This is the first article in a two-part series that discusses the Addiction Cycle. Look out for the following article entitled “The Second Half of the Addiction Cycle” next month.
Over the past ten years, I’ve spent a lot of time with people who have become stuck in what I call Addictive Behaviors. I call them Addictive Behaviors because, whether they involve substances, sexual acting out and/or pornography, eating disorders, shopping, shoplifting, gambling … you name it, a pattern of thoughts and behaviors emerges that one can refer to as the Addiction Cycle. I lead therapy groups with people who suffer from addictions of many kinds. Often, when someone is considering joining these groups, they fear that they will not fit in, be understood, or be able to relate to what other group members are experiencing because they do not share the same addictive behavior.
However, when we discuss the process of how they engage in their behaviors, or how the Addiction Cycle takes place, the prospective group member quickly begins to feel that they do fit in. They realize that people do understand them and that they can relate to the struggles others are going through.
An Overriding Sense of Shame
This cycle has led to an overriding sense of shame and guilt, which is often accompanied by anxiety and by some degree of depression. The shame and guilt frequently stem from things that the person did in their past, whether distant or recent. Sometimes the shame comes from something that happened to the addict and from the memories, thoughts, and feelings associated with the event(s) that seem too painful to think about. Instead, the addict finds a means of coping with this shame and guilt; they begin acting out in some type of behavior that eventually becomes an addiction.
Addicted People Become Preoccupied
Preoccupation is a major criteria that is used to help determine if a person has an addiction as it is usually experienced by addicts. It involves having continuous thoughts about the drug of choice, or about watching pornography and/or having sex. It means constantly thinking about food, one’s next purchase, going to the casino, or whatever one’s behavior of choice is. You might ask whether preoccupation does not commonly occur with anything we spend a lot of time doing? Would it be considered uncommon for a person to think about their work while away from the office when so many hours each day are devoted to it? Or to think all day long about the person they have recently fallen in love with? The difference for the addict is that the preoccupation typically leads to cravings, which involve much more than just thoughts. Cravings typically bring on an anxious feeling that is all-too-common for the addict. This is a feeling that the addict begins to desperately want to put an end to.
Cravings Make Addictions Difficult to Resist
When cravings start, a person’s brain begins to react as though they have already ingested their drug of choice, begun looking at pornography, or begun engaging in whatever the addictive behavior is. Their scope of life becomes very narrow. Five minutes ago they may have been saying how much relief they feel at not engaging in their behaviors. However, when someone shows them their drug of choice, or when they are left alone with the computer, or see a particular ad for a certain food or item they’d like to buy, dopamine in the brain starts to be released as though they were already engaged in the addictive behavior. This is why people find it so difficult to turn away and not follow through by acting on the craving. Meanwhile, their anxiety continues to mount, and the addict knows all-too-well that engaging in the addictive behavior will relieve it. When a person has gotten to this point, they usually enter the Fantasy stage.
Christian Counseling to Break the Addiction Cycle
Look out for the following article in this series in which I continue this discussion. In the meantime, if this sounds like something you are struggling with, speaking to a trained Christian counselor can help you to understand and overcome your addiction. Help is within reach, and change is possible. To find out more about how Christian counseling can help you break the Addiction Cycle, please contact me here.
“Walking Away,” Courtesy of Korry B, Image ID 1418812, Freeimages.com; “Sad, IMG_4864,” courtesy of Peter Denker, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)
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