A drug is any substance which when taken into the body, may modify one or more of its functions.  Drugs are essentially poisons.  The degree they are taken determines the effect.  A small amount acts as a stimulant.  A greater amount acts as a sedative.  An even larger amount causes death.  Each drug has a different amount at which it gives those results. 

Despite what a person may think about drugs, the body identifies drugs as toxins or poisons as soon as they are taken. This causes the liver and kidneys to instantly begin breaking the drug down to allow it to be excreted by normal bodily functions.  The drugs are broken down into what are called metabolites, which are more easily eliminated from the body. 

Unfortunately, these metabolites are fat-bonding.  As they pass through the bloodstream, many of the drug metabolites are drawn to the fatty tissues that surround blood vessels and become trapped there.  In other words, the metabolites stick to the fat cells in the body and build up every time more drugs are taken.

Chemically triggered drug cravings occur when the drug metabolites that have stuck to fat cells are released back into the blood stream and travel to the brain.  This can happen any time the person’s body burns fat for energy.  Exercise as well as normal life situations like stress or anger can launch the metabolites into the bloodstream from the fatty tissue, where they flow to the brain and cause drug cravings. 

You may have heard stories about individuals having “flashbacks” from LSD.  Anyone who has used any kind of psychoactive drug may experience drug “flashbacks” and may also have drug cravings for years after they have stopped taking drugs. 

To understand these chemically triggered drug cravings, one needs to understand how we store memories and how they are sometimes recalled unexpectedly. 

As we live life, we record mental image pictures of our experiences, which are “snap shots” of living.  A simple example of this is a person smells something cooking in the kitchen and instantly identifies what it is. The person can remember the smell to be that of cookies and remembers how much they loved it when their mom made them.  If the person were to really focus their attention on the memory, they can almost taste the cookies as well. 

This is due to the very detailed memory of cookies in the person’s past, which again includes the sight of their mom’s kitchen, the sounds of the pots clanging, the taste of the cookies and milk and the emotional feelings of joy and love they felt for their mom and the good feelings associated with eating cookies. While this is a fond memory, keep in mind that it was brought on simply by the smell of something cooking in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, this memory recall works the same way with drug memories.  Every time a person uses drugs, he or she stores the mental image pictures, the “snap shots” of their drug use. These drug-related memories, like every other memory, contain the thoughts, sights, sounds, feelings, emotions, and decisions from the time the person was using the drug.  However, these memories are often highly emotional and very irrational.

Just like the smell of cookies results in or triggers the memories of eating cookies and your mother’s kitchen, a drug metabolite stored in the fatty tissue and released back into the bloodstream will result in or trigger the memories of that past drug use.  If the metabolite were from cocaine, the triggered memory would be that of using cocaine, or an emotional experience related in some way to cocaine.

Here is a situation many people find themselves in.  A person abuses drugs and then, for good reason, he or she will decide to quit using drugs and attempt to get his or her life together.  Suddenly, and apparently without warning, the person remembers past times when he or she used drugs, places where drugs were purchased or the like, and the person experiences a strong desire to use drugs again.  This will trigger without warning but the person will have been found to be doing something which caused their body to burn fat for energy. (See paragraph 4 above).

If these memories are triggered, the person will re-experience the same pain and despair, to some degree, in the present.  The individual feels bad, but doesn’t know why.  What has occurred is the drug metabolites have been released back into the bloodstream and traveled to the brain triggering memories of past drug use causing the person to crave the drug.

This overall process of chemically triggered memories is commonly referred to as physical and emotional drug cravings.  In spite of real and logical reasons he or she has to quit using drugs, the person involuntarily desires to use drugs again. Without the removal of these drug metabolites from the body, even an addict who has managed to come off of drugs may experience these drug cravings, or chemically triggered drug memories for years after quitting.

Drug cravings are one of the most common reasons for relapse after substance abuse rehabilitation.  When these cravings hit, former addicts who have been clean for months or years may suddenly find themselves back on the streets using drugs, baffled by their failure to control themselves and their addiction.  Not finding any logical reason for craving drugs, they will be completely mystified as to why this is happening and begin to experience feelings of hopelessness, despair and failure.

Each time this happens, it becomes harder for them to believe addiction to drugs and alcohol can be conquered.  Even though an addict knows they need to stop using drugs, at the same time they are aware they can’t stop thinking about them. 

Unfortunately, when an addict who tries to quit using drugs experiences involuntary drug cravings, they have a strong desire to use drugs again. As far as an addict is concerned, if there ever was a problem, this is it.

How to handle Chemically Triggered Drug Cravings (to follow)

One Response to “Chemically Triggered Drug Cravings”

  1. Dana says:

    Very informative. Helps me to understand what my son went through and the Narcanon treatment program.

Narconon Louisiana New Life Retreat, Inc. is a BBB Accredited Rehabilitation Service in Denham Springs, LA