Managing Cravings and Urges
It goes without saying that success in recovery relies on the ability to manage cravings and urges. Intellectually, you fully understand that one drink / hit / smoke or whatever it is that you do, will inevitably end up with you either puking up on the bathroom floor or waking up the next day full of the remorse and shame of yet another failed attempt to stop. You KNOW this, so why is it that you can’t seem to curb those impulses? Why is it so hard to overcome the urge to do something that you know will ultimately end in carnage?
Understanding cravings and urges is the first step to managing them. It is not about being weak-willed – it is about over-riding the brain’s hard-wired natural survival mechanisms, which is not an easy task.
Drugs and alcohol target the parts of the brain that are involved in learning, memory, reward and emotional regulation. In order to survive as a species, we have to learn and remember what is good for us and what is dangerous. When we do things that encourage survival such as complete tasks, connect with others, eat, drink and have sex, we are rewarded with neurochemicals that promote feelings of well-being, satisfaction, pleasure and contentment. One of the chemicals – dopamine -amongst other things, motivates us to seek out activities that produce these feelings, given that they are associated with survival. Unfortunately or fortunately depending how you look at it, drugs and alcohol activate the same chemicals and so the brain starts to believe that they are essential to survival. [Read more…]