BREAKING THE CYCLE OF ADDICTION
This stage of the cycle can be continued by regularly doing self-checks, speaking with others, participating in ongoing recovery-related activities and therapy, managing one’s environment to reduce stressors and triggers, and avoiding negative influences.
Trigger – Anything in the mind or environment that encourages one to return to a previous behavior. Internal triggers come from one’s thoughts and emotions. External triggers are related to the environment.
When possible, avoiding stressors or triggers is the best option. However, it will be impossible to avoid all stressor and triggers. When a stressor or trigger is encountered, it is important to immediately acknowledge it, accept it, speak to others about it. Having a list of readily usable positive coping skills for each common trigger is invaluable.
Thoughts/Views about Stressors/Triggers
This is THE critical stage in the development of long-term recovery. Without a change in the drug addict and alcoholic’s way of thinking, it will be difficult to elicit any meaningful change in the generation of the emotions and feelings that follow events. It is these feelings and emotions that can lead to use. Example: I get frustrated when I get stuck in traffic. Why? If I’m late I’ll look incompetent Change: I’m not usually late, so I’m not incompetent, but I may be late today. I can either leave earlier tomorrow, or maybe the traffic was because of the boat show, either way, I can’t do anything about it now. This is accepting life on life’s terms, an AA slogan.
Need to address stressors or triggers
If one has progressed to this stage, it is best to use positive coping skills, rather than to relapse to a previous behavior or drug and alcohol use. Simple, readily usable positive coping skills are behaviors such as distraction, avoidance, calling someone, changing one’s environment, relaxation techniques, physical activity, reflection and redirection of negative thoughts, self-talk, remembering the consequences. Ultimately, the root cause of the stressor should be determined and dealt with, when the drug addict or alcoholic feels that they have the emotional strength to do so.
Many of the coping skills listed for addressing stressors or triggers. Another commonly used coping skill for cravings is, “riding it out.” This is done by experiencing the craving and the feelings, both somatic and psychological, in a safe place and waiting for the craving to pass. Anti-craving medications can also be useful to combat persistent cravings that occur early in recovery.
Once a person has progressed to this stage, it is important to limit the use and to safely stop using the substance. A slip does not have to turn into a full-blown relapse. At this stage, the person addicted to drugs or alcohol should seek help from their support network, self-help groups, counseling or inpatient or outpatient treatment.
Relief of Feelings
Because the substance or behavior achieved the goal of reducing the unwanted feeling or increasing desirable feelings, the brain’s reward pathway has likely been activated, which can lead to more use. Now, it’s important to stop and think of other positive coping strategies that can achieve the same outcome.
At this stage, it is unlikely that severe consequences have been experienced. However, consequences to mental, physical, and spiritual health may begin to become apparent. Asking for help from others or a professional is probably the best course at this stage.
At this stage of the cycle, it is paramount that professional assistance is sought and that the drug addict or alcoholic considers entering treatment to stop the progression of the disease. Consequences will begin to develop rapidly and it is extremely difficult and potentially dangerous to stop on one’s own.
Consequences, shame, guilt
A quality treatment facility or counselor and the self-help groups can help one recover from the shame and guilt that is associated with using and the consequences of using. The social, legal, financial medical and mental health consequences that have been created by using will slowly dissipate as one moves forward in his/her recovery. Sometimes, all consequences are not able to be repaired. There may be lifelong consequences such as legal or medical problems, or the loss of significant relationships that cannot be changed. Acceptance is important at this stage. It is important to look at the consequences as indicators that one must stop using drugs and alcohol and seek help, without which one is likely to not want to stop using.
Depending on the length of out-of-control using, one may need to enter an inpatient drug and alcohol detox or rehab. At a minimum, some type of help should be sought. Depending on the duration of use, stopping the use of certain substances, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines is generally not safe when done without professional help. Cravings with the cessation of opiate use are oftentimes so strong that one is unable to stop use without professional assistance.
Not to be confused with sobriety, abstinence is only the beginning of recovery. More importantly, sobriety must be obtained. Obtaining true physical, mental and spiritual sobriety will provide a foundation for lifelong recovery. A quality drug and alcohol treatment center will evaluate and treat all biopsychosocial aspects of the individual and provide a strong foundation for the beginning of sobriety.
No pre-determined time an any given stage of the cycle of addiction. It can be days, weeks, months or even years at any given stage.