How to End the See-Saw Cycle of Abuse

How to End the See-Saw Cycle of Abuse


If you veer between bouts of total abstinence and bingeing, you may not recognize the cyclical pattern of substance abuse. But that’s exactly what it is – a vicious cycle that, if not treated effectively, will continue for perhaps the rest of your life. There is hope, however, and a way to get out of this never-ending trap. Here are some suggestions on how to end the see-saw cycle of abuse.


Recognize the Pattern

The first step in overcoming the cycle of abuse is to recognize the pattern. That’s easier said than done for many people. When you’re deep into substance abuse, whether it is alcohol or drugs or both, it’s nearly impossible to see anything beyond your desire and need for the next high. Continuing the pursuit of drug- and alcohol-seeking consumes your days and nights, and renders any logical assessment of your situation all the more difficult.

It may be that family members bring your excesses to your attention. Once or twice getting hung over doesn’t qualify as substance abuse. But going out drinking and partying to all hours night after night for weeks on end, stretching into months and years – that definitely indicates a pattern of abuse of substances that is close to, if not already, addiction.

Your first instinct is to deny that there’s a problem. But deep down inside, if you’re really honest with yourself and not trying to rationalize and excuse your actions, you know that what you’ve been doing constitutes some fairly maladaptive behavior. That’s counselor-speak for a continuous search for and use of substances despite mounting serious negative consequences.

So, assuming you’re able to recognize the pattern of behavior you’ve developed over time, what’s next on the list of how to end the see-saw cycle of abuse?

Make the Decision to Change


Of course, anyone can recognize a pattern. Even though it’s a big step, an even bigger one is being willing to make the decision to change. For many who abuse substances, giving up drinking and drugs – no matter how many DUIs they get or how many times they’re arrested for fighting, even landing in jail for crimes committed in pursuit of drugs and alcohol – is out of the question. They simply aren’t ready to give up what they value the most.

Some individuals have to actually hit the wall, find themselves cast off from society, lose home and family and job and all self-respect before they can even begin to entertain the idea of wanting to change.

Others don’t have to fall so far to recognize that they want something better in their lives and for their families. Still, making the decision to change never comes easy to those who abuse substances. It isn’t that they lack willpower, or that they’re weak or indecisive. Chronic substance abuse actually rewires the brain to the point where stopping drinking or drug use isn’t possible without outside intervention and professional help.

But let’s say that you somehow arrive at the conclusion that your life has spiraled out of control, you’ve seen the pattern of abuse and recognize it for what it is, and you definitely want to do something to change your behavior. You make the decision that you want to be clean and sober. Now, what do you do?

Talk With Your Family

This is a huge step, making the decision to change, and it’s one that you should talk over with members of your family, particularly your spouse or partner. Substance abuse affects far more than just the individual who’s abusing alcohol and/or drugs. It affects every member of the nuclear family and extends outward to close friends and co-workers.

When you confide to your spouse that you want to change your behavior, to cut out drinking and/or drugs, the first reaction that you receive may be one of relief. That’s because your actions haven’t gone unnoticed. There’s nothing that you can do that can hide your substance abuse problem from those who know you best and love you the most. Of course, there are exceptions to this, just as there are with almost everything. Some individuals who are high-functioning alcoholics are able to pull off hiding their drinking from members of the family. But in most cases, when you’ve been hitting the bottle or doing drugs for many months and years, your family members – especially your spouse or partner – know it.

Another reaction to be prepared for is one of disbelief or anger. If you’ve stated that you want to change, to overcome your dependence on or addiction to alcohol or drugs, this means that there’ll be some financial and personal considerations affecting the family. How do you change? What will it take in terms of time away from home and what’s it all going to cost? Some spouses and partners are concerned about appearances, worried about their reputation in the community.

All these are surmountable reactions. The point is, you need the support and encouragement of your family members before, during and following treatment to overcome substance abuse. In other words, you need them on your side. More than that, your recovery is strengthened by strong family support.

You may need to have this conversation more than once with family members. That’s fine. Don’t obsess over it, or give up because it seems too difficult. Think of it this way. If your future is worth anything to you, then the time spent working out the process to get help for your substance abuse problem now is more than justified.

After all, ending the see-saw cycle of abuse is the whole idea, isn’t it?

Line Up Resources

Chances are that you don’t have everything all figured out at this point. You know that you can’t just quit drinking and/or doing drugs on your own. You’ve probably tried to cut down or cut out your substance abuse in the past and didn’t get too far. Oh, you might have stayed sober or clean for a week or two, maybe even a month, but in no time at all you were right back at it. That’s the compelling draw that these substances have on you.

So, bottom line, you know you’ll need professional help if you’re going to have any chance to beat this cycle of abuse. That means it will cost something. Whether you’re able to qualify for rehab under your insurance coverage with your employer, or have funds available to pay for it privately, or can qualify for federal, state or local programs, it will cost money. You need to do some research and see what you already have that can help pay for at least part of the cost of treatment and find out where to get additional funds to pick up the rest. Failing that, look into financing programs for rehab, getting a personal loan, even putting the tab on a credit card. You might also ask to borrow money from family members – but be sure you sign a promissory note so that your loan will be repaid.

