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Learning to Break the Addictive Cycle

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Residential addiction treatment can be boiled down to a single item – breaking the addictive cycle. Whether it's addiction to alcohol, opiates, gambling, food, or other substances, getting a person to stop a habitual destructive pattern has challenged addiction treatment professionals for decades.

What is Addiction?

According to Google, “Addiction is a state that is characterized by compulsive drug use or compulsive engagement in rewarding behavior, despite adverse consequences. Addiction can also be defined as a chronic brain disease or a terminal illness.”

Humans seek normalcy. Routine brings us safety and comfort. When that safety and comfort causes problems with relationships, health, income, housing or simply being in control, addiction is likely present.

stimulus-response-consequence-graphic.pngThe Addictive Cycle

The addictive cycle can described as 4 discrete steps:

  1. Stimulus (stress) ►
  2. Response (substance use) ►
  3. Consequence (none) ►
  4. Repeat



When stress hits us (stimulus), we normally respond in a way that would create a reward (response) to relieve that stress. Unfortunately, with addiction the initial reward is relatively short-lived and eventually fades (consequence). The addict will “chase the high” and repeat the response over and over again. This goes on at the behavioral level. When the addictive substance is removed or delayed, there is physical component known as withdrawal.

Treating Addiction

In the residential addiction treatment industry, the major focus has been on stopping the response (using). If humans were one-dimensional robots this probably would do the trick. However, we're not. We are multifaceted creatures with thoughts, emotions, and a physical component that locks in our addictive behaviors. Every one of these components needs to be addressed simultaneously in order to give ourselves the greatest odds for success in breaking the addictive cycle. Our identity is more than just our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Have you ever considered that there may be spiritual reasons why we have problems in the first place?

Are you willing to listen to yourself down deep inside? What is going on with you at the instant of the stimulus?

Working All Levels in Recovery

When we have an internal stimulus, for example the urge to use a alcohol or another substance, something has been triggered inside. If you can discover and heal the underlying core issues, it can catapult you to incredible depths of healing. Pause here a moment and really consider this - that stimulus inside of you was triggered for some reason and actually has some valuable information that can lead to your healing. Are you willing to listen to yourself down deep inside? What is going on for you at the instant of the stimulus? Did you think about something or someone? Was it a feeling? Have you had this feeling before? When was the first time you felt this way? Ask yourself if there is something else you can do instead of use (a behavioral approach). In riding the issue back in time to its core, are you willing to communicate with the part inside of you that went through a difficult experience (emotional level work)? Can you view it differently and learn something from it (mental level work)?

On the spiritual level, when something gets triggered inside, it is happening for a reason. Our issues have growth value because they happen for a reason. There are no coincidences. Every situation that we are confronted with is happening for a reason. Unfortunately we as a society have been trained to distract and suppress these triggers, which has led to us having a lot of pent up issues all vying for an escape route to get out!

ball-under-waterHave you ever held a ball under water? What does that ball want to do? Of course it wants to pop up! Well we aren’t letting it up. That ball represents all of our stuffed issues and problems. Our mind is like the water and it wants to rid itself of all the baggage. The interesting fact is if we don’t address our issues during our waking hours, our dreams become our only outlet. How are your dreams? If you don’t deal with something during the day, you sure will in the middle of the night. This is probably why the majority of people seek psychiatric help - in order to get a good night’s sleep. If you just use sleep medications, though, the unsolved issues and problems get submerged into the unconscious mind.

The simplest and most effective way to work with current stress is to address it. When a craving hits, do some investigation. Talk with it, ask it what it really represents. The most beneficial part of doing this type of work is in creating a relationship with yourself. Move away from the computer, the television, turn off the radio, refrain from text messaging with a friend or anybody else you feel will rescue you. Now is your time to rescue yourself. In doing so, you can find the answers to your own problems – which is revolutionary in this society and will be the subject of subsequent blogs.

What has your experience been in breaking the addictive cycle?

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About The Clearing

The Clearing is a residential treatment center located on beautiful San Juan Island, Washington. We created The Clearing in response to the pervasiveness of treatment centers that focus more on luxury than modern, evidence-based therapy.

Our approach is based on healing the underlying core issues that cause addiction. If you'd like to learn more our approach or program, contact us. We're here to help.

  Download eBook:  Healing Underlying Core Issues
Gregg Makuch

This post was written by Gregg Makuch

Gregg helps get the word out about The Clearing. When he’s not riding his bike and enjoying the beauty of the San Juan Islands, Gregg loves to cook and spend time with his family.

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