A craving is a persistent and powerful desire to use substances. Cravings, which are physical and emotional in nature, naturally occur after substance use stops. Cravings can last anywhere from 3-5 minutes; however, if you focus on the craving, it will last longer. The uncontrollable thinking during cravings is a barrier to recovery.
Thoughts and Behaviors During Cravings
During cravings, distorted thoughts contribute to negative feelings, leading to unhealthy patterns of behavior that can fuel the cycle of addiction. Thoughts during cravings increase stress for the addict and the addict feels that the only relief from the cravings is to listen to those thoughts.
Examples of thoughts and behaviors during cravings are:
- I need to have it”
- I cannot function without it”
- I have to find it”
- Doctor shopping for prescriptions
- Buying travel-sized bottles of alcohol that are easy to hide
- Trading sex for drugs
- Soliciting random people for drugs
- Stealing other people’s medication
Cravings During Addiction
Substance abuse temporarily satisfies the unmanageable thinking produced by cravings. However, this relief is only temporary. The continued use of substances will lead to harmful dependence, both physical and psychological.
Physical Dependence – Addiction has a negative impact on the body, disrupting its systems’ functioning. An addict’s brain and body adapt to the changes created by a substance, producing physical dependence. Without continued use of the substance, the body will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. Physical withdrawal symptoms include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Muscle Tension
- Difficulty Breathing
- Nausea and/or Vomiting
Psychological Dependence – Relentless thoughts about using can be overwhelming. The driving force created by the thoughts produces feelings of powerlessness over alcohol or drug addiction that lead to using. These thoughts convince an addict that getting drugs or alcohol is the only way to alleviate uncomfortable feelings. Stopping use of the substance will result in emotional withdrawal. Emotional withdrawal symptoms include:
Withdrawal symptoms increase the intensity of cravings, making abstinence difficult for an addict. Most people cannot stop using drugs or alcohol on their own. Medical monitoring in a detox unit can ensure that an individual completes the detox process safely and comfortably while offering extra support for physical and emotional cravings. Alcohol detox or drug detox is not a substitute for treatment.
Cravings after Detox
After drug detox, physical cravings are no longer present. At this point, the body is completely clean of all substances and its systems are returning to normal functioning. The reintroduction of substances at levels used before detox is risky and sometimes deadly.
Psychological cravings for substances are the next barrier to remaining clean and sober after detox. The feelings that emerge after drug and alcohol detox are sometimes unpleasant. Cravings to use arise as uncomfortable feelings begin. Psychological cravings also create the desire to find substances, even if the addict’s intention is to remain clean. Specific tools only learned in residential treatment centers provide the addict with the knowledge to handle and respond to different physical and psychological cravings.
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