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“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”

– Henry Ford

Addiction and Recovery

An addiction is a chronic disorder in which an individual is blinded by a substance, or engages in an activity, that gives them an immense amount of pleasure but has become detrimental to their everyday life. Compulsive behaviors and addictions can temporarily provide confidence, control, validation or other emotions lacking in one’s life, but the behavior may not stop until the root of the problem is addressed.

Addiction changes the brain through the limbic system, also known as the “brain reward system.” This part of the brain is responsible for producing feelings of pleasure and will manifest thoughts such as, “I deserve this,” or “Let’s do that again.” The abuse of addictive substances and behaviors triggers this system which can prolong a continuous cycle of destructive behavior.

Common addictions include but are not limited to:

  • Drug or alcohol abuse

  • Gambling

  • Internet

  • Shopping

  • Food

Seek Professional Help

People who have developed an addiction may be unaware that it is out of control, which is why counseling is an essential part of working through and managing this condition. An addiction of any sort can be exhausting and one should never go through the recovery process alone.

Many treatment plans focus on talk therapy and behavior therapy and can be performed in a group or through one-on-one sessions. During these sessions, patients analyze the reasons behind their addiction(s), what triggers are and what helped them control impulses in the past. Patients also learn coping skills so they can manage the compulsions without relapsing.

Stages of Addiction
Initial Use
Use that can have positive health, social, or spiritual effects.
Repetitive and inappropriate use of a substance.
The use or dosage no longer produces the same effect.
The body or brain relies on a substance for normal functioning.
A mental health disorder that is defined by compulsive, dangerous use. 

Stage 1: Initial Use

The reasons behind an individual's decision to try a substance and eventually struggle with addiction can vary greatly. It could be as innocent as receiving a prescription to manage pain or address a mental health concern, as socially acceptable as having a first drink at the legal age of 21, or as coercive as being influenced by friends or family to experiment with illicit drugs. Regardless of how it begins, that initial use marks the first step towards addiction. The likelihood of that initial use leading to addiction often depends on individual circumstances. Mayo Clinic outlines several risk factors that can increase a person's vulnerability to developing addiction, including:

  • Family history of substance abuse or other mental health disorders

  • Abuse or neglect

  • Chaotic living environment

  • Peer group or family that is permissive about substance abuse

  • Depression, social issues, or loneliness

However, it is important to note that these risk factors alone do not guarantee that a high-risk individual will develop a substance use disorder such as addiction. There are other factors that also play a role, including the different stages of addiction.

Stage 2: Abuse

The next phase in the addiction cycle is substance abuse, which involves repetitive and inappropriate use of a substance. Substance abuse is defined as using a substance in a way that causes harm. Examples include taking higher doses of prescribed painkillers or engaging in binge drinking. Whether a substance is being abused depends on the specific substance and its effects on the body. Determining abuse can be more challenging with legal substances or prescription medications. In these cases, abuse is often characterized by using the substance solely for the euphoric response it produces. Substance abuse may also begin if a person self-medicates without consulting a doctor.

Stage 3: Tolerance

The brain undergoes changes when a person consistently uses a prescription drug or misuses other substances for an extended period. These changes can result in tolerance, which is when the original dosage or use of the substance no longer produces the same physical or mental effect. Consequently, individuals may increase the dosage or frequency of substance use in an attempt to regain the initial desired outcome. Initially, this may seem effective, but eventually, tolerance develops towards the higher dosage, leading to a progression into severe substance abuse.

Tolerance serves as an indication that the brain has adapted to the presence of the drug. In the case of methamphetamine or other stimulants, this adaptation may involve the loss of specific brain chemical receptors or a reduction in the production of brain chemicals. Gradually, the individual's brain adjusts and alters its response to the drug. This process ultimately paves the way for the next phase in the cycle of addiction: dependence.

Stage 4: Dependence

It is crucial to differentiate between drug dependence and addiction, as they are not synonymous. The National Institute on Drug Abuse emphasizes that dependence occurs when the body or brain relies on a substance for normal functioning. To illustrate, individuals suffering from chronic asthma may depend on a daily medication to ensure proper breathing, but this reliance does not indicate addiction. In such cases, the medication is indispensable for rectifying an underlying dysfunction, and the drug itself is not the root cause of the issue. However, if an individual begins using a drug to alleviate a different condition and subsequently develops a dependence on it to experience pleasure or well-being beyond that initial purpose, it may signify a form of dependence that can potentially progress into addiction.

Stage 5: Addiction

Addiction is a complex mental health condition that has distinct symptoms and behaviors which are used to diagnose the disorder. As outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are 11 signs and symptoms that indicate substance use disorders, such as addiction:

  1. Using more of the substance than originally intended

  2. Being unable to quit or control substance use

  3. Experiencing difficulties in relationships due to substance use

  4. Spending excessive time seeking or using the substance

  5. Neglecting favorite activities in favor of substance use

  6. Failing to fulfill daily responsibilities because of substance use

  7. Having intense cravings for the substance

  8. Continuing to use the substance despite negative health consequences

  9. Engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence (e.g., driving)

  10. Developing tolerance to the substance

  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop using

Typically, experiencing 2-3 of these symptoms indicates a mild substance use disorder, while 4-5 symptoms suggest a moderate disorder. If an individual is experiencing 6 or more symptoms, it is considered a severe substance use disorder or addiction.

