In his book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge wrote about a virtuous cycle. Senge was writing about learning organizations, but the same principles apply to individuals and a virtuous cycle in addiction recovery. We’ve all heard about the vicious cycle — addiction is a prime example of a vicious cycle. A person becomes addicted to a drug, things get bad, the person tries to quit, the withdrawals are painful and life is just too hard without the drug, so the person says just one to take the edge off, then the cycle begins, over and over, with no apparent escape. This type of cycle is a downward spiral that ends in institutionalization, jail or death.
So, what is a virtuous cycle? A virtuous cycle would be when the addict actually breaks out of the cycle to create a new cycle that generates personal growth. The virtuous cycle is upward — it’s a good, reinforcing loop. The virtuous cycle is when a person applies recovery principles, things improve, the person reaches a plateau, then the person finds a new challenge, a new opportunity for personal growth which creates another cycle, over and over, upward and upward.
The path to the virtuous cycle is not easy, but it’s infinitely rewarding. In treatment, we attempt to guide clients to this virtuous cycle, to identify the old ideas that keep them trapped in the vicious cycle, to inspire actions necessary to get out of the vicious cycle and to teach recovery management tools necessary to start a virtuous cycle. The online Macmillan Dictionary defines a virtuous cycle this way:
When the addicted person first tries to quit drinking alcohol or doing some other drug, they’re spending a lot of energy just staying away from the drug – if this is all the person does, no treatment, no counseling, no support, just white-knuckling it, then this will wear a person down mentally and emotionally, so that the person will most likely return to drug use. The virtuous cycle creates positive results — these improvements in the person’s life are inspirational. After improvement happens, the person’s drawn toward recovery rather than just trying to stay away from the drug(s) of choice. This makes all the difference in recovery.
When a person is pulled toward recovery because they want more growth and improvement, then great things can happen.