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Irrespective of how strong you might feel while recovering from drug and alcohol abuse, it is also likely that you will experience cravings. In some instances, these cravings might be as a result of failing to do something you ought to be doing - such as helping others or attending the right meetings. Other times, they might simply come from nowhere with no relationship to anything.
In other instances, also, cravings might just take the form of fleeting thoughts that you can easily deal with while other times they may be overwhelming and almost debilitating desires to start using drugs or drinking alcohol again.
Irrespective of the causes of these cravings and how strong they might be, you should never give in or let them ruin your successful recovery and sobriety. While your addiction was still active, it is highly likely that your cravings caused you to use drugs every single time they came on. However, once you get started on recovery, you might be better able to control them. Additionally, there are steps you can take to ensure you alleviate them without necessarily jeopardizing your recovery.
Cravings mostly occur when your brain starts remembering the pleasurable and pleasant effects of abusing drugs or drinking alcohol excessively. In addiction studies, the idea of cravings tends to come up every once in a while.
Today, researchers compare wanting and liking drugs. They also contend that cravings are a result of the programmed response to various environmental signals and triggers that your brain has already connected to substance use through your experiences. Therefore, upon entering drug addiction treatment, it is highly likely that wanting to use will be one of the first and main challenges you might encounter.
According to Mayo Clinic, addiction is a physical dependence on a certain intoxicating and mind altering substance that you will have a hard time controlling. Since cravings refers to the desire to start using these substances, you should know that they are completely normal even if you have a hard time while experiencing them.
Thankfully, there are now answers to why cravings happen in the first place. You can also teach yourself how to combat and control them both in the short and in the long term - meaning that it will easier for you to handle them in the future.
Causes Of Cravings
But what exactly causes drug and alcohol cravings? To answer this question, you first need to understand that addiction is more than just a substance habit. In fact, it goes so far as to physically alter the circuitry and neurons in your brain. It also interferes with some parts of the brain, including but not limited to:
a) The Control Center
Using and abusing intoxicating substances is normally associated with high reward and motivation levels. As a direct result, your brain can forget the negative consequences and effects that you experienced due to your addiction. As a direct result, you may have a hard time learning from your past mistakes. Similarly, you may have difficulty controlling your impulses.
b) The Motivation Center
This means that drug use might become more important than other healthier choices that are better for you.
c) The Reward Center
Using drugs will create highs that your brain will connect to external causes like situations, environments, places, feelings, and people. Therefore, these factors can trigger your urge to start using again.
In the same way, if you have been using drugs for long, it is highly likely that you will have a higher tolerance for these substances. After building a tolerance, therefore, substance abuse will become more about escaping and avoiding withdrawal than simply seeking a high. Eventually, you might experience cravings as a result of your body trying to escape these adverse withdrawal symptoms.
To sum up, therefore, cravings often result from the changes in your brain caused by drug use. This is not to mean that they show your desire to start using again or that you have failed in your quest to overcome your addiction, dependence, tolerance, and abuse. Rather, they are normal in recovery and can, therefore, be combated and treated.
Cravings And Addiction
At their most basic, therefore, cravings refer to the strong memories that are connected to the effects of substance abuse in the neurochemistry of the brain. Imaging studies have actually shown that there are intense brain activations when pictures linked to substance abuse - such as white powdery substances that look like cocaine or pipes - are shown to an addict.
Ingesting drugs, therefore, will release neurotransmitters excessively. This is responsible both for the lasting effects on memory and learning as well as for the experience.
Memories, on the other hand, occur when your brain re-experiences an event. Therefore, you can be sure that reliving a compulsive drug experience might cause you to seriously react emotionally.
This means that when you remember past use, the cortical areas that are commonly associated with thought, smell, sound, and sight relating to the event will be activated in ways that are quite similar to the first experience.
Therefore, when these memories hit you, your body might start tingling with anticipation. At this point, your body might start showing signs that you have been wanting to start using again.
Although you can never tell when you will experience cravings, when they hit you it will be clear that they are taking over your body and mind. This is why so many people end up failing in their recovery - because they are unable to control their drug cravings.
Dealing With Drug Cravings
Eventually, you might get to a point where irrespective of how strong your cravings, you won't want to throw everything you worked so hard and tirelessly for right out of the window just to get another hit of your preferred intoxicating and mind altering substances. However, it will still be quite tempting.
Therefore, whenever you get drug cravings, you should learn how to recognize what they are. The best way to do this is by ensuring you enjoy the extra rush even if you can't immediately control it.
