Breaking Down the Addiction Cycle: Understanding the Patterns

Addiction is a chronic disorder characterized by compulsive substance use, loss of control, and withdrawal symptoms when not using substances.
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Addiction is a chronic disorder characterized by compulsive substance use, loss of control, and withdrawal symptoms when not using substances. Substance use disorder is a more extreme condition characterized by compulsive use despite the consequences that arise. Many people believe that addiction is a matter of willpower and self-control, but understanding the addiction cycle provides deeper insight into the true nature of addiction.

How does addiction work, and why do people continue using alcohol and drugs if they cause so many problems? What is the solution to addiction, and where can people find help? Keep reading to learn more about the addiction cycle and how to help addiction.

Understanding Addiction

Alcohol and drugs are powerful mind-altering substances. They have notable effects on the brain, including amplifying pleasurable feelings and dulling negative feelings. Millions of people connect with friends over a drink at dinner or unwind with one after a particularly stressful week at work. Most people are responsible for their use and contain their drinking in these particular circumstances.

However, an estimated 46.3 million people experienced a substance use disorder in 2021. These individuals surpassed casual use and now meet the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). They experience consequences for their use yet continue consuming substances anyway. Why do these people use the way that they do?

The Addiction Cycle

Learning to recognize the addiction cycle is one of the easiest ways to understand addiction. The addiction cycle consists of three stages that are linked to and feed into each other. The three stages of the cycle of addiction include the binge/intoxication stage, the negative affect/withdrawal stage, and the preoccupation/anticipation stage.

    • Binge/Intoxication Stage: The binge and intoxication stages are when people experience the rewarding effects of substance use, including euphoria, reduced anxiety, and easier social interaction. Repeated consumption activates and eventually changes the brain’s reward system, leading to habit formation and compulsive use.
    • Negative Affect/Withdrawal Stage: The negative affect and withdrawal stage refers to the withdrawal symptoms a person experiences when they aren’t using substances. People consume substances to avoid the unpleasant feelings associated with the negative affect and withdrawal stage.
    • Preoccupation/Anticipation Stage: The preoccupation and anticipation stage describes the excitement a person feels when they seek substances again after a period of abstinence, whether a few hours, days, or weeks.

People with substance use disorder follow this cycle over and over again until they find out how to help addiction. Without an effective alternate solution to substance use, they’ll continue to find themselves trapped in the addiction cycle.

How to Help Addiction

Thankfully addiction is not the end of the road; there are programs available to help you or a loved one if you’re struggling with your substance use. Are you wondering how to help addiction? Facilities like Clearview Treatment Programs are the first step for anyone who cannot end their compulsive relationship with substances.

Are you ready to end your struggles with drugs and alcohol so you can take back control of your life? Call us at 310-455-5258 or submit an online contact form to find out more information. One of our admissions specialists will reach out, outline your options, and help you find the program that best fits your needs. Don’t deal with addiction alone—reach out today.


  1. Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2022.
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). The Cycle of Alcohol Addiction.

If you’re ready to start your recovery, we’re here to help.

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