Cravings can be the bane of the alcoholic’s or addict’s existence. They are not the usual feeling of wanting an extra slice of cake or some ice cream that we have all experienced, but are usually an overwhelming sense of need, where the urge consumes you. Cravings for me were insatiable I had no power whatsoever to stop them. When faced with them I was defenseless.
This was the scenario I faced on a daily basis prior to treatment. It is important to note that detoxing from drugs or alcohol is dangerous and should be done in a medical setting. From my personal experience this was a key factor in me having a solid foundation on which to build my recovery. For this reason alone cravings can be one of the most dangerous things facing an alcoholic or addict faces in their journey to sobriety. One thing I have learned is that knowledge and awareness are important tools in sobriety. So in order to understand how to overcome them, we should first take a look at what causes the cravings that an addict experiences.
Many people may be surprised to know that there is a distinct difference between physical dependency and addiction. A person can be physically dependent on a drug and not be an addict, but a person who suffers from the disease of addiction has both addiction and physical dependence. Physical dependency usually results in cravings of some sort, but a person who has addiction has continuous and uncontrollable cravings, which usually result in the compulsive action of drinking or drugging.
The cravings that the addict experiences are not often understood by people who are not afflicted with this disease, because it is not a matter of just taking your mind off of the thought or not using, but they are an actual biological response to the need for the substance. This is caused in part from the fact that when addictive substances are ingested they bypass the normal bodily functions that would create the signals of pleasure that the substances are producing. When this is repeated enough times, the body actually stops producing certain hormones that generate pleasure because the substance is doing it for them. When the drug usage is discontinued the body does not immediately begin to produce those hormones again and so the addict can experience extreme discomfort, which causes cravings in order to make these feelings go away.
Another factor that adds to the cravings that an addict experiences is the fact that when an addictive substance is ingested into the body it is broken down and some of that substance is left behind in the body, in what is known as metabolites. Some of these metabolites can go into the fatty tissue of a person and then stay behind for months or even years. As the fatty tissue burns off, or is used, these metabolites can then re-enter the bloodstream, which can cause cravings. Many times this occurs during a particularly stressful time in a person’s life, because that is when the fatty tissue can be used, hence why people will experience cravings when feeling stress.
There is also a psychological component to the cravings experienced by addicts. An article in Psychology Today described cravings as “a programmed response to environmental signals that have been connected to drug use through experience.” The studies that the article was based on showed that the neurotransmitter release that occurs with the ingestion of an addictive substance are responsible not only for the euphoria experienced by the substance but also affect learning. This means that brain in time learns to associate whatever stimuli it is smelling, seeing, hearing, etc. with the usage of substances. This affects the addict by causing a craving whenever that same stimuli is experienced again. Over time the brain can learn to unlearn this pattern, but that often takes time.
As difficult as it can be to contend with cravings overcoming them is completely possible. Cravings don’t stop just because the substance is no longer in the body and withdrawal symptoms have subsided, in fact they may actually get stronger once this has occurred. One of the most important things to do in order to combat cravings is accept them for what they are. Many people who are newly sober, or even sober for a long time, experience them and they are not a reflection on the person or their sobriety. Recognizing that cravings are a natural reaction for addicts to experience can help to put them into perspective and take away some of the power that they can hold on you. The worst thing you can do is to feel guilt over them and therefore not talk about them. When cravings occur, call someone and get it off your mind and majority of the time they will subside.
If you find yourself in a situation that is causing you to crave drugs or alcohol get out of that situation as quickly as possible. This is another tangible way to deal with cravings the moment they occur. If you are out somewhere or dealing with a situation that somehow recalls a past experience that was associated with your substance abuse then get out of that situation. This can be difficult sometimes, especially if we are with other people, as we don’t want to cause alarm to them, but there is no need to stick around and suffer when removing yourself from the situation can help to reduce the craving. Sometimes all it takes is stepping outside for a minute and collecting yourself, but whatever the case may be remove yourself from the situation and call someone. Whenever I experience a craving I pray and then talk about it right away. This is key you see when you talk about it loses its power over you.
For me the most effective way to deal with cravings today is to pray, now I want to just clarify that I am by no means a bible thumper, however what I have found in sobriety is that spirituality has been the biggest defense I have against addiction. There is something to be said about a belief in a higher power. There is an energy shift that happens when you let go and trust in a purposeful life that you no longer direct. One of the main goals of the Steps is to expel the obsession to drink or drug and develop a personal relationship with a higher power. This obsession is just one long continuous craving and by working the 12 steps cravings usually subside. This is what I have found to be true and the steps have also given me the ability to pause and redirect my thinking when cravings do occur. I never had that pause before, it was always thought, craving, action.
If you are currently struggling with cravings, know that they are a perfectly normal process in recovery and that they will not always rule your life as they once have. Through just doing a few simple things you can become from the power that they once held over you and learn to enjoy a substance free life.
Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.
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