Why bother trying to figure out where the money’s going to come from? The quick answer is that you need to know where you stand financially before you can move ahead with plans to get treatment for substance abuse.

At the very least, get the ball rolling. This doesn’t mean that if you run into a brick wall and have no funds available to pay for treatment that you’re out of luck. If you truly want to get treatment, you will be able to find treatment available. We’ll discuss more about that later.

Research Treatment Options

Let’s say you’ve determined that your insurance coverage will pick up some portion of the cost for treatment for substance abuse. You also have some savings that you and your spouse have agreed can go toward covering rehab. Maybe you’ve lined up a personal loan or you have a sizeable credit line available. Now, you need to look into the treatment options that will work best for you.

Do you feel that you would do better in a residential treatment facility? Maybe, with the type and duration of your substance abuse, you really need a long-term treatment program, one that is longer than 30 days. If this is your first time in rehab and your substance abuse has not been that long in duration, your using is not that frequent, you could be best served by a short-term (30-day) treatment program. This makes a difference because there are residential treatment facilities that handle short-term, long-term, continuing care and aftercare treatment – and the costs run anywhere from modest to very expensive.

Just as with other types of medical care, there are basic services and extra-cost services. You need to know what’s included in a treatment program for you and what you’ll need to pay extra for if you want the extra amenities or services.

It can be quite frustrating and confusing trying to figure out what’s available, what it costs, and what’s best for you. Start by doing your research on a site that has been created specifically for the purpose of helping individuals find treatment facilities for drug and alcohol abuse. The Treatment Facility Locator ( maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a searchable online database of more than 11,000 addiction treatment programs, including residential treatment centers, outpatient treatment programs, and hospital inpatient programs for drug abuse and alcoholism. The listings also include treatment programs for heroin, marijuana and cocaine addiction, as well as alcohol and drug addiction treatment programs for adults and adolescents. You can also call their toll-free treatment referral helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

Remember that we said we’d talk about what to do if you lack funds for treatment? Never let insufficient funds prevent you from seeking help to overcome the see-saw cycle of abuse. If you have no money and no insurance, use Treatment Facility Locator’s Detailed Search or List Search and check the boxes for “sliding fee scale” and “payment assistance.” Then contact the facilities directly to find out their policies.

Help may also be available from one or more State Substance Abuse Agencies (, so definitely check this out as well.

Commit to Sticking With Treatment

Once you’ve worked out the financial arrangements, talked with your employer to get the time off work or a medical leave, selected the treatment facility, made the initial inquiries and set up your interview and admissions, now it’s time to really commit to the whole treatment process.

You need to know that it will be tough at times. Before you can enter the active treatment phase, as it will be explained to you, you’ll need to go through detoxification. That means all the toxins from the substances will need to be removed from your body. Some residential treatment facilities have medically-supervised detoxification centers on-site, while others require that you undergo detox elsewhere before you can be admitted to the treatment program. You’ll discover all this in your research of treatment facilities and will have decided your approach before you are admitted.

After your initial interview and screening, during which a complete medical history and thorough discussion of your substance abuse – what you’ve taken, how long, what dose, how frequently – a personalized treatment plan will be developed for you. This plan will be closely monitored and adjusted during your entire treatment program according to your needs and progress.

Just because you go through detox, don’t think that you can quit treatment and be okay. Getting rid of the alcohol and drugs in your body is only the first step. If you don’t learn how to cope with the stresses and triggers and develop healthier ways to live that don’t include alcohol and drugs, you’ll be right back using again quicker than a screen door slamming shut on a windy day. A bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but it’s meant as emphasis.

The most important thing that you can do at this point to end the see-saw cycle of abuse is to commit to sticking with the treatment to the end. This will give you the best opportunity to begin the next, all-important phase – recovery.

Welcome to Recovery

Your real life in sobriety begins after treatment ends. Following what you’ve learned in treatment and in individual and group sessions, you’ll face a whole new chapter in your life. Being in recovery isn’t a race. It’s the rest of your life. You need to know that there will be good days and bad days. Some days you will be so tempted to use that you can’t drive the urges from your mind. That’s where your 12-step sponsor and fellow members in self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous come in. Next to your family, 12-step groups are the most important part of your overall support network.

How long will it take to effectively end the see-saw cycle of abuse? That’s unique to each individual. The time it takes for one person to feel confident in living an abstinent lifestyle will be completely different than that of someone else.

Some may find it relatively smooth sailing initially but fall prey to doubts and confusion later on. The majority, however, find that the first 90 days are the roughest. Actually, the first six months of recovery are the most critical. It’s during this time that the risk of relapse is greatest. But you can overcome the temptation to fall back into the cycle of abuse. Through your support network, working the steps, and learning more each day about how to best pursue your recovery, you can be successful in reaching your goal: living a life in sobriety.

In the end, how to end the see-saw cycle of abuse starts with you. If you are at the crossroads and are contemplating the decision to change your life, the first step has already begun. Now, you just need to keep moving forward to make this desire a reality.

Find relief in recovery. Life gets better with addiction treatment.

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