Drug Cravings and Relapse; Addressing Chemically Triggered Drug Cravings and Environmentally Triggered Drug Cravings (Part 1 of 3)

A person who has drug cravings will continually find themselves desiring to use drugs and remembering times they have used drugs in the past.  This experience of craving drugs is sometimes just a passing thought of using drugs by a person as they go through their day.  Or, the drug craving can seem more like an overwhelming, unstoppable urge which only the use of more drugs can satisfy.

In either case, drug cravings are the leading cause of relapse for a person who is desperately trying to leave drugs behind.  Fighting these daily or hourly desires to use drugs is a humiliating and frustrating battle for those who seek to quit drugs.  The process of craving drugs may literally go on for the remainder of the drug user’s life, if the cause of the drug craving is not addressed.

A person who is craving drugs may not be tracking or following with what’s going on around them.  They may be in the same room with you, looking like they are doing the same things you may be doing, but actually, they are only partially there.  This is because some part of the drug user’s attention is being pulled away from the present environment and placed on their past drug related experiences.  This may be slight, as when the person is seen to make occasional mistakes, or it may be as serious as almost total unawareness where the events the drug user “sees” are completely different from those experienced by anyone else.  The person will use expressions like “haunted by the past”, or state “he lives in the past”, or “I should just leave the past behind”.  These frequently used but often not-understood examples describe the process of an individual who, for seemingly unknown reasons, is constantly stuck in or focused on negative drug related past experiences.  This is instead of their being focused on what is occurring right here and now.   This is not something in the person’s awareness and they are involuntarily pulled back into reliving past drug memories by similar experiences, locations or people in the current environment.

Both chemical and environmental triggers result in pulling the drug user’s attention away from the present and placing it on past drug use.  By triggers, we mean the action of something, either chemically or environmentally, involuntarily “reminding” the drug user of past similar experiences.

Both chemical and environmental triggers will be discussed separately for ease of understanding, but remember that a drug user often isn’t aware of the difference.  Also remember that both chemically and environmentally triggered cravings can occur at the same time, which is often the case with people who have used drugs for extensive periods of time.

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