Tennessee Addiction Resources: Cravings and Triggers

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cravings and triggers

What Are Addiction Cravings?

Cravings and triggers are challenges that everyone in early addiction recovery will have to face. Whether you are addict or alcoholic in the early days of your recovery journey, you will at some point encounter and need to deal with cravings and triggers.

Cravings are sometimes so insatiable that the addict or alcoholic has no power whatsoever to stop them, and many people have found themselves, without defense against their cravings, right back in the same spot they were in before getting sober. For this reason alone, addiction cravings can be one of the most dangerous things facing an alcoholic or addict that is attempting to get sober, and in order to understand how we can overcome them, we should first take a look at what causes the cravings that an addict experiences.

Addiction vs Physical Dependency

Many people would be shocked to know that there is a distinct difference between physical dependence and addiction. A person can be physically dependent on a drug and not be an addict, but a person who suffers from the disease of addiction has both addiction and physical dependence. Physical dependency usually results in cravings of some sort, but a person who has addiction has continuous and uncontrollable cravings, which usually result in the compulsive action of drinking or drugging.

Cravings Come From Addiction

The cravings that the addict experiences are not often understood by people who are not afflicted with this disease, because it is not a matter of just taking your mind off of the thought or not using, but they are an actual biological response to the need for the substance. This is caused in part by the fact that when addictive substances are ingested, they bypass the normal bodily functions that would create the signals of pleasure that the substances are producing.

When this is repeated enough times, the body actually stops producing certain hormones that generate pleasure because the substance is doing it for them. When drug usage is discontinued, the body does not immediately begin to produce those hormones again. The addict can experience extreme discomfort, which causes cravings in order to make these feelings go away.

Another factor that adds to the addiction cravings is the fact that when an addictive substance is ingested into the body, it is broken down, and some of that substance is left behind in the body, in what is known as metabolites. Some of these metabolites can go into the fatty tissue of a person and then stay behind for months or even years. As the fatty tissue burns off or is used, these metabolites can then re-enter the bloodstream, which can cause cravings.

Many times this occurs during a particularly stressful time in a person’s life because that is when the fatty tissue can be used, hence why people will experience cravings when feeling stress.

There is also a psychological component to the cravings experienced by addicts. An article in Psychology Today described cravings as “a programmed response to environmental signals that have been connected to drug use through experience.” The studies that the article was based on showed that the neurotransmitter release that occurs with the ingestion of an addictive substance is responsible not only for the euphoria experienced by the substance but also affects learning. This means that the brain, in time, learns to associate whatever stimuli it is smelling, seeing, hearing, etc., with the usage of substances. This affects the addict by causing a craving whenever that same stimulus is experienced again. Over time the brain can learn to unlearn this pattern, but that often takes time.

Overcoming Cravings

As difficult as it can be to contend with cravings, overcoming them is completely possible. Cravings don’t stop just because the substance is no longer in the body and withdrawal symptoms have subsided. In fact, they may actually get stronger once this has occurred. One of the most important things to do in order to combat cravings is to accept them for what they are. Many people who are newly sober, or even sober for a long time, experience them, and they are not a reflection on the person or their sobriety.

Recognizing that cravings are a natural reaction for addicts to experience can help to put them into perspective and take away some of the power they can hold on you. The worst thing you can do is to feel guilt over them and, therefore, not talk about them. When cravings occur, call someone and get it off your mind, and the majority of the time, they will subside.

Difference Between Cravings and Triggers

If you find yourself in a situation that is causing you to crave drugs or alcohol, this is called a trigger. Get out of that situation as quickly as possible. This is another tangible way to deal with cravings the moment they occur. A trigger is a person, place, or thing that reminds you of using. A craving is the result of a trigger and is usually the result of physical or psychological dependence on the drug.

Types of Addiction Triggers

There are many different types of addiction triggers, and each is unique to the individual. Here are some of the most common addiction triggers:

  • Stressful life events (e.g. job loss, relationship problems, financial difficulties)
  • Exposure to drug or alcohol-related cues (e.g. seeing drug paraphernalia, being in a setting where drugs or alcohol are used)
  • Negative emotions (e.g. depression, anxiety, anger, boredom)
  • Positive emotions (e.g. celebration, excitement)
  • Social pressure (e.g. peer pressure, pressure to fit in)
  • Trauma or past experiences (e.g. childhood abuse or neglect)
  • Genetics (e.g. family history of addiction)
  • Mental health conditions (e.g. bipolar disorder, PTSD)
  • Easy access to drugs or alcohol
  • Lack of support or positive coping mechanisms
  • Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms
  • Physical pain or discomfort

Fighting Drug and Alcohol Triggers

Sometimes all it takes is stepping outside for a minute and collecting yourself, but whatever the case may be, remove yourself from the situation and call someone if need be. Another effective way to deal with cravings is to work a 12 step program. One of the main goals of the Steps is to expel the obsession to drink or drug. This obsession is just one long continuous craving and by working the 12 steps cravings usually subside.

If you or someone you know is in need of addiction treatment, please reach out to us today. Magnolia Ranch Recovery is a premier Tennessee drug rehab.

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Picture of Esra Ahmed - MS, NCC, LPC, MHSP
Esra Ahmed - MS, NCC, LPC, MHSP

Experienced Clinical Director with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & health care industry. Skilled in Anger Management, Healthcare, Medicine, EMDR, and Life Transitions. Strong healthcare services professional with a Masters Degree focused in Psychology from The University of Memphis.

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