Drug Cravings Explained
During rehab, medical staff commonly address cravings by tapering users off a substance. This is when they give temporarily give an addiction sufferer a substitute drug, such as a less potent benzodiazepine in the case of Xanax addiction.
While mainly done to control the severity of withdrawal symptoms and lead to a safer detox, tapering has the secondary effect of lessening the discomfort of cravings.
What Are Cravings?
Cravings are a psychological urge to take a dose of the drug that is being withheld during a withdrawal period. They are a normal part of recovering from addiction. If not handled appropriately, however, drug cravings can lead to a relapse.
Alcohol and drug cravings can persist for months and at times years after an individual stops using the drug. Former drug users can continue to experience cravings even when they no longer consciously wish to use the drug. Cognitive behavioural therapy and other coping methods learned in rehab can help to handle this.
The severity and longevity of drug cravings differ from drug to drug and also depend on the unique profile of the user. For crack cocaine, for example, cravings may never permanently stop due to the way it alters the brain.
Causes of Cravings
Cravings are caused by continued use of a drug, which, over time, leads to the build-up of tolerance and substance dependence. Individuals who have developed substance dependence and need a substance to function will feel stronger and more intense cravings than individuals with a milder addiction.
Cravings can be triggered by a reminder of the drug. These can be mental triggers such as thinking about the drug. Physical triggers that can induce triggers include a scent that reminds a user of the drug. Psychological triggers involve individuals going through experiences they may struggle to cope with, which can bring about a sudden desire to take the drug, even after cravings have been dormant for months.
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Symptoms of Cravings
The most recognisable symptom of cravings is being preoccupied with thoughts about using the substance. These thoughts can last for hours at a time, during which individuals find it difficult to think about anything other than the drug. This can include a desire to revisit old using environments or see and reconnect with old friends the individual abused the substance with.
A symptom of cravings that those around a former user can observe is when the individual performs actions that are related to the drug and stops a few steps short of actually using it. This can include buying drug-related paraphernalia, reading and watching material related to the drug or wanting to have conversations about it.
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