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Understanding Cravings in Addiction Recovery

Updated on July 22, 2011


Anyone that is at war with the disease of addiction comes to the realization that cravings are an ongoing battle. It is not as simple as having a hunger for butter pecan ice cream. Cravings can be dangerous for someone in recovery from drug addiction or alcoholism. Whether it is alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin or another mood altering substance, the urge to return to alcohol or drug use (relapse) can be overwhelming. Learning to cope with these cravings is paramount to maintaining a clean and sober lifestyle. However, before you can learn to cope it is important to have a clear understanding of what is meant by “craving”.

WHAT IS A CRAVING

A craving is a desire to return to alcohol or drug use. A person that has maintained abstinence at times will have these urges, which can range from very mild to extremely intense. Most people in early recovery (the period immediately after stopping use of alcohol and/or drugs) tend to have more frequent and intense cravings. People who were abstinent for a longer time usually have them sporadically and with less intensity. Cravings or urges to get high or drink is a normal part of recovery from addiction. It is important to note that while some people in early recovery may not experience cravings at first, they will come at some point. Cravings are normal and even after 20 years of recovery a person may still be affected.

WHY DO I HAVE CRAVINGS

There are several reasons why a person abstinent from drugs and alcohol has cravings. Someone might say, “I don’t want to use alcohol anymore, so why do I still desire it? I know the devastation it brought to my life”. To answer this one must understand how the mind and body are affected by drugs and alcohol. Throughout the course of addiction, there is a mental and physical dependence on the substance taken. In other words, the mind and body are changed by these substances and react as if continued us is necessary for survival. Let’s use alcohol as an example: Alcohol is put into the body for several years and then all of a sudden use stops. This confuses the body. Why??? Because the more alcohol is consumed over time the body accommodates by producing extra enzymes to break down the toxins (which is what alcohol is). So you stopped drinking, but your body is still anticipating the alcohol and in preparation continues to produce those enzymes. This is the reason that people feel sick (experience withdrawal symptoms) when they stop drinking. One affect is the urge to drink. TADA!

Long term memory is another factor that contributes to cravings. Most people continued to use alcohol or drugs because they liked the feeling that they produced. Just because a person decides to stop using or drinking, does not mean they forget the feeling that drugs or alcohol produces. It is for this reason that a person continues to crave their choice of drug or alcohol.

The mind is absolutely amazing. Let’s say that you are in the kitchen washing dishes with your radio playing. One of your favorite songs from “back in the day” come on. You turn it up and you’re dancing around. Two minutes later you have a craving. Why??? It is because the song triggered the urge. Now you’re asking why, right? Maybe, you and your friends use to play that song and get wasted. Since, that song was linked in your brain with drinking; it resurrected the desire to drink alcohol again. Keep in mind this is just one example of what is called a “trigger”.

Unfortunately, dealing with triggers is a normal occurrence for people recovering from addiction. A trigger is anything that brings the thought of using drugs or alcohol into your consciousness. It can vary from going around those old “people, places, and things”, to negative feelings (anger, sadness, loneliness), to positive feelings/experiences (excitement, getting a lot of money), to physical pain, or to what you see, smell, taste or touch. Everyone’s triggers will be different.

WHAT TO REMEMBER ABOUT CRAVINGS

There are some things you can learn from having cravings that help you in your recovery process. Having cravings can be an indicator that you need to do more to address your addiction. A craving is a warning sign to stay on your toes and be diligent to avoid relapse. Be mindful that having a craving is not a reason to use drugs or drink, instead think of it as a reminder that alcohol and/or drugs had a chronic affect on your mind and body. Take comfort in knowing that it is like any other feeling, it will pass.

To learn more about triggers and cravings, keep coming back.

Next article: IDENTIFYING YOUR RELAPSE TRIGGERS

Annesia S.

Easy Does It!!!!

DON'T LEAVE BEFORE THE MIRACLE
DON'T LEAVE BEFORE THE MIRACLE

Comments

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    • profile image

      bdouglas 

      7 years ago

      Another great article! I like the way you express yourselr and look forward to reading more.

    • profile image

      Joseph Richardson 

      7 years ago

      Niiiiccceee. another great article...girl u hav skillz. i just wanna say that i witnessd an AA meeting and temptation is all around us and with all the wronge roaming around us the craving for ex addicts are much harder to control. plus the craving may also come from the body is use to the substance which is now being taken away so the craving is ten times stronger. well done hun

    • profile image

      Ceddo 

      7 years ago

      I hope this comment goes thru,I

      hold the opinion that drugs r big business and human nature and it's frailties play into this dynamic.Man has been intouch w/mind altering substance for ages however when the profit motive became de driving force de battle was on.Cravings demand/supply r part

      Of the triad of addiction which the clinician has no control of.therefore the battle that is waged for the mind/body of the addict is desperate and fierce...

    • profile image

      Davi'd Stevenson 

      7 years ago

      Excellent Article all the main points of Addiction was hit. There are many people that don't realize about Craving and addictions. You've done an excellent job in enlightening me also!! Keep up the good work!!!

    • justfortoday profile imageAUTHOR

      justfortoday 

      7 years ago from Brooklyn, NY

      thanks to everyone that commented. I hope that you all continue to follow me. Annesia ;)

    • profile image

      renee 

      7 years ago

      nice article i read it and it can help people with relapses

    • profile image

      Allan Carrion 

      7 years ago

      Thank you for providing our community a better understanding on how to deal with substance Abuse and for the recovering addict a better understanding on prevention tools and concepts to address their addiction. For someone who is in the field, working in substance abuse/mental health you were able to hit your target.

    • profile image

      John Paraison 

      7 years ago

      Great well written article. Its is a refreshing look at craveings and help people to understand what is happening to them from a mental and physical point of view. Great job and I look forward to reading your next masterpeace

    • profile image

      Oziemay Butler 

      7 years ago

      Great article, Annesia. I learn and enjoyed reading this. Since i'am a phychology major the article helped rekindle my excitement for the major...Keep it comin

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