Understanding The Jellinek Curve Of Addiction And Recovery – An Evidence Based Model


The Jellinek Curve outlines the disease model of addiction and how a person can move from a destructive, addicted state, only concerned about acquiring, using drugs and drinking alcohol to a balanced recovery where you can grow and become a well balanced, happy, productive and prosperous human being.

The purpose of the Jellinek Curve is to show that an addiction to alcohol or drugs is a progressive disease that more likely than not, get worse over time if the proper treatments, therapies or interventions aren’t received. It also shows how a healthier, happier, productive, prosperous and more fulfilling recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is possible and what’s more, is sustainable!

Though originally created to detail the stages of alcohol addiction and recovery, the Jellinek Curve has been adapted to represent all other forms of addiction, even those forms of addiction that don’t involve substances such as gambling, sex, shopping, eating and others.

By understanding how an addiction develops and recovery begins, a person can have a better understanding of the steps they need to take in order to find and access treatment, use therapies and treatments effectively, maintain their recovery and prevent relapse.


About The Jellinek Curve Of Addiction

Elvin Morton “Bunky” Jellinek

E. M. Jellinek, the creator of the Jellinek Curve, was one of the earliest pioneers of the disease model of addiction. Seeing addiction as a medical condition rather than as a moral failing or choice which the majority of others at the time thought was the cause of addiction.

His research and the creation of the Jellinek Curve helped to change the way addiction and recovery was understood and meant that other myths, misconceptions and lies were more easily stamped out by those with only negative intentions toward those who have addictions and want to change their lives and recover.

Dr/Rabbi Max M Glatt

While Jellinek outlined the progression of the disease of addiction, Dr. Max M. Glatt revised the curve to include a phase that detailed recovery and rehabilitation.

Because of this, the Jellinek Curve is made up of two, curving halves. The left half curves downward and represents a person’s decline from chronic substance use and into addiction. The right half curves upward and stands for a person’s rise from addiction and into recovery and sobriety/abstinence.

Left Half (Substance Use/Addiction) Of The Jellinek Curve
Right Half (Treatment/Recovery) Of The Jellinek Curve

It’s important to understand that the Jellinek Curve shouldn’t be used to diagnose addiction. Instead, as an educational tool that can be used to motivate people towards positive and lasting changes.

Not every person who is struggling with substance abuse or addiction will experience all these changes. It’s critical to remember that even if a person doesn’t show all these signs, they still could have a substance abuse problem that requires help.

REMEMBER: It’s important to understand that the Jellinek Curve shouldn’t be used to diagnose addiction. Instead, as an educational tool that can be used to motivate people towards positive and lasting changes.


The Crucial Phase Of The Jellinek Curve

Once a person’s drinking rapidly accelerates from what Jellinek termed “occasional relief drinking,” their alcohol use will likely begin to cause physical, psychological and social problems. This can also hold true with other forms of substance use, including drug use.

As drinking or drug use becomes more frequent, a person most often becomes physically and psychologically dependent on their particular substance (drugs or alcohol). This means that their body cannot function normally without the substance and causes acute withdrawal symptoms.

Once this occurs, a person may drink or use drugs on a regular basis to relieve the negative feelings, cravings and/or withdrawal symptoms that they experience.

A person will normally also start drinking alcohol or taking drugs shortly after they wake up in order to feel “normal” and to rid their body of any physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms. They also have a hard time stopping once they start drinking or using.

During the Crucial Phase (first stage of the Jellinek Curve), an individual’s physical and mental health begin to suffer at the hand of substance use. A person will likely begin to lose increasing amounts of time and money toward finding and using their drug or alcohol of choice.

Relationships can become strained as a person begins to avoid their loved ones in favour of drinking alcohol, taking drugs, finding ways and means of getting more alcohol or drugs or hanging out with people who use or sell drugs or alcohol.

As substance use gains momentum and becomes more compulsive, a person is pushed closer to the Chronic Phase (second stage of the Jellinek Curve).


The Chronic Phase Of The Jellinek Curve

According to the Jellinek Curve, when a person is chronically drinking or using drugs, levels of substance use has reached compulsive levels.

Here, a person will typically experience a major loss of control over their behaviours which other people without substance addiction would find easy to control. In this state, a person will most likely be unable to stop or reduce their substance use, despite multiple attempts trying to do so.

Obsessive thoughts, urges or cravings about substances continue to disrupt a person’s day and night and overshadows thoughts of everything else. In this stage, a person has exhausted almost every excuse or alibi to explain their drinking or drug use.

When substance use has reached this compulsive level, many people continue to drink or misuse drugs even after it’s started to harm their body, mind, relationships, financially, family, children, criminally or career wise. As they come up against this damage, many people turn back to drugs or alcohol in order to cope, thus fueling the addiction and heading downwards in an ever worsening downward spiral of destruction and chaos.

As a person falls deeper into despair and struggles to maintain their life, Jellinek explains that they will likely get trapped in a vicious cycle of obsessive drinking or drug use.

At this point in time, many people may experience severe withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit drinking or taking drugs.

This can include a wide variety of different signs and symptoms including pain, nausea, muscle aches and pains, restless body or legs, sweating, agitation, insomnia, diarrhoea, itching or vomiting. Acute withdrawal signs and symptoms of certain drugs and alcohol can be fatal because they can cause seizures (fits) or strokes and can ultimately lead to death if it isn’t managed by addiction and healthcare professionals.

