-By A. Scott Roberts
Addicts call the seductive pull for their drug, a craving. Scientists call it a cue. Non-addicts might call it a temptation. Whatever you call it, science has revealed what actually happens when experiencing those seductive pulls.
Initially, a craving starts with a stimulus. The stimulus (something that elicits a response) can either be internally generated (such as a thought) or externally generated (such as the sight of 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 can 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 an addict’s brain will release a small burst of dopamine during a craving “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.”1
Dr Childress says that the trigger “is a primer, a seductive pull.” She goes on to say that the trigger that addicts experience actually gives 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 strong cravings and desire.
But these cravings you experience are really false messages that have been classically conditioned and strengthened over time. One of the methods of the Truth Of Addiction system is to become aware of cravings as they happen and relabel them to what they really are: False Messages. They are not real needs, but are often felt as such.
Cravings grow by indulgence. They pop into your mind regardless of your desire to stop it.
Some feel that they are “morally wrong” or “weak-willed” when cravings or intrusive thoughts of using pop into their brain. They often react in a panic or try to suppress these thoughts and urges.
But cravings and urges come from the survival parts of the brain. Suppressing or reacting to them in a panic or trying to fight them off, as most people do, actually feeds them.2
Instead, you must learn to react in a different way to these intrusive feelings than you have in the past. Become mindful of them, observe them, learn to analyze them. Everybody has the ability to observe these cravings as they happen. Having a third person perspective about them and properly training your brain to redirect attention when distracted by them is one of the evidence-based methods in the Truth Of Addiction system.
And remember, your not a bad person for having urges or intrusive thoughts that pop into your mind. You CAN make the empowering decision how to react to them.
-A. Scott Roberts
A. S. Business, B.S. Psychology, M.S. studies in Rehabilitation Counseling
Addiction Specialist and Researcher
1. Cause of Smokers’ Cravings Revealed by Brain Scans;medicalnewstoday.com, March 21, 2007.
2. Bowen, S., K. Witkiewitz, T. M. Dillworth, and G. A. Marlatt. 2007. “The Role of Thought Suppression in the Relationship Between Mindfulness Meditation and Alcohol Use.” Addictive Behaviors 32:2324–2328.