We report the data and a model showing that the energy loss experienced by the carriers flowing through breakdown spots is the primary cause of progressive breakdown spot growth. The experiments are performed in gate dielectrics of metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) devices subjected to accelerated high electric field constant voltage stress under inversion conditions. The model is analytical and contains few free parameters of clear physical meaning. This is compared to a large set of data on breakdown transients at various oxide thicknesses, stress voltages, and temperatures, both in cases of n-channel and p-channel transistors and polycrystalline Si/oxynitride/Si and metal gate/high k dielectric/Si gate stacks. The basic idea is that the breakdown transient is due to the growth of one or more filaments in the dielectric promoted by electromigration driven by the energy lost by the electrons traveling through the breakdown spots. Both cases of polycrystalline Si/oxynitride/Si and metal gate/high-k dielectric/Si MOS structures are investigated. The best fit values of the model to the data, reported and discussed in the paper, consistently describe a large set of data. The case of simultaneous growth of multiple progressive breakdown spots in the same device is also discussed in detail.