Typical Timescales For Substance Withdrawals

This is often the point many people consider to hit their “rock bottom”, however this is different for everyone. If drinking or drug use continues in this way, a person’s health and life could be in real jeopardy and can be fatal.

Fortunately, if a person’s sense of hopelessness pushes them to this point, they may then seek help, support and treatment opportunities for their addiction and addictive behaviours.


The Rehabilitation Phase Of The Jellinek Curve

The rehabilitation stage of the Jellinek Curve (last stage of the Jellinek Curve) begins when a person embraces an honest desire for help and support and a willingness and determination to do what is necessary to succeed.

At this time, two other critical things happen: a person finds out that their alcohol or drug addiction is an a medical illness and not a moral failing or choice and secondly, they learn that the harmful patterns of addictive behaviours can be stopped, changed or amended.

Equipped with this knowledge, a person can then realise a life without alcohol or drugs is possible and that sobriety and/or abstinence holds opportunities for personal growth, personal fulfilment and a renewed sense of self worth, pride and an ability to contribute back to their community that supported them during their times of need when they were in active addiction.

Paired with the understanding of the harm they’ve been causing themselves and others, these realisations motivate a person to quit drinking or taking drugs, realising that simply using or drinking just blocks issues out but does not deal with them, meaning they continue to grow and worsen which just compounds their problems and causing an ever worsening downward trend.

Interacting with people who are already in recovery and have successfully found sobriety/abstinence and achieved a happier, productive and prosperous life provides encouragement at this transitional and important time in their change from active consumption and into recovery.

This is one reason why treatment and peer-support groups are vital resources to those in recovery and extremely important to get involved with for those seeking recovery.

As a person builds strength and overcomes their fears, hope begins to take shape. In order for a person to heal from addiction, the physical, mental, financial and spiritual harms must be addressed. Group therapy, medical care, medication assisted treatment (MAT), spiritual guidance and other treatments offered at rehab are beneficial at this time.

Developing positive thoughts and behaviours that support your sobriety or abstinence are a main goal of rehab, community based drug and alcohol service programs and recovery in general.

Here, a person will learn to recognise harmful rationalisations they once used to support their substance use. This will help them avoid relapse triggers and develop healthier mindsets.

As a person begins to reinvest in themselves and their life, they should become more self-confident and devoted to their self-care. Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, maintaining a clean personal appearance and taking the time to actively pursue mindfulness, meditation and relaxation techniques and strategies. All things that can be ignored during active addiction, become once again, an important part of daily life.

Working towards economic stability and regaining the confidence of employers are also valuable goals at this time. As a person progresses through their recovery, they may also find an opportunity to rebuild and reinvest in important relationships.

One of the most critical parts of the recovery process is aftercare. Maintaining sobriety takes hard work and perseverance. According to the Jellinek Curve, group therapy, one to one counselling, hypnotherapy and mutual help/ support groups such as fellowship meetings online or in person should continue throughout their lifetime.

Fortunately, many drug rehab centers offer aftercare and alumni support programs that connect treatment graduates to these and other resources.

One of the most interesting things about the Jellinek Curve is the right side, or the recovery side, doesn’t flatten out on top. Instead, it continues to climb up. This could represent the positive momentum and personal development that accompanies a strong, progressive recovery and shows you that recovery isn’t a destination, but it is rather a life long journey that will need to be kept in check and actively treated and managed throughout their entire lifetime otherwise there is a high risk of lapses or complete relapses back into active drinking or using again. This is dangerous as your tolerance has dropped, you are at an extremely high risk of overdose and possibly death as a result. This is why keeping an emergency kit of Naloxone (Narcan – an emergency medication used to reverse the effects of an overdose to opioid/opiate based drugs, including both prescription and illegal forms of opioid/opiate). You can learn more about the science behind addiction and medication assisted treatment programs in our article on this very topic here.


Finding Help For Drug Or Alcohol Addiction

It’s important to note that a person doesn’t have to hit rock bottom or ask for help on their own in order to successfully recover from a drug or alcohol addiction. A person can begin their recovery at any stage of a substance use disorder and the sooner they do, the greater their chances of achieving a stable, long term recovery. This is however possible at any stage of their addiction as we said before.

Though individuals who choose help, support and treatment for themselves do have the benefit of starting treatment off with drive and ambition, treatment does not need to be voluntary for it to work but in order to maintain it, that does require determination and motivation. People who begin treatment in other ways can also build and maintain successful recoveries.

Individuals who are forced to go to treatment, such as those who are attending a court-ordered drug rehab program or are in prison can build lasting recoveries from drugs or alcohol as well, however it is more difficult to do and the success rates for this are a lot lower than those who are not in jail and choose to enter or try treatment.

Each person’s path to recovery, abstinence and sobriety is different and based on the unique characteristics of their life, the substances they use/drink, how long they’ve been using/drinking and other factors.

People who are only mildly addicted may only need outpatient treatment. Medical detox and inpatient rehab program are still recommended for moderate to severe addictions. It is however better to go overboard and provide too much help and support than not enough!

You can find contact information for a wide range of groups, charities and organisations who can help you with your addiction. Their contact information can be found on our help and support page here.


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