The cycle of addiction

The purpose of this article is to explore and raise awareness of the cycle of addiction. As addiction progresses, you can lose sight of the different parts of this cycle. You can get the idea that people just use. By raising awareness of the different parts of the cycle, you can identify them and practice dealing with them differently so that you can begin to make some positive changes.


The cycle of addiction

Chaotic behaviour

In the middle of the cycle, chaotic behaviour drives addiction and behaviours.
Ask for their own experiences of chaotic behaviour.

This chaos is what using is centred around. This chaos is created by the obsessive pursuit of substances. People can become familiar with chaos, spending time in addiction bouncing from one problem to the next. A good payoff to chaos is that you don’t get much time to stop and think about what you are doing.  


Restlessness occurs when people stop bouncing around in the chaos. You can become irritable with others and the self. Looking at addiction and where it takes you causes you to feel discontent.

Remember past and present feelings

People want to change how they feel and begin to remember other times when substances worked. Selective thinking does not remember the bad times, only the “good”. People obsess about changing the way they feel.

Obsession is an overriding thought, which overrides all other thoughts.


Compulsion can be identified as the strong, usually irresistible urge to use. At this point, not much is going to stop people from using. In the cycle, people cannot see past changing how they feel, and the thought of consequences doesn’t stop them.

Pick up

This could be things such as:

Lose control

After the first one, there is no guarantee when or if the using will stop. Good intentions can seem to go out of the window, it may feel as if you're now at the mercy of substance/addiction and behaviours are unpredictable


The loss of control causes great consequences. If people were in control, a lot of the consequences people have been through would not have happened. There are many and varied consequences to using, all down to picking up the first substance.


After consequences come remorse. That feeling of regret for what has been done whilst not in control. The feeling of insecurity that is created by continually doing things you don’t want to do.


On many occasions, people say to themselves "never again", making promises not to use, not to behave in certain ways again and again. Without knowledge, the only place that the resolution takes you is back to the beginning of the cycle.

By continuing to go around the cycle of addiction, people begin to lose sight of the different parts of it. You may only be able to identify the compulsion and the consequences and come to believe that people just use. Although you may not be aware of it, all the other parts are still going on. The consequences continue to get worse, and the chaos becomes harder and harder to deal with. People feel trapped in the downward spiral of addiction.  

What is the solution?


This is beginning to practice a new way to live. The process of recovery is started by gaining some awareness and admitting the problem.  

Is there a willingness to ask for help to begin to move away from addiction?

People do not recover in isolation. You can’t solve all problems overnight, but you can begin to move forward with practice. One guarantee is that things can improve far quicker than they got worse. 

Awareness, although sometimes uncomfortable, can only serve to improve the quality of life. The cycle of addiction can be broken and the rewards for doing so are great.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1
Written by Michael Watson, reg.MBACP Trauma informed Counsellor / Addiction specialist
Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1

My name is Michael, I am an integrative therapist and addiction specialist. I have worked with people struggling with addictions for over 12 years, i also have my own lived experience. In my experience, explaining this model/ theory to people i work with can help to gain awareness of the problem in order to work towards their solution.

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