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The Downward Spiral of Addiction

Addiction as a Downward Spiral

Addiction is often described as a downward spiral. What this means is that over any significant period of time the life of the individual will deteriorate. In the beginning, the individual may find that the benefits of using alcohol or drugs outweigh the disadvantages but over time, this situation reverses. The longer the person remains addicted the more they will end up losing, and if they are unable to end the behaviour, it will eventually kill them.

How People Become Trapped in the Downward Spiral of Addiction

If people understood at the beginning where their behaviour was leading, it is doubtful that anyone would ever become addicted to alcohol or drugs. When the person first begins using mind-altering chemicals, it can feel like a magical time. The individual may find that these substances provide feelings of confidence and temporary happiness. By using alcohol and drugs, the individual is able to escape their normal everyday problems. The fact that the person seems to be benefiting from these mind-altering chemicals means that they keep on taking them. Over time though, they develop a tolerance and they need to take more to get the same effect. As the person’s intake increases, so does the problems associated with the behaviour, but rather than discouraging the substance abuse, the person uses these problems as an excuse to drink or use drugs more. Things continue to deteriorate until the person is able to stop.

Symptoms of the Downward Spiral of Addiction

The symptoms of the downward spiral of addiction can include:

  • The individual needs to drink more or use more drugs in order to get the same effect, as they would have previously obtained from a lower dose. This is known as developing tolerance, and it is one of the signs of physical addiction.
  • The person becomes less able to take care of their work, family, and social commitments due to intoxication and the after effects of this.
  • The individual begins to perform badly in work, and their career may even be in jeopardy.
  • The person develops increasing financial problems due to their drug use. If they lose their job then this will only exacerbate the financial situation. It is at this stage that the person may turn to desperate means to get their hands on money in order to keep feeding their habit.
  • Alcohol and drugs have a toxic effect on the body, and this means that it causes damage to the body and brain. As the person uses more and more of these substances, the damage inflicted will increase. The individual will be at risk of serious conditions such as alcoholic liver disease and wet brain (alcoholic dementia). If the person is not able to stop the addiction process in time it will eventually kill them.
  • The individual will have increasing problems with their loved ones. They may be physically or verbally abusive and this makes life impossible for those around them. The family usually suffer a great deal because of the addiction and children tend to be damaged the most. Eventually these relationships can break down completely and the person becomes estranged from their loved ones. Things can deteriorate so badly that even if the person later escapes addiction they will not be able to salvage some of these relationships.
  • One of the most troubling aspects of the downward spiral is that the person’s mental health deteriorates. They feel out of control and their self-esteem will keep sinking lower and lower. The person is also highly likely to develop low self-efficacy in regards to ending the addiction – this means that they no longer believe that it is possible for them to break away from the behaviour. Once the person becomes hopeless, it means that their suffering really starts to bite hard.
  • The individual will usually lose interest in their physical appearance and grooming. This further alienates them from those who are around them.

Denial of the Downward Spiral

It is common for people who are caught in the downward spiral of addiction to deny the situation. They may claim that they have good days as well as bad days, but this is a misunderstanding of what the downward spiral is about. It can be a fairly subtle phenomena and the individual will have ups as well as downs, but if they honestly appraise their situation they will see that over any significant period of time the bad days will be increasing and the good days decreasing. Just because the individual manages to go dry for a few weeks or months does not mean that they have avoided the downward spiral – nor does the fact that they can sometimes seem to have some control over their substance abuse.

High Functioning Substance Abusers

High functioning substance abusers are those individuals who outwardly appear to be doing well in life. They may have good jobs, wear nice clothes, have a healthy bank account, have a loving family, and be highly respected in the community, but this individual has a dark secret. They are able to hide it from the public, but their drinking or drug use is out of control. It can be easy for these people to believe that they will escape the downward spiral of addiction. So long as they continue to put on a good show for the public, they may believe that they are safe. The problem is that with this individual the deterioration will be mostly happening internally. Over time the individual will have to work harder and harder to maintain their show of normality, and this will eat them up inside. Eventually the person will reach a stage where they can no longer hide the truth and their deterioration can occur fast now. To outsiders it will appear as if the person’s life has just suddenly fallen apart, but the truth is that this is something that has been going on for years but the person was able to hide it.

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