One of the biggest threats to someone in recovery is the cravings that can arise following one of many triggers, or triggering situations. Because some many misunderstand the nature of cravings and how they relate to drug addiction, we will review their meaning and the danger that they pose to those trying to reach sobriety.

How Cravings Can Derail a Person’s Recovery

“Craving is a subjective experience of wanting to use a specific drug. Craving is a core symptom of drug addiction. A craving is distinguished from hunger in being an intense, directed toward the use of a specific drug.” Put simply, they are powerful urges to use a drug, ones that are nearly impossible to be ignored. The patient’s mind and body both pull toward the substance and don’t relent easily.

This is why controlling cravings and learning to avoid or stand firm against triggers is so crucial. The road to recovery is fraught with these strong lures, and without methods of standing against them, the individual will likely fall into relapse. Even those who have abstained for a long period of time are at risk simply because of the biological nature of cravings. They can absolutely overwhelm the mind and prevent the person from thinking about (let alone doing) anything else.

Part of working to stand against them is avoiding triggers. One such trigger is referred to as “cues.” These are usually related to the place – or environment – where the drugs were previously used, and so the sight of them causes triggers. This could be a particular room, a bar, a house… or the people that the person used drugs with. Avoiding these locations and the company helps to avoid that lure of falling back into old habits.

Another trigger is the “expectation” that they feel in seeing others drink or use drugs, or the wistfulness in remembering how they felt after drinking or using. Alcohol and drug addiction are involved greatly with the desire for that instant gratification, with how good it feels in the  moment, even if what comes after is all negative.

Imagine you have a sweet tooth and you’re home with a cake sitting on the counter. It’s much harder to avoid grabbing a slice in this scenario than if there aren’t any desserts in the house at all, don’t you think? In a similar way, the availability of substances makes a difference in the intensity of cravings. Those who know (or just believe) that there is no chance for usage will feel this less strongly than those who know (or believe) that there is an opportunity waiting for them.

Thinking too much about the perceived reward is another dangerous scenario, since the more “attention” that is paid to the craving, the stronger it seemingly becomes. This makes sense, since thoughts of all kinds will become more overpowering if you dwell on them, though not all thoughts produce the same kind of dangerous results as those in question.

Lastly, being in a state of high stress, as expected, will make it all the harder to avoid drinking or drug use. “Daily stress can cripple the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s executive function, such as concentration, planning, and judgment. As a result, addicts lose the ability to be reflective (reg­ulate behavior), and impulses take a stronger hold over their behaviors.” This is why so many people report that they “need a drink” following a hard day at work… and why this can lead to destructive habits.