The Insidious Cycle of Addiction – Trapped In An Endless Closed Loop

cycle addiction

The cycle of addiction is the closed loop of obsessive behavior when someone has any type of substance or behavioral dependency. Once a user becomes dependent on any substance or behavior, they are trapped.

There are the “3 C’s” of addiction;

  • compulsive use
  • attempts to cut down
  • continued use despite consequences

Addicts get trapped in a closed loop of using or behaving again and again with no way out, as follows;

  • An addict is at the mercy of their disease.
  • They are powerless to escape.
  • There is no way out.

Addictive behavior drives using which leads to withdrawal creating the pains of craving. Cravings drive a mental obsession to relieve the compulsion. It is an endless wheel an addict cannot escape without help.

There are five stages in this insidious, closed wheel;

  • Bingeing
  • Gratification
  • Withdrawal
  • Craving
  • Relief Seeking Behavior

wheel of cycle of addiction



A substance use disorder is defined  by the DSM as “…All drugs that are taken in excess have in common direct activation of the brain reward system, which is involved in the reinforcement of behaviors and the production of memories.”

This is the underlying condition of the closed, cycle  triggering a continuous, compulsive behavior of using again and again.


Bingeing can be defined as the overindulgence in some sort of repetitive action. This includes alcohol, drugs, sex, food, gambling or compulsive behavior of any kind.


Once someone reaches their “satiation point”, their addiction has been gratified, at least for the time being. This is the apex where the cycle of addiction turns downward.


Withdrawal is another word for detox. It is the natural process whereby the human body commences to purify itself. In terms of drugs and alcohol, it causes the desire for relief of the resultant discomfort. These symptoms can include;

  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • sweating
  • vomiting
  • depression
  • seizures
  • hallucinations


These and other withdrawal symptoms cause the natural desire for relief. Without medical intervention, a person is faced with craving for immediate relief. Faced with no other option, they choose “self-medicating” themselves by using more of the substance originally taken.

Relief Seeking Behavior

Without medical supervision and management, the user is faced with either suffering the pain and discomfort of withdrawal or using the substance again. This is often the case when someone is prescribed opioids for pain. Faced with a “no-win” situation, the used seeks immediate relief for the discomfort. Therefore the user seeks out relief in whatever ways available. This may mean drinking alcohol or using the  drug of choice or some other substitute, as quickly as possible.


cycle of addiction infographic