This cycle is no fun to ride and, unlike a unicycle or even a bicycle, it’s hard to get off.

Every addiction has a predictable cycle.  It starts with flawed but deeply held beliefs (“I am not worthy of real love,” “I can’t get my needs met in legitimate ways,” “Resistance is futile, just give in,” etc.) [That piece is missing from the accompanying diagram, but it underlies the whole addiction cycle as we will discuss below.) Next, along comes a “Trigger” of some kind.  Someone says something, or you see something, or you are Tired, Angry or Anxious, Bored, Lonely, or Entitled, and the TABLE is set.  (Some use the acronym HALT–Hungry, Angry/Anxious, Lonely, Tired but I prefer TABLE.)

Then, in response to the Trigger, a Fantasy develops that, if nurtured or allowed to linger, turns into an Obsession (in the diagram, labeled Craving). If nothing is done to break the cycle at this point, the addict enters his or her Ritual–a set of behaviors that follow a predictable, almost inevitable, pattern.  Every addict has a ritual in which he or she sets certain behaviors into motion–making sure the coast is clear, getting their alibi straight, moving toward the object of their addiction, etc.  At this point, the anticipation becomes overwhelming.  (More on this in our next blog.)  The hormones are already pumping and acting out becomes virtually inevitable.  Then, sometimes even to the addict’s own disgust, the addict Acts Out or “Uses.”

This brief moment of superficial “pleasure” is followed immediately by an overwhelming sense of Guilt and Shame.  The addict tears up and tears into him or herself. “How could I have done this thing AGAIN!?” “I am an awful person.” “I am hopeless.”  These self-condemning thoughts, of course, feed into the flawed narrative we spoke of earlier and the addict sinks even more deeply into self-defeating beliefs.

Is there a way out?  Yes, of course there is. But the way out is early in that cycle.  Once the addict gets to the Ritual stage, the game is over. We will discuss the way out in future blogs.  But, in the meantime, of you or someone you know struggles with addiction, take a step back and become mindful of the stages. Look at them without judging, as a disinterested observer.  Try to see how one step leads to another.

Awareness and Mindfulness are addiction killers.