By Diantha Voge
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
Need expert advice about drug rehab or alcohol rehab?
Reference Our Clinician Library Here
OR select one of the articles below.