By Diantha Voge
Alcohol Rehab:

Cravings are a physiological and psychological phenomenon that often occurs after the cessation of drug and alcohol use. They are also a programmed response to environmental signals that have been connected to drug use through experience. They can occur for months or years after the addict quits using. They are extremely powerful and often lead to relapse. Cravings occur in the brain where Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain in the reward center, is released when some drugs are ingested. Dopamine is associated with euphoria. Accustomed to functioning in the presence of drugs, the addicted brain becomes unable to function normally without drugs present. Due to this, sometimes it is difficult or nearly impossible for the addict to feel pleasure without using because the brain quits producing Dopamine on its own. Therefore the addicted person may crave the drug which, if used, would release dopamine and therefore make the craving go away and presumably lead to feelings of euphoria.

Cravings are a reality of addiction. They demand attention and either will be surrendered to or can be dealt with using some of the following techniques. There are four types of cravings: reaction to withdrawal symptoms, escape of unpleasant feelings, a response to learned associations (people, places) and enhancing a positive mood. During physical withdrawal, the body craves the drug it was used to. Withdrawal symptoms depend on the drug that the user was taking but can include: tremors, anxiety, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and exhaustion. Boredom, depression and anxiety often cause cravings and are feelings an addict/alcohol will seek to escape. Learned associations may include places where the addict used, people they used with and utensils associated with the use. Finally, when the addict is feeling good, happy or celebratory they may crave a mood altering chemical to enhance their feelings.

The following tools can be effective in dealing with cravings. First and foremost it is important to avoid people, locations and things that the addict associated with using. Distraction can be used in the form of taking a walk, video games, anything that moves a person’s attention away from negative internal thoughts and moves attention towards a neutral external focus. Imagery can be useful and involves imagining a peaceful spot. Conversely, if one craves when remembering the good times related to using, one can make an effort to replace those positive thoughts with memories of the bad times when using (arguments with loved ones, legal problems, occupational problems, fear or guilt related to using, etc.). Another related technique is thought checking - asking oneself, “Is what I’m thinking really true?” and “What are the real consequences?” Relaxation techniques can be useful. Anxiety, anger, frustration and stress are among the biggest triggers for craving. Learning some relaxation techniques is important. Writing a gratitude list, journaling, writing poetry, taking a bath, talking to someone in recovery, calling a sponsor, attending an AA/NA meeting, prayer and writing a letter to someone you love and telling them why you want to be sober are some additional techniques to battle cravings.

If one finds that they cannot manage cravings on their own, it is time to seek professional help. There are many options for drug and alcohol treatment, both inpatient and outpatient. Drug and alcohol treatment helps an addicted person manage cravings in productive ways and opens the door to a life where cravings are not in control of one’s life.

Adi Jaffe Ph.D. - All About Addiction
Alan Leshner Ph. D - National Institute on Drug Abuse
Coping with Alcohol Cravings - Online Alcohol Therapy

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