22 Sep Cravings Can Resurface Even After Years in Recovery from Addiction
Addiction is now compared by many professionals to diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure – conditions that mandate a medical regimen and changes in the way a person manages their recreational time and their overall health. Like other diseases, addiction can go into remission for a time and then flare up again. It may not be appropriate, according to some experts, to look for an addict to learn to control cravings completely – even more so if it is their first attempt at treatment.
A craving can be considered a specific reaction to a stimulus, and the relationship is strengthened over time. Tools to help addicts control cravings must be reevaluated and perhaps changed as the process continues, says National Institute on Drug Abuse director Alan Leshner, Ph.D. In addition, most people who attempt to pursue addiction recovery return to the drug within a timeframe of about one year. According to George Koob of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., only about one-fifth of people who go through the detoxification process maintain their abstinence from the drug. This knowledge continues to prompt research to explore the reasons people become addicted to a substance, and the reasons they struggle to manage cravings for years even after the substance has been stopped.
Researchers seem to agree that during addiction, the brain becomes used to performing its tasks under the influence of the drug or the alcohol and cannot return to normal processes without it. In terms of cravings, anything can become a trigger, including a particular person, setting, or influence.
Leshner describes this as people’s ability to recollect a memory of being high. As the person encounters the trigger, an emotional response can be set off and a very strong desire to use the substance can take place, even if the craving has been absent for years. Therefore, many recovering addicts are strongly encouraged to avoid the social settings that might bring on a craving.
There may also be physical evidence linked to long-term cravings, mostly linked to feelings of anticipation. This can include heart rate variations, changes in blood pressure and pupils that change in size.
For family members and therapists working with recovering addicts, Leshner says it is important to keep in mind that cravings that lead to relapse usually happen when a person is in a negative frame of mind already. This could mean a sudden financial stress or a difficult social situation. He adds that it typically takes more stimulus than simply observing someone else using the drug to spur a relapse; the addict will likely need additional negative circumstances to break their pattern of abstinence.
Other studies, such as findings reported in 2010 from the Texas Tech University Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery, back up this belief. Published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers who studied college students with addictions stated that people who respond by trying to avoid life troubles have a nearly double chance of returning to their addiction, as compared with people who utilized various strategies for resolving or working through problems.
For family members and professionals working with people with substance addictions, one important factor may be to realize that cravings and relapse are likely – but learning effective tools for overcoming cravings and dealing with stress proactively can be a strong part of the solution.
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