Stage 6: Relapse

It's important to understand that addiction is a chronic condition, which means that relapse, or the resumption of drug use after attempting to quit, can be a normal part of the recovery journey for some individuals. However, there are newer treatments available that aim to assist in preventing relapse. It's worth noting that the rates of relapse for drug use are comparable to those of other chronic medical conditions. If individuals deviate from their prescribed medical treatment plan, the likelihood of relapse increases.

Stages of Recovery

A person may move between stages at any time.

Contemplating beginning recovery, but not ready to enter a program yet.
The person is ready for change in the future, but not necessarily at this time.
A sense of urgency to get better and an internal desire for sobriety.
This person is actively making positive changes to sustain recovery.
Staying sober and utilizing relapse prevention techniques consistently.

Recovery Is A Journey That Will Always Require Nurturing

It is important to remember that recovery is a continuous journey that requires constant attention and care. While it may be disheartening to see a loved one struggling and not making significant progress, it is crucial to hold onto hope and believe that they can still find the help they need. There are countless stories of individuals who have overcome substance abuse and achieved a life of sobriety and tranquility, even when it seemed impossible. These stories serve as a source of inspiration and optimism for those who are concerned about their loved one's battle with addiction. Although the path to recovery may be longer than anticipated, it is essential to never give up. The final stage of the recovery process is maintenance, which involves daily efforts to sustain one's recovery. This ongoing commitment is vital for long-term success and should never be overlooked or underestimated.

Understanding the Path of Overcoming Addiction

The path to recovery is a personal one, but by examining the experiences of those who have successfully recovered, we can identify common patterns. These shared threads provide valuable insights into what it takes to achieve and maintain recovery. By conducting research and connecting with others in the recovery community, we can learn from their wisdom and use it as a guide for our own journey towards sobriety. Remember, we don't have to navigate this alone, as support is readily accessible.

What It takes To Overcome Addiction

Overcoming addiction is a tough journey, but it's worth it for those who put in the effort. Success comes from honestly acknowledging the problem and approaching it with determination, even in tough times. It takes strength to keep going when things seem hopeless. Despite setbacks, recovery is still possible with persistence. Showing up each day with renewed determination is key to creating lasting change. Keep fighting until victory is achieved through treatment and sobriety.

Acknowledging There Is A Problem

Recognizing the powerlessness that comes with substance abuse is absolutely crucial for individuals who are struggling with addiction. It's important to understand that simply being willing to confront the impact of drug use may not be enough on its own. The first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous play a vital role in achieving long-term sobriety. These steps encourage addicts to admit their powerlessness, acknowledge the unmanageability of their lives, and seek support from both AA members and a higher power as they embark on their journey towards sobriety.

Conquering addiction is undoubtedly a challenging journey, but it is also an incredibly important one. The first step involves acknowledging the problem and allowing oneself to be vulnerable. It takes great courage to face addiction head-on and commit to making a change. It's important to remember that progress may be slow, but every small step forward matters. Building a strong support system and implementing a self-care routine are crucial in maintaining sobriety and resilience. These practices provide stability and help to keep one focused on their recovery. By consistently putting in effort and staying determined, the rewards will eventually come. Stay motivated and always give your best. Your dedication will undoubtedly make a significant difference in your journey towards recovery. We also acknowledge that 12 step groups are not the only method to achieve sobriety, and there are many other types of 12-step groups in Southern California that we support. 

Don't Give Up

Don't lose hope when faced with addiction. Remember, there is always a chance for a better life, even after years of substance abuse. Seeking help is the first step towards recovery, and there are numerous professionals and support groups available to assist you. Although there may be difficult moments and setbacks along the way, stay focused on your ultimate goal of sobriety. Believe in yourself and your ability to overcome any challenge. You have the strength to make lasting changes in your life.


It's really important to have a strong support system during the maintenance phase of recovery. Prioritizing sober activities can be challenging, but having people who understand and encourage you can make a big difference. Keep focusing on personal growth and building a fulfilling life, whether that means therapy, support groups, school, hobbies, spiritual practices, improving relationships, or making new sober friends. You're not alone in this journey.

Find A Meeting Near You

Attending meetings can be crucial for the support they offer, especially when combined with counseling. To learn more about Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous in San Diego County, kindly refer to the links provided below.

Support For Friends and Families of Addicts

We acknowledge the hardships you endure when your loved ones are caught in the grip of addiction. To learn more about support groups for friends and families of addicts, please refer to the links below.

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You Are Worth It. 

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