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Addiction Learning

Updated on April 16, 2013

Simple to Understand Cycle of Addiction Chart

This is the cycle of addiction that was taught to me.  It is easy to understand.  From a professional point of view, there are many other parts to it.  This is just a simple and easy to understand version!
This is the cycle of addiction that was taught to me. It is easy to understand. From a professional point of view, there are many other parts to it. This is just a simple and easy to understand version! | Source

Understanding the Cycle

The cycle of addiction starts in childhood. The first complete cycle of this chart takes several years. A addict completes this cycle shortly after the first time that they use.

Each section represents one part of the cycle. Each line between each part represents a relapse line. Each addict can stay in one part of the cycle a little time or a long time, depending upon the situation that they are in. There are no two people alike, therefore there no set time limit is spent bouncing between relapse lines. Each circle that goes around the entire chart represents one complete cycle through all the parts of addiction. When a person gets to the very center of the chart, they are in active addiction. Each time that a person goes around the entire cycle, they stay in each part a little amount of time. The amount of time that it takes you to get to the center of the chart, that is the amount of time that it takes you to get out. This is why it is important for addicts to remember that: Addiction didn't happen overnight, and recovery won't happen over night either. Starting addiction is starting on the outside of this chart, working your way to the inside. When someone begins recovery they are on the inside working there way out.

I am going to use a fictional story to explain each part of the cycle. The fictional story that I am going to use to explain the cycle was taught to me by a counselor at the outpatient treatment facility that I attend. I have to say thank you to the particular counselor who taught me this cycle. It has made me understand the WHY, the counselor who taught this to me has played a huge roll in my recovery and I wouldn't know half the things that I know if it weren't for him. He is the smartest counselor ever.

Many will be able to relate to this cycle.

Thinking Error

The first thinking error is learned from a important person in our lives when we are at a very young age. This is usually learned before school age, and the person is someone that we look up to usually a parent.

Example of thinking error:

A little boy is playing with his toys. He is having fun. His father has been drinking, and gets agitated very easily. The father gets tired of the little boy playing with his toys, and he yells at him to quit. The little boy doesn't want to quit and keeps playing the father then smacks the boy in his face for continuing to play with his toys.

Thinking Errors:

  1. It is okay to drink beer, daddy does it.
  2. You can smack people for not putting down the toys.


This is where the thinking error is reinforced. This is where it happens to the child again and the child really starts believing that it is okay. When a child is young they don't know what is right and wrong, all they know is what the adult figures do in their lives.

Example of Reinforced:

The same little boy is playing with his toys again. The same father, is off of work and drinking again. The father becomes agitated with the little boy playing, and smacks him a little harder this time giving him a black eye.

Now the little boy thinks that is what should be done when someone makes you mad. The child is now convinced that it is okay to hit people.

Maladaptive Behavior

Maladaptive Behavior, is taking the learned behaviors and using them in the real world.

Example of Maladaptive Behavior:

The same little boy is now going to school. While at school one day, he decides that he wants a toy that his friend is playing with. He yells at his friend to give him the toy right now, and his friend tell him NO! The little boy then smacks his friend in the face and takes the toy from him.


Negative Consequences

The friend goes and tell the teacher on the little boy for hitting him in the face and taking the toy from him. The teacher comes over and tells the little boy that he can't hit and take things from others. The teacher then punishes the little boy for hitting his friend and taking the toy from him.

Negative Emotions

The little boy is confused. He dad hits and yells at him all the time. His dad is always taking things from him. If it was really bad to yell, hit, and take things from people, why would his dad always do these things to him. The teacher is stupid, and she don't know what she is talking about. To the little boy it is okay. The teacher is just being mean to him.

Maladaptive, Negative Consequences, and Self Esteem

There will be more maladaptive behaviors and negative consequences. The little boy will continue to bring and test different behaviors that he has learned from his dad to school. He thinks at first that something is wrong with the teacher and that she just don't like him. He will continue maladaptive behaviors around other adults. He eventually just thinks that no one likes him and everyone is just being mean to him. Everyone is just being mean to him, and picking on him.

