The Craving Brain

Cravings are a huge part of addiction and one reason for relapse. As I wrote in this post on cravings, all humans have innate drive for “survival” even if the cost of survival is risky.

If you will understand that we are starving, then you will understand why we do the things we do in our addiction. We’re not bad people. We’re just people. Just like you. But unlike you, we’re starving. This is why we hock, sell, trade everything we have. This is why we do the things that hurt the people we love. Our loved ones will say that we love our drugs more than we do them, but that’s not true. Even if you’re starving, you still love.”

The powerlessness of cravings

This guest post by Ed Brazell agrees:

I just don’t understand,Why?

It was once said that unless you’ve walked in my shoes you’ll never understand.

This quote wasn’t about substance use but boy does it fit.

I hear the questions all the time from families: Why don’t they get it, They’ve done this so many times, They were in recovery and remember the bad days, What the heck?

Our brain is a powerful organ. There are always struggles with either getting into recovery or staying in recovery:

  1. The body’s need for the drug/alcohol.
  2. The habit. Mental obsession not physical.
  3. The memories. Some times called triggers.

Most families think that once their love one has conquered the body’s need for the drug it’s done. But it’s not! It’s actually only starting. Just because the physical addiction isn’t there any longer doesn’t mean that the mental obsession goes away. That also goes along with other traits that they have learned while using. It’s something that the brain has to unlearn and even then it will make connections based on our everyday experiences.

First off, I’d like to get rid of the notion that 30 days is enough time in rehab. It’s not. Also the saying ‘one and done’ (going to one rehab and putting the substance down for good) does happen but it is rare. How can our brain unlearn something it’s been doing for years. Even if the use was for several months it’s still not easy. Clinicians and studies have shown that 90 days is the minimum amount of time needed and even after that follow up care should continue.

The body’s need for the drugs/alcohol:

A detox of anywhere from 5-14 days is all that is needed for almost all detoxes. It will remove the physical dependency of the addiction. Once this is done the hard work really begins.

The habit. Mental obsession not physical:

I sit in my room looking at the walls with tears running down my face like a river. Where is my child? Is he alive? I know, I’ll drive down to where he gets his drugs. Wait a minute someone got killed near there last week – it doesn’t matter I need to know where he is at. I get no sleep at all and I can’t eat knowing that something might be wrong.

Parents and spouses do you remember those feeling? Doing things that could bring harm to us. Do you remember how helpless you felt? How lost, unable to get it out of your mind.

That is taste of what early recovery feels like to your love ones. There are several reasons why they go through this stage:

  1. Chemical imbalance. It takes a long time for the brain to become balanced again. During use, the brain’s reward system has become overloaded. The brain gets use to the high levels. When they stop, the levels falls below what is accepted as normal. When that happens you can imagine how a brain would want this levels back up to where they were.
  2. Emotions. This is often a major issue. Some start their use because of emotional issues but all have issues with emotions when they stop. Can you imagine how you felt if you did something against you inner-being but suppress the feelings that you would normally have. That’s one of the reason that some take a long time to stop using. They feel the shame and know that they will have to deal with it. Now that they aren’t using anymore they have to deal with whatever they are feeling when for a long time they didn’t. Just as a reference point, how many times has someone that’s not using; run from their emotions so they wouldn’t have to deal with them. We throw ourselves into our own addiction such as a job, hobby and so on. Someone that stopped using has to now learn to deal with the emotions and it’s very hard. Many times it takes baby steps. To fast, they can overload and relapse. Also another big issue is isolation. Isolation is also used to not have to deal with anything and it always leads to depression.
  3. The physical connections to the use. Not to the brain dependency but the normal day to day interaction. We are all very repetitive creatures. If you ever examine someone’s life. You’ll see that they do the same thing over and over. We get set in our ways. With work, play, where we go and what we do. Did you know that one of the biggest problems with quitting smoking is because of the cigarette that we hold in our hand. I’m not talking about smoking it, I’m talking about just holding it.

The memories. Some times called triggers.

Let’s first look at a trigger that I might have, because we all have them. So, I’m sitting watching TV and a commercial comes on for a desert and all of a sudden I find myself in the kitchen digging through the pantry looking for something. I know it sounds silly but that would be a trigger. How about you run into someone that did you wrong and the memories start bubbling to the top and in a very short time you’re ready to bite their head off for something that happened years ago.

For those in recovery I’ll use the words “People, Places and things”. A trigger is something that caused a thought to come up about their old days using. It can be something as simple as a bottle of water. We would never think anything about it, but I know several people in recovery that can’t have a bottle of water around them because it reminds them of using. How about driving the same route that they use to. A friend that they use to use with. How about a small dose of a drug (for medical reasons) that reminds them of using.

A really big issue is drug dreams. They happen randomly. They are asleep having a dream. The dream is of them using. It seems so real that when they wake up they swear that they really did use. It feels real, the memory was real and even the same body feelings are the same. It’s a very unsettling feeling for anyone to go through.

Memories are a link between something in the past with something that is occurring now. It can be pictures, movies or even a conversation. For many it takes a long time for those memory links to sever. As time passes our brain forgets old the thoughts, replaces old ones with learned new ones and adapts. But a old thought can jump out of no where.

I hope this helps explain a little bit of what’s going on without writing a book. I tried to write it so it related to some of what you’ve had in your lives. There are many other things we could cover but it’s long already.- Ed Brazell

Published by

Samantha Waters

A unique perspective on the world from a small town girl turned big city nurse. Now a grandmother to 6 gregarious, resplendent boys and 5 endearing, magical girls, she strives the make the world a more understanding, pleasant place to experience this intense thing called life.

Leave a Reply