The Phenomenon of cravings

The Phenomenon of Craving

Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, food, gambling or something else, anyone recovering from an addiction has experienced it – that nagging feeling of want. It takes over your thoughts and becomes the focus of your world. But what is it? Where does it come from? And how can we gain control of it so that it stops dictating our lives once and for all?

What is Craving?

Researchers are only now beginning to understand the mechanics of craving. At its most basic, Merriam-Webster defines the phenomenon of craving as “an intense, urgent or abnormal desire or longing for something.”

According to Purdue University psychology professor, Stephen T. Tiffany, craving was historically viewed as a condition – a biological, “primitive motivational” state.  But recent research by cognitive behavioral psychologists and scientists indicate that craving is “a complex, multi-dimensional process” involving “higher-order mental functions.” Simply put, craving is complicated – it involves many parts of our brain and biology. It is both behavioral and physical, and therefore, it can’t just be shut off like a light switch – but there are things you can do to keep it in check.


How Does Craving Work?

Technically speaking, researchers are still trying to figure that out. Cognitive behavioral specialists have a few theories that they are studying, but anyone living with addiction knows that in real life, the phenomenon is pretty basic. You have that intense, urgent desire for drugs or alcohol. The desire becomes all you can think about – it hijacks your mind and overpowers your need for anything else and overrides your intention to stay clean.

According to an article in Alcohol, Research and Health, titled Relapse Prevention: Marlatt’s Cognitive Behavioral Model, there are several types of “relapse-inducing” situations that can trigger cravings:

Negative Emotional States – Anger, anxiety, depression, frustration, boredom (“these states are associated with the highest rate of relapse”).

Situations Involving Other People or Groups – Conflicts with coworkers, friends or family members.

Social Pressure – People pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol – either by verbally enticing you or by using in front of you.

Positive Emotional States – Being at a party where people are consuming alcohol; driving by a bar or liquor store, etc.

The article goes on to say that it is not so much the trigger that causes one to give in to a craving, it’s the response to that trigger that is responsible for a relapse.


Things You Can Do to Resist Craving

Depending on the skills you have developed to resist that urge, you either satisfy the craving by using, or you overpower it. Rehabilitation and ongoing after-care support are designed to help you develop the tools necessary to deal with cravings.

As a reminder, here are a couple of tools that can help you overcome the phenomenon of craving and avoid a relapse:

  • Recognize that the craving will go away. Typically, a craving only lasts for a few minutes, but they can last longer. The fact is, though, that they will go away eventually, and the more cravings you resist, the less powerful they become.
  • One method for dealing with cravings is called “Urge Surfing.” Rather than fighting the craving and trying to pretend it’s not there, you instead acknowledge it and ride it like a wave until it flattens out. What are you feeling? What parts of your body are involved? Giving it your attention and riding it out can actually help it to dissipate.
  • Get out of the trigger situation. If you are at a party where everyone is using, leave and go get a cup of coffee, head to the gym, or call your sponsor.

Long-term recovery from drug and/or alcohol addiction requires support and a plan involving physician-supervised detox, rehabilitation, and ongoing after-care. When you’ve completed detox and initial rehab, New Origins is waiting.

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