the life skills our experts taught you to work through stress instead. Adopt a healthy hobby that will occupy you when you’re not busy. It may take time, but working to build these new habits will make relapse less and less likely as time goes on.
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