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Addiction is a chronic disease. It can cause illnesses and even death. If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction, the professionals at NYC Addiction Resources can help.

Addiction is commonly defined as the inability to stop engaging in a behavior or using a substance despite it potentially causing psychological and physical harm. While for most people, the initial decision to en

Understanding What Addiction Means

A common substance use disorder definition is a mental health disorder characterized by affecting a person’s brain and behavior, which can lead to their inability to control the use of substances despite any potential negative consequences.

Symptoms of a substance use disorder can range from mild to severe. The most common symptoms of addiction are heavy drug use, behavior changes, changes in health, and engaging in compulsive consumption and behavior.

What is the Cycle of Addiction?

 You can break down the cycle of addiction into different stages that feed and build upon the next. Often, the addiction cycle springs from past or present trauma and pain. As a result of this cycle, the addict’s personal life, safety, jobs, and relationships may begin to suffer and deteriorate.

This cycle begins with a triggering event. Triggering events can invoke emotions or pains that are often associated with or the result of trauma. These feelings cause a desire to suppress those pains and emotions, leading to cravings for their substance of choice.

As these cravings increase and build upon each other, many addicts eventually return to or establish new ritual behaviors, which can be activities, thoughts, or ideas they engage in as part of their addiction. This may be a sex addict seeking out porn and fantasizing about behaviors or an alcoholic stockpiling liquor before giving into a binge. These behaviors are viewed as preparation for engaging in a behavior, and the longer an addict is engaged in these behaviors, the harder it becomes for them to break the cycle. 

After engaging in the behavior and further reinforcing the cycle, many addicts will begin to feel immediate guilt, which is often the result of giving into the compulsion and use. These feelings of guilt begin to impact the addict, pushing them further into the cycle, which usually leads to engaging in the behavior repeatedly. 

Addiction Myths 

Many common myths, misunderstandings, and other misconceptions exist about addiction. Unfortunately, these myths can hurt those currently struggling with addiction and those around them. These can range from flagrantly false folk-based beliefs about addiction to previous clinical understandings and definitions that may be outdated. 

A common myth about addiction is that it is simply a choice and that if someone becomes addicted to something, it is their fault. Addiction can result from many factors, including a person’s genetics, upbringing, and any potential trauma or other influences they may face. Simply put, most people living with addiction face many consequences due to their usage and would readily choose another path in life if they could.

Another common myth and misconception about addiction is that substance use and drug abuse are simply a matter of willpower and that if people didn’t want to be addicted, they could easily just stop. 

This belief exposes a fundamental ignorance about addiction and a lack of understanding about how substance use and drug abuse can impact and change a person’s brain over time, fundamentally shifting their internal reward systems. As addiction takes root, these changes impact a person’s self-control and decision-making ability, leading to increased compulsion.

Statistics on Drug Addiction

The disease of addiction is an ongoing serious issue facing the country today. The U.S. is currently facing an opioid epidemic, and excessive use of alcohol continues to be one of the leading preventable causes of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Opioids were responsible for 68,630 overdose deaths in 2020, or 74.8% of all drug overdose deaths, significantly up from 21,088 overdose deaths in 2010. According to information from the CDC, more than 140,000 die in the United States each year from excessive alcohol consumption and its side effects.

In 2020, 21.4% of US Residents polled, or about 59.3 million people aged 12 and older, claimed to have used illegal drugs in the past year. The highest reported usage was among young adults aged 18 to 25.

Furthermore, in 2020, 40.3 million people aged 12 or older had dealt with a substance abuse disorder in the last year, with the highest reported occurrence among young adults aged 18 to 25. Specifically, 28.3 million people had an alcohol use disorder, 18.4 million had an illegal drug use disorder, and 6.5 million had both an alcohol use disorder and an illegal drug use disorder.

What are the Stages of Addiction?

The cycle of addiction can be broken down into several distinct stages that feed and build upon each other.

Initial Usage

People may take a drug, consume a substance, or engage in a behavior for various reasons, including a family history of addiction, peer pressure, and even being prescribed legal medication or engaging in social rituals like drinking for a 21st birthday or other events. Regardless of the reason the initial usage occurs, it can be the first step in the cycle of addiction.


The next stage in the cycle of addiction is substance use and abuse. This is where the person begins consuming the substance or engaging in the behavior on an improper, recurring basis. For example, perhaps a person begins binge drinking regularly, or someone prescribed a painkiller takes higher doses or dosages more often than prescribed. Often, whether or not the substance is being abused depends on the specific substance and its effect on the particular person.


When someone abuses drugs for long periods, it can eventually change that person’s brain chemistry and result in tolerance. Tolerance happens when the original dosage of the substance no longer produces the same effects. Because of this, the person may increase their dosage or frequency of usage to achieve similar results.


Over a long period of addiction, heavy drug use can eventually result in the body or brain becoming dependent on the substance to function normally. For example, someone addicted to opioids or methamphetamine may feel that it’s impossible to feel any pleasure without taking the drug, a condition known as anhedonia. 


Addiction is a chronic health disorder resulting in clearly defined symptoms and behaviors. Physicians can use these criteria to assist in a diagnosis. There are 11 primary symptoms and signs of addiction as outlined in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5), which include:

  • Using more of a substance than initially intended or planned
  • Being unable to reduce or stop using a substance
  • Having personal and professional problems as a result of the substance use
  • Spending significant amounts of time seeking out the substance, using the substance, and recovering from its usage
  • Reduced participation in once-enjoyed events and activities
  • Failing to keep up with and maintain essential daily responsibilities
  • Increased cravings for the substance
  • Continuing to use despite potential negative consequences and health effects
  • Regular usage in dangerous scenarios like driving or while using machinery
  • Developing a tolerance to the substance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

Experiencing 2-3 symptoms is typical of a mild substance use disorder. 4-5 leads to the diagnosis of a moderate disorder. Six or more symptoms are indicative of a severe substance use disorder.


An unfortunate hallmark of any chronic condition, whether addiction or asthma, is the potential for relapse. With other chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes, relapse is expected. Physicians do their best to manage the condition and prevent them. With addiction, this is no different.

Relapse rates for addiction are similar for diabetes and asthma, with relapses resulting in about ~50% of cases. Maybe a person is trying to manage their condition without help, or the initial treatment wasn’t right. Regardless of the reason, relapse sometimes remains an important stage in the cycle of addiction.

How to Know When it’s Time for Help

There are many common signs to watch out for. Whether for yourself or a loved one, you must know when it’s time for help with addiction. A common sign that it’s time to get help is that the addiction is causing them harm. They are also most likely harming those around them.

  • Some other signs are the person is unable to quit using on their own.
  • The addiction results in severe consequences.
  • The person’s life revolves around their addiction.

As with other diseases, physicians can effectively treat addiction through medications and professional treatment programs. An increasing number and different types of treatment facilities are adopting medically assisted treatment (MAT) programs. For those struggling with opioid, opiate, or alcohol abuse, there are effective medications that can help them overcome their addictions.

In addition to MAT programs, there are various other treatment options.  These options include counseling, groups, and other therapeutic options. All programs help addicts develop coping strategies and skills to help them best manage their condition.