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Cravings: The First Barrier to Successful Recovery   PDF  Print  Email 

Part II of the series "The Life Cycle and Mechanics of Addiction"

Overcoming the mental and physical cravings for drugs is the first challenge of any drug rehabilitation program.

Cravings are the uncontrolled desire to use again.

The addict is driven by physical and mental impulses to use that they cannot control.

To get an idea of what drug cravings are like remember a time when you went for a long time without eating a meal and you were really hungry.

Being hungry is a mental and physical experience that is triggered when the body needs nutritional energy.

It is a craving for food that is driven at a physical level which in turn stimulates memories of eating food which is followed by a strong desire or compulsion to consume food.

Usually when a person is hungry they will think about their favorite foods and if they get hungry enough they can sometimes even smell and taste certain foods.

If one is hungry and goes long enough without food eventually the thought of food and the physical reaction (i.e. growling stomach, or shaking) to not having the food will become so great that they will drop whatever it is they are doing and arrange to get food and eat it.

As soon as the food is consumed the hunger pangs stop and one feels good about satisfying their hunger.

A drug craving is similar but the desire to use drugs is much stronger and more intense than hunger pangs.

An addict who is craving drugs will feel like life itself is dependent on them getting their drug of choice.

They will do and say almost anything to get the drug to feed the craving they have for it.

Once they feed the craving they feel relief from the physical and mental drive to use until the drug wears off and the craving returns.

Today it is fairly common for many companies and federal agencies to drug test their employees.

These drug tests are done through urinalysis.

Through testing a person's urine one can determine if they have taken drugs and if so what type of drug it was.

Drug tests identify drug metabolites present in the urine. The drug metabolite is like a finger print of the drug taken.

Cocaine produces a cocaine metabolite, opiates produce an opiate metabolite, alcohol produces an alcohol metabolite and so on.

This is an important fact to remember as we look at what causes drug and alcohol cravings.

The origin of drug cravings begin with the way the body metabolizes chemicals.

Drugs and alcohol are broken down and filtered in the liver.

There is a by-product from this filtration process called a metabolite. A metabolite is a protein-based molecule that is produced when the body processes and filters food or chemicals that are ingested.

Some of these drug metabolites will end up leaving the body through the sweat and urine while other metabolites can and do find their way into the person's fat cells which are also protein-based.

The fact that both of these elements are protein based is why the fat cells and metabolites remaining in the body are able to adhere to each other.

The next component of the drug craving has to do with memory and the mind.

Each time a person consumes drugs or alcohol they develop a complete recorded memory of that life experience.
Whether good times or bad, happy or sad, all emotions, feelings and sensations that were present at the time the drug or alcohol was ingested is filed away in the person's memory.

Even if a person is in a blackout, the experience is still recorded in the mind.

For those that are dependent on physically addictive drugs like opiates, alcohol, tranquilizers or sleeping pills they have a series of memories that contain the pain and discomfort associated with drug withdrawal.

The body will metabolize and burn fat cells any time a person undergoes a situation in life that causes the heart rate to speed up.

Stress can do this, as can strenuous exercise or intense emotion.

Most of us experience some or all of these things on a fairly regular basis.

When an addict's body metabolizes fat, if the fat cells contain metabolites from past alcohol and drug use, as the fat cell burns the drug metabolite will activate back into the person's blood stream.

Keeping in mind that each type of drug produces its own metabolite and the drugs or alcohol have already been in the blood stream when they were originally ingested the body gets reminded of the drug at a physical level which will then trigger recorded memories of drug related experiences and discomforts from the past.

The person remembers feeling and thinking like they did in the past when they were under the influence or will remember experiencing pain and discomfort when they were coming down from the drug and so are prone to use again at these times.

Gary W. Smith
Executive Director
Narconon Arrowhead Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation and Education Center.

Coming next: The Life Cycle and Mechanics of Addiction: "Depression" The Second Barrier to Successful Recovery: Part III

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