The Cycle of Addiction: The Stages of the Spiral

The Cycle of Addiction…identify the pitfalls

Addiction brings a stigma with it that is quite unfair. Most often, addiction is perceived as one drink or drug use that snowballed into addiction.

However, the reality of addiction is much more complex than that. Instead of a big snowball that seems pretty cut and dry, it’s more like a snowflake.

It’s intricate and has a lot more to do with an individual’s unique context.

The Cycle of Addiction

This has all to do with the stages of addiction. Luckily, addiction treatment programs designed for various situations are available for people dealing with substance use. Additionally, experts have created a map of sorts to enable an individual to journey toward healing.

What Is the Cycle of Addiction?

The cycle of addiction includes the following:

  • Initial use
  • Abuse
  • Tolerance
  • Dependence
  • Addiction
  • Relapse

Addiction is a complex disease that has no single cause and can affect people from all walks of life.

It often starts with experimentation or casual use, which can lead to abuse, dependence, and ultimately addiction.

Understanding the stages of addiction can help individuals identify when their use has become a problem and seek appropriate treatment to recover.

The Cycle of Addiction

Initial Use

In the initial use period, a person may develop an intense liking for a particular substance or behavior.

This stage can be very pleasurable and rewarding for the individual, as it provides them with feelings of excitement and euphoria.

However, during this stage, individuals can become dependent on the substance or behavior in order to achieve these positive effects.


The Abuse Stage of Addiction is the most difficult and destructive stage of addiction to overcome.

In this stage, an individual has become dependent on a substance or behavior and is struggling to control their usage.

Individuals often become preoccupied with obtaining and using the substance or engaging in the behavior.

This causes significant disruption in their lives, including difficulties at work, school, and home.

As a result, relationships are strained due to neglect and dishonesty, and their physical and mental health becomes impaired.

The abuse stage can be dangerous as individuals will often resort to extreme behaviors in order to obtain the substance or engage in the behavior.

Risk-taking behaviors, such as stealing money or using needles for injection drugs, can lead to health consequences.

Typically, someone dealing with substantial substance abuse needs intensive inpatient treatment to help them deal with their addiction. 

The Cycle of Addiction


The tolerance stage of addiction is an advanced stage of the addiction cycle and occurs when a person needs more and more of the substance or activity to achieve the same desired effect.

As people start to build up their tolerance, they may find themselves using larger quantities of the substance or engaging in the activity for longer periods of time.

This can lead to an increased risk of physical and psychological problems as well as a greater potential for addiction.

People who are in the tolerance stage may also find themselves spending more money to obtain the same desired effect, putting them at risk for financial hardship.


The dependence stage of addiction is characterized by the detrimental effects it has on an individual’s physical health and mental well-being.

At this stage, individuals have become dependent on their substance of choice and cannot function without it.

Physical symptoms such as tolerance to the drug (needing more in order to achieve the desired effect) may begin to manifest as well.

Individuals may also experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to abstain from their drug of choice, such as feeling fatigued or anxious.


Addiction is one of the final stages in the cycle of substance misuse and is characterized by the inability to stop using a substance despite its harmful effects.

In this stage, an individual’s compulsive use of drugs or alcohol becomes a primary focus in life.

In most cases, addiction is a chronic and progressive disorder that requires professional help to manage. 

The Cycle of Addiction


The relapse stage of addiction is a difficult time for those affected. It can be a long and uphill battle to overcome this stage, but with the right support, it is possible.

During the relapse stage, there is an increased risk of returning to substance abuse or engaging in behaviors that are related to the addiction.

The Four Levels of Addiction

There are several ways that addiction can affect a person. These include the following:

  • Physically
  • Emotionally
  • Mentally
  • Spiritually
The Cycle of Addiction

How Does Addiction Affect a Person Physically?

Addiction affects the body physically in a number of ways. It can interfere with the brain’s reward system and lead to changes in areas that control judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, stress levels, and behavior.

Over time, these changes can result in physical consequences such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, stroke, or seizure.

Long-term addiction can also cause damage to organs, including the liver and heart.

In addition, the presence of drugs or alcohol in the body can lead to nutritional deficiencies that affect physical health.

How Does Addiction Affect a Person Emotionally?

Addiction can take a major toll on an individual’s emotional well-being. People who suffer from addiction often experience feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, and depression.

Being addicted to something can make it hard for the person to engage in healthy relationships, as the compulsion to use may become more important than maintaining relationships with family and friends. 

How Does Addiction Affect a Person Mentally?

Addiction has a profound physical and mental impact on those affected by it. Physically, substance abuse can damage organs, weaken the immune system, and cause heart problems, liver diseases, lung complications, and many other serious health issues.

Mentally, addiction can lead to changes in brain chemistry that interfere with an individual’s ability to think clearly, make decisions, and feel emotions.

These changes can lead to depression, anxiety, mood swings, personality disorders, memory problems, and even psychosis.

How Does Addiction Affect a Person Spiritually?

Addiction can have a powerful impact on a person’s spiritual life. The physical and psychological symptoms of addiction can take their toll, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness.

As the addict continues to engage in destructive behaviors, they may begin to feel disconnected from themselves, loved ones, and any sense of spirituality or faith. 

Break the Cycle of Addiction Today

The Cycle of Addiction

Everybody who struggles with addiction has their own background and unique experiences. The cycle of addiction isn’t impossible to break. Get the help you need today.

Written by Micah Drum
Content Specialist
Micah Drum attended Palm Beach Atlantic University where he studied Leadership and minored in Communications.
He’s been writing content for substance use disorder and mental health treatment for 3 years.