The little boys self esteem starts to lower. He feels like he doesn't fit in, and no one likes him. No one wants him around because he is "mean". He feels unwanted and unloved. Everyone in the "world" is telling him that he is mean and that he can't do what his father does to them, yet his daddy that he loves so much, does these mean things to him at home. Why would someone that loves you hit you and yell at you all the time if they really loved him.

The little boy is confused so he goes to find where he can fit in. Fitting in and wanting to belong is part of human nature.


Seeking Acceptance, Using for the First Time

The amount of time that a person spends seeking acceptance and using for the first time, can vary greatly. When a person with low self esteem is trying to find acceptance it is hard for that person to fit in. They don't feel like they belong anywhere, and yet they go from group to group trying to find that acceptance. Maybe addiction wouldn't be such a problem if it wasn't human nature to fit in and be a part of the group. Yet as humans we will continue to seek acceptance, until we finally find a place. This is the part of the cycle of addiction that makes it the hardest for addicts to get out. A addict trying to reach solid ground in recovery has to find somewhere to fit in and feel accepted. When in recovery a person does not fit in with those that have never been through addiction, and they can no longer fit in with those who are still in active addiction. They struggle to find others in recovery, but why? I think a big part of that has to do with society, and when you think about a person in recovery, there are few that make it out of addiction that haven't suffered consequences according with state laws. There are many that is in recovery, but they are on some sort of probation or parole, and people on probation or parole are not allowed to associate with one another. You also have to add in the factor that if two people are in recovery and they are friends, if one happens to relapse, the other ones chances of relapsing with them is very high.

The example:

The little boy is now in high school, he has struggled though out his years to find a place to fit in. He has had several groups of friends, but it never seems to work out. To him he just can't find a place, until he meets other peers who have been put in similar situations as his own. He meets the group where most of the others children's parents have struggled with addiction of their own. He fits in with the group that has similar thinking errors has his own. He now feels accepted. One day someone in the group gets into their parents stash of weed and brings some with a pipe that he has borrowed from his parents also. The child with the stuff has watched his parents over the years and knows what they do with it, so he is just going to mimic his parents actions. He shows it to the group, even though the group may not want to try it, they have all found a place where they finally feel accepted and don't want to loose it, so they all agree to try it. They are too scared of feeling left out again, if they say no. Once stoned, the little boy finally feels at ease. He is able to be himself, he feels normal, and good. He enjoys being high, it makes everything SEEM so much better.


Justifying, Negative Consequences, Justifying

Now comes the justification. Most people by the age of their first use know what they are doing is wrong. We are all taught from an early age that using drugs and drinking is bad, so we have to justify it for ourselves so that we can keep using. We make it "Okay".

The negative consequences here are referring more to now having something to hide. Crossing the line where they really no longer fit in with the "goodie, goodie" kids. The forgetting what time it is and being late getting home. The trying to hide using so they can't go home when they are high they have to wait until they come down, which makes them late getting in home, and now they are in trouble.

Then the next level of justifying why they are late to their parents. The feeling guilty because they are no longer high and they are experiencing quit for using. They justifying to themselves how and when they are going to use again or never again.

The example:

The little boy is high for the first time, he has that normal feeling and he feels good. Yet deep down he knows what he is doing is wrong and he shouldn't be using. He tells himself, I only did it once its not like I am going to do this all the time. I only did it because I couldn't say no, my best friend would have gotten mad at me. I will only do this when I have to, but at least I had a good time. We had so much fun, everyone was laughing and joking, it made me lighten up. I finally got to be myself.

He is late getting home, and his parents are mad when he comes home. He has to make an excuse for why he is late, and now he is grounded for a week.

While being grounded he thinks about how unfair his parents are being. He has only been late this once, they don't know what they are talking about. They are always late, they always drink and do other things why couldn't they just have been out, then I wouldn't have gotten in trouble because they wouldn't have known I was late then.. It not like they really care about me anyway.

I won't use all the time, only when they are. I will only do it so no one will be mad at me. I will only use to break the ice, that way I can relax and have a good time. I don't have to be so uptight when I use I am able to just be me. I will only use on the weekends when I don't have school. Its not like I am going to smoke all the time, and be like my parents.

Can You Identify with this Cycle?

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    • Aplethora23 profile image

      Angie Power 

      5 years ago from North Cali

      Awesome information. Thanks for sharing.


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