Brain Science Explains Addiction Cravings
Psychology explains that cravings are common, often coming from a place of incompleteness or a need for relief from suffering.
The feeling of incompleteness — feeling inadequate, flawed or fundamentally lacking in some way — can be a source of great psychological pain for many. Self-medicating with pills, too much wine or a penchant for overeating relieves the pain for a short time.
Neuroscience teaches us that the things we crave, the pleasure-inducing parts of life, are things that increase dopamine in the brain. Dopamine makes things, like sex, feel so good it blocks out all other ideas and desires the mind might have, narrowing our focus to one specific goal: to attain that state of pleasure until it’s fulfilled. And anything that feels that good carries the potential for addiction.
The Impact of Cues/Triggers
The third piece of understanding cravings from a scientific perspective is triggers or cues. An association — the sound of opening a beer bottle or the visual of a needle on TV, for example — instantly ignites the addicted person to seek their poison. These triggers or cues elicit an emotional response, rapidly increasing the flow of dopamine to the brain.
Then internal cues – such as memories, wishes and imagination – further increase the flow of dopamine. Pretty soon, the dopamine takes over the brain until there seems only one viable course of action: to satiate the craving and take the drug or drink.
Each time a person who is craving drugs or alcohol uses or imbibes, the impact of cues gets reinforced and stronger. Repeated cycles of craving and satiation changes the synapses in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, modifying and attuning it to achieve faster relief.
Drug and Alcohol Cravings
Brain science explains cravings as a natural process. The brain’s job is to motivate us to achieve important goals.
When someone has a chemical dependency, their unconscious automated goal is to achieve relief through drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately and ironically, people who start using or drinking for psychological pain relief inevitably end up facing greater and greater pain.
The destruction of their lives, jobs and relationships leads to financial and legal problems as well as more painful cravings, which only cause addicted individuals to feel more incomplete and more pain than when they first sought relief.
It Takes Time
According to research, cravings are one of the strongest predictors of relapse.
Drug cravings and alcohol cravings take much longer to subside than the withdrawal symptoms from these substances do. Therefore, the rehabilitation and recovery phase — what people normally picture as traditional rehab — is crucial.
During rehab at Reflections Recovery Center, our male clients learn skills that help them actively recognize triggers or cues and respond in a way that avoids relapse. We teach many other skills and lessons to clients in rehab, including:
- Insight into the reasons behind why the client fell into addiction
- Learning how to be sober
- How to deal with addiction cravings
- How to return home and avoid the pitfalls of relapse
The cravings among those in rehab will lessen in time and sometimes go away completely, but it’s not an overnight occurrence. It takes new skills, patience, time and effort to become a new person, allow the brain to reset, and experience diminished cravings.
You should expect cravings to occur. But if you’re involved in a recovery program that teaches you how to respond to the cravings in a healthy way, you should have the tools necessary to achieve long-term sobriety.
How Residential Treatment Helps
Reflections Recovery Center utilizes a variety of therapies to help those in recovery recognize and deal with cravings, triggers and cues. These therapies include, but are not limited to:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is the most widely used and recommended therapy for mental health issues. In CBT, the patient spends time talking to a trained therapist who diagnoses and treats mental and emotional problems.
The therapist and patient work together to identify and modify dysfunctional thoughts, emotions and behaviors. The process boosts happiness and confidence with the belief system that unhappiness is not predicated on events or situations in our lives, but rather how we perceive and interpret those events and situations.
The benefit of this way of thinking is that we can reconsider how we view external stimuli and change the way we think, affecting how we feel and behave in any situation. CBT is evidence-based and pronounced highly effective by scientific research.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
DBT is a type of talk therapy that focuses on providing skills for social behavior and emotional regulation. Originally developed to help people with borderline personality disorder, DBT has since shown to be effective in treating many other mental health issues.
DBT typically involves one-on-one sessions with a trained therapist, although treatment centers also use it in group support meetings where individuals learn and practice new psychosocial skills with others. Group members share their experiences and provide mutual support in these instances.
DBT teaches clients skills in four main areas:
- Distress Tolerance
- Emotion Regulation
- Interpersonal Effectiveness
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a well-studied and non-invasive treatment for addiction, trauma and many other psychological disorders. The therapist helps move traumatic events and negative emotions stored in long-term memory to the forefront of the client’s mind. Then, the therapist can help the client reassess and reprocess those thoughts in a new way.
The therapist then help the client understand his or her own experience(s) in a more rational, realistic and positive way. Removing the impediments of negative self-thinking opens the channels in the brain’s neurological mechanisms for healing.
The results from this simple therapy are amazing. It clears away negative feelings and emotional distress, helping the client emerge grounded in strength and a survivor mentality.
Get Help with Coping with Addiction Cravings
Reflections’ rehab program places a heavy emphasis on learning how to deal with addiction cravings in the aftercare phase. This ensures the client has the tools necessary to manage their cravings as they recovers. It also gives them the best chance of a successful and lasting sobriety.
If you or a loved one is struggling with cravings, contact us today. We have a team of trained professionals waiting to help.