Drug cravings are strong memories that are linked to the effect of drugs on the brain’s neurochemistry. The definition of craving is: a powerful desire for something.
Neurochemistry is the specific study of neurochemicals, including neurotransmitters and other molecules that influence the function of neurons. This field closely examines how these neurochemicals influence the network of neural operation in the brain.
Past Drug Experience Creates Present Emotional Reactions
The immense neurotransmitter release that is often brought on by the ingestion of drugs is responsible both for the experience and the lasting effects on learning. When it comes down to it, memories are really the brain re-experiencing an event, so it makes sense that reliving a drug, sex, or other past-compulsive experience would cause a serious emotional reaction. When one remembers, cortical areas associated with the sights, sounds, smells, and thoughts related to the event are activated in a manner very similar to the initial using experience itself.
Drug Addiction Research
Drug addiction research has made exciting advances over the last couple of decades. The initial molecular sites of brain action, of most of the major drugs abused, including cocaine, heroin, amphetamine, nicotine and alcohol have been identified. The main components of a reward system and how it connects to brain areas involved in motivation and emotion are now defined. Much has been discovered about the chemical messenger systems such as dopamine and noradrenaline that are fundamental to the mechanism of addiction.
Cravings in Early Recovery
Even aside from all the research most addicts and alcoholics know very well what cravings feel like. The intoxication is felt the moment that a memory hits us and our entire body tingles with anticipation. It’s as if our whole body is crying out saying “This is what I have been waiting for! One never knows when to expect it, but when the cravings hit, there’s no question to what it is, we know that a craving has just taken over. It’s no wonder that people go out over these intense cravings–especially in early recovery.
What To Do About Addiction Cravings
A woman who has shared often in Alcoholics Anonymous says that no matter how much sober time any one of us has, we are still all the same distance from the ledge. Many people say that no matter how strong their cravings, they are not about to throw everything they have worked for away for another hit or drink. However, it can still be very tempting and having a plan of action for when they happen is an excellent way to insure sobriety.
- When you have a craving, recognize it for what it is. Try not to be scared of the feeling, if you become afraid you will just create more anxiety that may lead you to act on the feeling. Instead, stay with the feeling and honor your former lack of control over the craving, let the experience happen, watch it come and go. As you do this you create new memories of not giving in to the feeling.
- If the craving is overwhelming, make sure there is someone you can talk to about it (a therapist, your partner, parent, or 12 step sponsor). As time passes your cravings will become less and less frequent, though without specific treatment, their intensity will likely not go away. Cravings are a part of the reality of addiction – so again, do not be afraid of them – knowing what to do with them is the key to success.
- Keep a handful of nuts or dried fruit handy at all times. Usually eating a small amount of food will quickly regulate the blood sugar level and help to reduce physical cravings.
- And lastly, success breads success. Now that you know that cravings are a natural part of the recovery process, when they happen you will not be surprised. As time passes cravings will become less frequent and each time you do not give in to your cravings your sobriety has become that much stronger.