A model of the Addiction Process


I’ve taught the diagram above in several different contexts. It illustrates the process of either developing or full-blown Addiction. The six steps are consistent with what I consider as the foundational “Three C’s of Addiction”: Control, Consequence, and Compulsion.

The process begins with a trigger. A trigger can be anything from a fight with a spouse to the beginning stage of withdrawal. Triggers are as specific to a person as is a fingerprint and can only be described by the person caught within the Addiction process.

Once triggered, the second step occurs: Anxiety. According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is characterized by, “recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns…and physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat” (APA Website). Really within the Addiction process, once anxiety sets in, it lets loose a chain in motion that’s only resolved through either the ingestive or process behavior at this source of the Addiction.

The compulsive behavior can be anything from using a substance to gambling, to a combination of compulsive behaviors. If the behavior involved food, substances, or alcohol, it is considered “ingestive” because a person ingests the item. Gambling, sex, and/or shopping are examples of compulsive behaviors that are process-oriented. Compulsion is an uncontrollable impulse to perform an act, often repetitively, as an unconscious mechanism. Therefore, a compulsive behavior is one done without conscious regard that relieves the anxiety. Once the target of the behavior is exhausted, i.e., there’s no more substances or money, the behavior ends.

Here’s the kicker: there’s adverse impact that occurs after the compulsive behavior that then triggers conscious shame that then acts as a trigger, which then starts the process all over again. This process goes on and on until it’s either disrupted or the person caught within the process becomes numb to everything except the target of the Addiction.

The Addiction process incorporates the Three C’s, as once the anxiety sets in, the person loses control, behaves compulsively without awareness or regard to consequences. It’s only when the compulsive behavior ends that the person returns to his or her conscious mind.

I hope the diagram and my brief explanation does help in understanding what is a frustrating and insidious disease.