-By A. Scott Roberts
M.S. Rehabilitation Counseling
When you try to quit any addiction, your brain goes into a PANIC. You try your very hardest to quit your addiction, but you find that you still need that cigarette or drink.
There is a reason why you find yourself dealing with strong cravings when you are attempting to quit. Addiction exploits the mechanisms our brain has developed to enable us to survive. The brain actually thinks it needs it.
We live in a day of plenty - and the getting is ALWAYS good. Our ancient ancestors did not live during a time where abundant rewards (such as food) was immediately available. Nor did they live in an age where junk food is scientifically modified to be most palatable.
The widely available and abundant sources of junk food, porn, credit cards and chemical substances at our disposal tells our brain that the "getting is good," explaining why our natural inclination is to over-eat, over-use, over-spend and over-drink.
If you abruptly try to quit your addiction, the brain will go into a frenzied state. Abruptly quitting evokes your brain to make a last-ditch effort for your drug of choice. This is largely because CONDITIONING has occurred. If you want to know how to stop addiction in it's tracks you must learn this key element.
Conditioning is the shaping of an organism's behavior through environmental interaction.
B. F. Skinner, a behavioral psychologist, demonstrated this principle. When experimenting with animals, he build up a chain of behaviors through reinforcement. This is how dolphins at Sea World are trained to swim around the tank and jump through hoops and other complex behaviors to get a treat. While some animals will press a lever several hundred times for just one single dose of a drug.1
Addicts are continually conditioned to obtain their drug of choice. In some cases, an addict will go though a lot of work get it. When a smoker realizes that he must run to the gas station to get a cigarette, this requires him to complete a complicated sequence of behaviors too. He has to put on his coat, then his shoes, locate his wallet and keys. He walks outside, hops into his car and drives 5 miles.
The addict goes through this whole process to ENSURE they have their drug of choice.
But if the drug is no longer available, or if both humans and animals are no longer rewarded for their behavior, then they stop engaging in it. This is called extinction. Extinction is when the "reward" is removed. During this time, an extinction burst happens. An extinction burst is a temporary increase of behavioral responses in effort to get that reward.
Parents are often told to ignore their kids when they cry.
When a child cries in his crib, the mother's natural inclination is to go and hold the child and comfort him. What this does is strengthens the child’s probability of crying in the future. The repeated pattern of the mother comforting the child when he is in distress, leads the child to cry more often.
When a parent abruptly stops giving the child attention, their cries get the loudest. This is because they are going through an "extinction burst." The parents know it is best for the child, but their child's heart wrenching cries and screams for attention are extremely difficult to ignore. But after an hour, the child will stop crying and falls asleep.
Similarly, when you try to break your pattern of addiction, this is when your brain's urges and cravings become the loudest. Like the child, your brain wants to have a tantrum. You may get seemingly uncontrollable and intrusive thoughts and urges to use your drug. You may want to pull your hair out, slam doors or kick your neighbors cat.
But just you wait, everything will be fine. You are just experiencing an extinction burst.
It matters what you do during this time. Just observe that panicked state of mind. Calm down and observe those cravings. When you have a strong craving, approach it as a different way than you did in the past. When most people feel those intense cravings and urges for their drug, they either give in, or try to fight, suppress or avoid it. But fighting, suppressing and avoiding cravings actually makes them stronger.2
Instead, just observe the craving. Like a curious scientist, stand out of the cravings path and observe it. Do not act on it. When you do not act on it, it diminishes. The secret here is to gain a third person perspective about the craving. What does it feel like? Are there any associated body responses such as sweaty palms, increased heart rate or racing thoughts associated with it? Just observe and DO NOTHING.
Everyone has the ability to step outside themselves and examine their own thought processes, it just takes effort. Separate yourself from your urge and observe it as a wave that slowly builds up, hits crest and diminishes.
This works because cravings do not last long. They are only transitory moments. The Truth of Addiction system shows you how and is backed by research. If you want to know how to stop an addiction dead in it's path, you need to use methods that are research backed. Help for addiction is available. You can order here.
-A. Scott Roberts
M.S. Rehabilitation Counseling