Craving – A Hallmark of Addiction

Addiction and craving go hand in hand. In fact, craving could be said to be one of the defining characteristics of addiction. Ask anyone needing admission to treatment,  including to a high-end alcohol or drug rehab. Although not every addicted person experiences craving in exactly the same way, it is most commonly felt as an intensely urgent feeling of wanting a drug, like alcohol, opioids or cocaine; or for the opportunity to pursue a behaviour like gambling. It is felt as a consuming need and its immediate satisfaction all that matters. For many it becomes difficult to entertain other options for ameliorating the feeling, such is the obsessive nature of the thought pattern.

A systemic protest

There is growing evidence that drug addiction changes the brain structurally as well as functionally. The power of craving is partly attributable to the adaptations in the brain that are caused by addiction which, as tolerance for a drug or behaviour increases, effectively supplants the brain’s ability to self-regulate as it normally would.

It could be said that the brain has reorganised itself so as to expect the arrival of the substance and reacts strongly when it is no longer introduced. The brain’s neurochemistry is not able to adjust immediately to the continuing absence of the substance or behaviour. That takes time.

Craving is in that sense a systemic protest and is a normal part of the process of withdrawal. As such, this needs to be clearly explained to anyone suffering from dependence admitted to a private inpatient treatment centre or any other facility equipped to supervise withdrawal.

Cravings – a feature of withdrawal

Craving signals the absence of something or that there is nowhere near enough of what is desired. That is why craving frequently occurs as the effect of the drug or behaviour for which tolerance has significantly increased, has started to wear off. However, it can also occur quite some time after the last use.

Craving is commonly experienced by people undergoing supervised withdrawal and can occur even during a stay at a luxury addiction treatment centre despite the comfort of the surroundings and the top-class medical management of detoxification along with the range of psychological therapies that will certainly be provided to ameliorate its effects.

Triggers for craving

Even once abstinence and recovery has been established, craving may be triggered by a  variety of cues, for instance when exposed to whatever the person is/was addicted to; or when feelings arise which have usually prompted an addictive response; or when in contact with people, places or situations with which an addictive lifestyle or behaviour has been associated.

In relapse prevention planning it is therefore critically important to identify and prepare for such potential triggers. In the early stages in particular, an abstinence-based recovery initiated in a private alcohol or drug rehab centre may well involve learning to cope with the ebb and flow of cravings.

Management of craving

The good news is that craving is generally a temporary state and for some people,  cravings are quite fleeting. The gnawingly obsessive urge tends to sweep through in waves, rising and falling in intensity while episodes reduce in frequency over time as the brain resets itself, restoring natural processes.

The world’s best high-end private drug and alcohol rehabs routinely incorporate the management of cravings into their treatment and care programmes. The aim is to equip patients with an understanding of what may be felt and the kind of personal strategies needed to prevent cravings leading to unhealthy decisions, although not everyone finds the same things helpful. People must discover what works best for them. The following  have been found to ease craving:

  • Knowing predictors of craving, recognising the early signs and noting the circumstances in which it tends to arise.
  • Preparing for contacts and situations where triggers and cues might stimulate craving.  Planning ahead the steps that will be taken should cravings power up.
  • Music and art therapy can help take the mind off the craving and generally reduce the obsessive nature of the associated thought patterns.
  • Besides improving states of mind more generally and providing a distraction, physical exercise can help reduce the energy that powers the agitation associated with craving.  Any form of exercise is recommended but that taken in attractive natural surroundings may be particularly helpful. It is important not to overdo it.
  • Massage, meditation and physical therapies that ease bodily tension can also help.
  • Purposeful activity, including appropriately rationed work, education or volunteering that requires focus and attention can divert the mind from the craving.

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