Identifying the Cycle of Addiction

When you’re active in drug or alcohol use, you could be in a vicious cycle of addiction. If you’re not armed with the right knowledge and tools, you may never escape its wrath. Only you can identify and decide if this is how your drink or use.

This is why Timothy O’Farrell works with treatment centers and halfway houses in Texas that have a strong foundation in recovery and a proven track record that helps stop the cycle of addiction.

If you find yourself at a treatment facility that does not focus on the causes and the solution of addiction, then you might be stuck in this doomed cycle.

Whether you are trying to break the cycle of addictive behavior and know you need addiction treatment, or are trying to stop prescription drugs, understanding the stages of the cycle will help you or a family member recognize when a treatment program should be pursued.

About the Addictive Cycle

What is the addictive cycle and what are its characteristics?

According to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there are two main characteristics of an alcoholic. They drink way more than they intended, and they cannot stay stopped.

If you take two alcoholics or addicts, you’ll find someone with these two symptoms. Although their life circumstances might be completely different, they are affected the same, they cannot stay stopped and they will do way more than they intended.

Following along with the graphic on this page, let’s see how this cycle of addiction influences an addict or alcoholic. (Note: If you suffer from drug addiction, substitute the drug of your choice with alcohol below. We’re just using alcoholism for simplicity’s sake. But the problem and solution are the same.)

1stDrinkThis graphic shows the cycle of addiction from the top of the circle with the 1st Drink, followed by a physical craving, a spree, consequences, remorsefulness, Restless Irritable Discontentment, Delusion. Then the cycle starts at the first drink again.

Obviously, if we never took a drink, we’d never experience or be in the problems we are currently in. However, taking that first drink has far-reaching effects for the alcoholic.

Physical Craving

For the alcoholic, when we drink, we literally get a physical craving for more alcohol. The Big Book calls it the “manifestation of an allergy.”

Think of someone who is allergic to a bee. If that person were stung, the person might swell, break out in hives or even have such a severe reaction that they die.

The person who is allergic to the bee can do nothing to prevent this reaction. It would be insane for a person to walk up to a beehive, hit it with their fists and get stung and say, “This time it will be different. I am going to use my will power so I won’t have a physical reaction to these bees.”

But this is what an alcoholic does. An alcoholic who starts drinking will eventually have the onset of a physical craving. It’s a physical reaction to putting alcohol in the body. And instead of breaking out on hives, the body will literally crave more alcohol, and no amount of will power will stop this craving.


Once you have this physical reaction, you are off to the races. Your spree can last anywhere from three days to an indefinite amount of time.

It’s hard to convince an alcoholic that they need help when they are in this stage. The alcoholic is doing everything they can to keep drinking. They don’t listen to logic. They don’t listen to emotion. Nothing works.


Sooner or later, the shenanigans are going to come crashing down. Some of the consequences that alcoholics go through are an arrest, divorce, family problems, homelessness, unemployment… and the list goes on and on.

However, this is NOT what determines if you are alcoholic. There are a lot of people who have been arrested for DWI that are not alcoholics. More on that in a little bit.


Whenever these consequences happen, big or small, the alcoholic emergences remorseful with a strong resolution to never drink again.

And they mean it. Some would bet money that this time it’s going to be different. Often, the family believes them. After all, why would the alcoholic want to keep going back to alcohol when it has caused so much pain and suffering to their family and themselves?

This would be the time to talk to a loved one about getting help. Sadly, this stage usually lasts about a week to a month.

Restless Irritable Discontent

Soon, the alcoholic is getting restless, irritable and discontented, “unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks.”

Drinking is the only way the alcoholic knows how to handle his or her problems. Its how they have been dealing with their problems for a long time. They handle them by ignoring them and drinking.


Soon the alcoholic is at a point where drinking sounds better than dealing with life on life’s terms. They suffer from the delusion that “it will be different this time.” That they can control their drinking like a normal person.

“The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.”

You’d think the consequences of life would stop the alcoholic, or the emotional appeal of staying with your child or keeping your job would be enough to stop.

But it’s not. Alcoholics Anonymous states that the true problem centers in our mind. We have a mental obsession.

The Big Book states: “The almost certain consequences that follow taking even a glass of beer do not crowd into the mind to deter us. If these thoughts occur, they are hazy and readily supplanted with the old threadbare idea that this time we shall handle ourselves like other people. There is a complete failure of the kind of defense that keeps one from putting his hand on a hot stove.”

Then, the alcoholic has that first drink, setting the horrible cycle in motion once again.

But don’t worry, there is a solution. If you’re looking for it, you can find it here.

About Timothy O’Farrell Recovery

Timothy O’Farrell Recovery is a community of families affected by alcohol and drugs, and we fight for families and individuals who are struggling with addiction and cannot afford to pay for treatment.

Only $800 can help a family member recover for a month. We only give scholarships to sober-living facilities that have a history of success. All money goes to helping family members get a strong foundation in recovery and counseling.

Executive Director Vincent Webb
Phone: 972-804-2812