A Practical Guide to The Addiction Cycle

Inspired by Dom C and the Doctor’s Opinion in the Big Book

They say that there are two types of knowledge.

First, there is Head Knowledge, where we intellectually understand the concept of something. There is a knowing of it. Second there is Heart Knowledge where that mental concept drops into our heart and here there is a faith, a trust that allows the learning to drop more deeply into our being. This is where the Ah-ha! moments are.

When a dear friend and counsellor took me through the following exercise I experienced the concept of the addiction cycle dropping from my head into my heart. It became something I could more viscerally see, feel and understand. It was one of those Ah-ha! moments.

And I would now like to share that with you.

So, go get a piece of paper and a pen. Go on. I’ll wait here for you

  1. Got them? Great.

Let’s start with some definitions.

What is addiction? For the purpose of what we are doing today we are going to use my favourite definition which is: “... any behaviour we continue to do despite knowing that it brings negative consequences to our lives.” This could be drinking, drugging, shopping, gaming, watching porn, overeating, working too much……take your pick of whatever behaviour you can think of.

So, from here we can define what our Drug of Choice (DOC) is…. alcohol, food, sex, spending, work, porn, pot, cocaine……. again, take your pick.

Now let’s look at the definition of disease. The simplest definition of disease is something in the body that causes the systems to malfunction. No matter which behavior we are examining, from drinking to compulsive overeating, workaholism to gaming, these are all due to system malfunctions. Left unchecked like any other disease in the body there will be critical consequences.

Next is the ‘Allergy’ concept. And for the sake of simplicity let’s just say that an allergy in this context is an abnormal reaction to a particular DOC.

Then we have ‘Obsession’, and this is all about the thinking. It’s in the head. It’s an idea that overpowers all other ideas. A persistent preoccupation with an often unreasonable or irrational idea.

And finally, we have ‘Compulsion’, which is an irresistible impulse to perform a behavior. This is a physiological response. Once the DOC, that substance to which there is an allergy, is taken into the body, the mind is no longer in control. We are unable to resist. The key word with compulsion is irresistible.

Now the fun can start! Take your pen and draw a circle on your piece of paper, like a large clock. Put four marks around the circle at twelve o’clock, three o’clock, six o’clock and nine o’clock. And now divide those points in half again. At the top, at the twelve o’clock mark write the word FEELINGS. This is the starting point for the cycle of addiction.

These feelings can be positive or negative. When we look in the Big Book (the nickname for the 12-Step basic textbook called ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’) at the chapter called ‘The Doctor’s Opinion’, we see RESTLESS, IRRITABLE and DISCONTENT. Remembering here what it says on page 23 and page 64 of the Big Book, that using our DOC is the symptom of a greater, deeper problem – that it’s not the problem.

At the next mark, at about one thirty on the clock, write the word MEMORY. Something either conscious or unconscious, way deep in the brain, also known as the disease, speaks. It sends a message of some memory of feeling better, some memory of an altered mood from using, or ‘picking up’ your DOC. This can be instantaneous, it can happen in a microsecond, but it happens if we have this disease, and it sends the memory message to us.

Go on down to the next point on the clock. The three o’clock point and write the word OBSESSION. Now the obsession begins and that obsession is an idea that overpowers all other ideas. This is where The Big Lie is. Write those words there too. We tell ourselves things like “It’ll be OK this time. I’ll just have one this time”.

What happens with the obsession is that it crowds out the memory of all of the pain that we’ve suffered from this problem, as well as crowding out all of the resolutions that we might have made. This obsession crowds out all the promises we might have made to ourselves or to others. And so, The Big Lie begins. There is an argument in our head – “to do, or not to do”. And often “to do” wins, which takes us to the next point on the clock, the four thirty point. Write in here ‘The First ………… (swig, toke, bite, click or whatever fits for your particular DOC). At this point we have given in with some kind of rationalization of “Just one”. This is COMPULSION.

Come to the six o’clock point on the clock and write CRAVING for MORE BEGINS. We are at the place of physiological response; the body is responding and it’s doing so by wanting more. It can be more right now or it can be more a little bit later, but quite often for many of us it’s more right NOW!

Let’s keep going to the next point at the seven-thirty mark and write the word BINGE. So here we are in it! We are using and we are out of control. Write that down next to BINGE, write OUT OF CONTROL BEHAVIOUR. And remember this could be with food, it could be with alcohol or any other substance or action. Remember here our definition of addiction is “Any behaviour which we continue to do despite it bringing negative consequences to our lives”.

Keep going around the clock to the nine o’clock point and write the word REMORSE. Remorse, regret, guilt. Put them all up there. This is what we are feeling. Eventually we do stop and this is what we feel.

Go up to the ten thirty point and write RESOLUTIONS. Resolutions and PROMISES. It usually goes something like this, “How could I have done that? I will never do that again!”. Here we are promising ourselves that we will no longer do it. And we may well not do it for a while. At least until we get back up to the top part of the circle again where the feelings come back. Restless, irritable and discontent.

We have a dis-ease and if we haven’t done anything to arrest the process of it, we will always come back up to this point again. It may not be immediately, it may not even be for a month or a year, but we will always come back to the start of this cycle. We are going to keep going around and around and around this cycle, with this clock like a dead weight round our necks, getting us deeper and deeper into the pits of the dis-ease. And it all starts with the anger, the fear, the loneliness, masquerading as the hunger and obsession for our DOC.

Until we can break this cycle or some power greater than us can break this cycle, we are not getting out of it. So, we are back to that first step……. we have a disease over which willpower is useless. No amount of willpower can get us out of this dis-ease. We make all the promises and resolutions up there at the ten thirty point but cannot keep them. When those feelings come, we are in it again…….and again.

So, as with any process of change, this is the First Step – admitting I have this, I have a problem AND I have an awareness that I cannot solve it by myself.

Written by Kirstin G

Kirstin is a Wellness Consultant for Miracles Asia and a Program Facilitator for Miracles at Home. She is also an R20 Recovery Coach, Yoga and Meditation Teacher.


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