Understanding Cravings And What You Can Do About It

A. Scott Roberts[divider_line]Insert Your Text Here[/divider_line] What addicts call a craving, scientists call a cue. Science has revealed what actually happens when we are experiencing these cravings. Initially, a craving will start with a stimulus. The stimulus (something that elicits a response) can either be internally generated (such as a thought) or externally generated (such as a seeing a beer bottle). This stimulus triggers a sequence of events within the brain which usually results in an external action (behavior). Scientists understand that both thoughts and environmental cues actually boost dopamine (the "feel good" chemical) in the brain resulting in desire for more. Dr. Childress, psychiatrist and researcher, used PET scans on participants to view neural activity. What she discovered was that when an addict experiences a craving, the brain releases a small burst of dopamine “similar to a small dose of the drug itself, that is why some people report tasting the drug in the back of their throats, even though they really haven’t taken any. ” Dr Childress says that the trigger "is a primer, a seductive pull." She goes on to say that the trigger that addicts experience actually give them "a small taste of the drug itself before they even get there.”1 What this means, is that the sight of a beer bottle to an alcoholic or the smell of cigarette smoke to a smoker, spikes dopamine in the addict's brain, causing a strong craving and desire. One study showed that just dangling a tasty piece of candy in front of a participant resulted in a reaction in the brain similar to what would happen when a bottle of alcohol is placed before an alcoholic.2 Similarly, viewing a pornographic image of a half nude woman spikes dopamine at remarkable levels. 3 Money, and the possibility of obtaining it, also spikes dopamine.4 What's more significant than chemicals spiking, is the chain reaction caused when they do. At the spike of dopamine the limbic system of the brain starts to subdue the prefrontal cortex (part of brain that understands consequences). This happens because the brain is a "team of rivals" where structures are competing against each other for dominance.5 Researchers discovered that a spike of dopamine empowers the limbic system to "hijack" our reasoning and assessing abilities that are carried out in the prefrontal cortex.5 The prefrontal cortex tells us what is right and what is wrong and keeps our pleasure-seeking limbic system in check. This explains why relapse is all too common for recovering addicts. Not only are they given a small "taste of their drug" when experiencing cravings, but the rational part of the brain that warns them of the consequences, is subdued. Because environmental cues trigger a release of dopamine, it is important to stay away from people or places that would trigger your craving and remove any and all paraphernalia of your drug of choice from your home. Out of sight, out of mind is generally effective. But of course you may still get the occasional craving and thoughts about using. So when they happen, use self talk. Self-talk activates the prefrontal cortex. The ways you can do that is to think about the reasons why you should stop. Ask yourself "last time I relapsed, did it work out for me?" or "How would my parents/wife/son think of me if I start smoking/drinking again?" Getting your brain to think deeply and consider the negative consequences can help you when you are triggered. This will loosen the brain from the powerful limbic system's grasp. Another valuable method is to meditate. Mindful meditation appears to be very effective and research shows that it activates the prefrontal cortex, lessens cravings and boosts successful recovery.6,7,8 That is why mindfulness meditation practices is integrated into the Truth Of Addiction system. -A. Scott Roberts[divider_line]Insert Your Text Here[/divider_line]

1. Cause of Smokers’ Cravings Revealed by Brain Scans;medicalnewstoday.com, March 21, 2007.
2. Neese R.and Berridge. K. (1997) Psychoactive Drug Use in Evolutionary Perspective. October. Vol. 278 no. 5335 pp. 63-66
3. Getting the Brain’s Attention, Science, Oct. 3, 1997
4. Brain Experts Now Follow the Money, New York Times, June 17, 2003.4. Random Samples, Science Magazine, January 21, 2005
5. Blakeslee, Sandra (2002). “Hijacking the Brain Circuits with a Nickel Slot Machine.” The New York Times (February 19), Sec. F, 1.
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