The Vicious Cycle of Addiction

By: Brian M Murray, MS

Addiction has a vicious underlying cycle that is often overlooked by the addicted person or by friends and family around the addicted person. At work contributing and compounding the problem is a cycle that cannot be seen usually until someone is able to point it out to them. In the belly of the beast of addiction is the reoccurring need to use drugs and alcohol. This is the nature of dependency at its core.

The first part of the struggle with an addiction is involved with some kind of emotional distress also known as a trigger. This can be thoughts or feelings that are carried from childhood, an unpleasant life situation or the fact that a person just cannot figure out how to cope with life in a positive way. It can be an unhappy marriage, financial issues, low self esteem problems, and there are a whole host of issues that can trigger emotions or feelings creating discomfort within the addicted person. This feeling is often not felt on the surface, but is more of a mechanism that is working in the background. While this is happening the problem is not being addressed and in a conscious way except for the strong urge to use. This is about getting to the root issue.

When feelings and emotions are being repressed or internalized it leads to distress. It may become apparent to the addicted person at this point that there may be a problem that has to be taken care of. They are uncomfortable and the use of coping mechanisms begin to creep into the thought process of how using will make them feel better. What is not understood is that by making this decision it only compounds the problem by stuffing the feelings down never allowing themselves the freedom to be expressed. The only way out is to self medicate and then they will feel better…temporarily.

Self medicating with drugs and alcohol is the part of the cycle where the person engages into compulsion and picks up. This causes the feelings or negative emotions they are experiencing to numb out. Often the underlying thought is if they don’t feel them then they won’t have to experience them. The downside of numbing out is when this part is over feelings of guilt come into play. The guilt message says that the person is bad for their behavior which leads to emotional distress and the cycle begins all over again. Over time this behavior becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, “I feel bad, numb it out, I feel bad again, numb it out, still feeling bad, numb it out with even more this time” and so forth and so on.

What Can Someone do About it?

One way is to increase self awareness of emotions is through an approach known as mindfulness. This is about taking an inventory of the environment and try to understand and identify what the trigger is for the emotional distress. Begin to journal thoughts and feelings whenever awareness exposes the emotions. This way often unnoticed emotions are brought to the surface and made conscious. This understanding can allow the addicted person to recognize them and take action or implement a distraction to do something else other than pick up and start using. Begin to ask questions that address why these feelings are occurring this way and what is associated with them. It could be that perceptions and thoughts about what is being experienced are clouding up the ability to seek true healing without the use of chemical substances.

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