This is because when you are scared of these feelings, you might induce more shame and anxiety - which could lead to you start acting out and using again. Instead, you might want to tell yourself that you realize that you cannot control the cravings, allow the experience to happen and pass on, before going on with your normal day to day life.
However, the experience might sometimes prove to be so overwhelming that you will want to start using again. If this happens, consider talking to someone who you know you can rely on. Examples of people you might want to talk to include others in recovery, 12 step sponsors, parents, partners, and therapists.
With the passage of time, these cravings are bound to become less frequent and powerful. However, you need specific treatment to ensure that their intensity goes away eventually - once and for all.
You should also understand that cravings are part and parcel of the reality of substance use, abuse, tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Consequently, you should learn how to deal with them to ensure that you stay abstinent and sober in the long haul.
The following are some of the ways you can deal with cravings and combat them. Read on to find out more:
a) In the Short Term
Immediately before and after rehab, you should do the following to curb your cravings:
i) Discard Drugs and Alcohol
Start by discarding anything you own that is related to drugs and alcohol. From bottles and flasks hidden at home, work, or in your car to lighters, ties, spoons, and needles, you need to get rid of anything that could cause you to remember your substance abuse and addiction.
All of these items will serve as reminders of any past behavior you had and could prevent you from focusing on your sobriety goals and moving forward with your recovery.
Although you might feel strong in the present, drug and alcohol paraphernalia could act as triggers when you get to your weaker moments. They might also remind your brain what it could be missing.
ii) Avoid Users and Dealers
In the same way, you might want to delete all the contact information of the people you used to abuse substances with as well as anyone who sold you drugs/alcohol. Although you might just have checked out of a drug rehabilitation and treatment center, these people will still be out waiting to draw you back to your old habits.
Therefore, you would be doing yourself a favor by deleting and blocking their contacts as well as distancing yourself from them. For best results in curbing cravings, you might also want to get yourself a new phone number.
iii) Attend Local Support Groups
Last but not least, consider attending local support groups and finding yourself a recovery sponsor. By so doing, you will have allies who could support your recovery, and this will ensure you are able to lay a solid foundation that may see you living drug free over the long haul.
b) In the Long Term
In the long term, there are also many ways through which you can cope with your cravings for your preferred substances of abuse. These include:
i) Apply Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness works effectively in the reduction of cravings. A 2015 study by Techniques included check-ins showing how the participants' bodies were feeling after practicing meditation and awareness while doing yoga postures, engaging in traditional sitting meditation (over 8 sessions), while eating, as well as paying close attention to breathing.
According to this study, it was found that mindfulness training is one of the most effective ways to lower cravings - which it does by 20% over the short term and with even more promise if used over the long term.
ii) Distract Yourself
On the other hand, you might also want to distract yourself - such as with something healthier - to take your mind off substance abuse. Examples of healthy distractions might include knitting, cleaning, doing art, exercising, watching movies, or reading particularly interesting books. All of these activities are effective because they will serve to distract you from any cravings you might be experiencing.
However, you can also try and direct your attention and focus away from the intoxicating substances you were addicted to. Other ways of distracting yourself might include preparing meals while practicing mindfulness as you eat to ensure you do not engage in emotional eating, bingeing, or overeating.
iii) Use Urge Surging
This refers to the process of focusing on your cravings until they pass. This might work effectively particularly if you ensure you do it perfectly and properly. This form of mindfulness will allow you to tune into your cravings - if only to ensure that you can better recognize and understand your cravings, how they manifest, and roughly how long they take to start dissipating.
iv) Reach Out
On the other hand, you can also curb your cravings and ensure you do not give in by calling and reaching out to others. In this sense, you will be able to talk to your support network and system - including therapists, sponsors, friends, and family.
By so doing, you will not be battling your cravings alone. This means that you should be able to continue figuring out your cravings by trying to talk it out.
v) Challenge Your Thoughts
If your cravings are particularly intense, you should consider challenging your thoughts. This is one of the best ways to release your frustration while similarly rationalizing yourself over and above your urges to start using again.
vi) Identify Your Triggers
Last but not least, you might also want to identify your triggers and may even write them down. This can give you a more complete picture about what you should avoid if you wish to keep your cravings at bay.
For example, you might want to avoid every place, person, thing, emotion, or experience that may trigger you to start using again. However, if some of these situations or people are unavoidable, you should rely on your support system to ensure you don't give in.
Overall, cravings are a natural part of your recovery journey. However, this does not mean that you should give in to them. If they become too much for you to overcome, seek immediate treatment to ensure that you do not relapse in the long run.
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