Addictionland - Addiction Recover Blog
Today many people believe that alcoholism and addiction are a disease. I also agree that there is some biological, neural, or genetic influences on whether a person eventually develops a drug or alcohol problem. Regardless of your personal views, alcoholism and addiction are uniquely distinct from other known medical diseases and afflictions. Like most other diseases, there is a physical component of alcoholism. Once a drink is taken, the body demands more. This is called a ‘craving’. However, there is another part to the disease of alcoholism centered around an overwhelming mental obsession for alcohol that occurs even when the alcoholic is not actively drinking. I will explain the difference between these two parts of alcoholism that make up the two-fold disease. While this article primarily discusses alcoholism, the concepts and theories are equally applicable to drug addictions.
When an alcoholic takes a drink, their brain processes it differently than a non-alcoholic. Research suggests that the reason for this lies in the dopamine reward pathways, since alcohol releases dopamine. Without going too much into the science of the disease model of addiction, I will briefly explain how and why craving occurs. Because alcohol, like eating, hydrating, and sex, releases dopamine, our body recognizes it as a positive experience and this inspires us to repeat such acts. However, alcohol is literally toxic to our bodies, which explains why too much booze causes nausea, vomiting, and hangovers. Non-alcoholics experience these negative effects of drinking and it deters them from pursuing the dopamine release from drinking. In the body of an alcoholic the act of drinking becomes wrongly identified as a necessary activity for survival. Something in the brain of an addicted person attaches a need so powerful for alcohol that it overrules the negative consequences that deter non-alcoholics. Essentially the alcoholic brain tricks itself into thinking it needs alcohol, like food and water, to survive. This also explains why the alcoholic is unable to limit their drinking to just a few drinks. Their brain is receiving the positive signal produced by alcohol and the brain responds by craving more and more. The phenomena of craving occur when alcohol is introduced into the body, however the second part of alcoholism, the mental obsession, happens without any introduction of alcohol.
Many alcoholics in the first month of sobriety report a strong obsession to drink. Perhaps they go by an old bar or see a beer commercial on t.v. This tendency to constantly think about and desire alcohol is known as the mental obsession. It is different from craving because the mental obsession is not influenced by the presence of alcohol in the body. The mental obsession, if no changes occur, makes abstinence from alcohol unbearable to the alcoholic and often leads to a relapse. So why, even after detox, does the alcoholic brain obsess over alcohol?Researchers into addiction science propose that the brain stores the experience of drinking in a special part of short and long term memory. The alcoholic brain processes and labels alcohol as high priority memory, like memories of eating and sex. Again this is rooted in the biology of human survival, since these memories are stored differently because they ensure our reproduction and health. With the alcoholic the brain incorrectly groups drinking alcohol into this important section of memories. This explains that when the alcoholic stops drinking, their brain still obsesses and demands alcohol.
Alcoholics, in my opinion, suffer from a two-fold disease. One-side, the craving, is a psycho-biological (aka physical) reaction to alcohol. The other side, the mental obsession, centers in the mind of the alcoholic. Both of these components explain that when an alcoholic tries to just quit drinking their chances of success are low. It requires a strong and committed recovery plan to overcome both the physical craving of alcohol and the mental obsession. Drastic measures often have to be taken to achieve long-term sobriety. These measures can include 12-step groups, recovery groups, therapy, spirituality, meditation, and others. Many people need some kind of in-patient or out-patient treatment services, like those offered at NewBridge Recovery. Patients at NewBridge benefit from medical assistance therapy, help building a recovery plan, and both group and individual therapy....
When I first came into recovery I used to get frightened by other abstinent alcoholics proclaim that they were so glad they did not get the “wet tongue” when they saw alcohol or people drinking alcohol. I used to feel ashamed as I did have an instantaneous “wet tongue” or mild salivation (Pavlovian response) and still do years later when I see people drinking alcohol. Is this a “craving” for alcohol, do I still want to drink? Do I still have an “alcoholic mind?“. Did I do my steps properly?...
It happens far too often. You read about some celebrity who has a new diet that is guaranteed to help you shed those pounds. Or you talk to a friend who has lost a ton of weight by following a new plan. You even hear the experts describe it not as a diet, but as a new way of life. So you go on it. Then the inevitable happens: you get bored, you get stuck, you cheat a little and then the cravings hit. The next thing you know it’s a slip then a relapse. Your choice is to try again, or head off to the next diet. Atkins. South Beach. Body for Life. Paleo. Is it going to work? In fact, research shows that dieting actually increases cravings.
What if the problem isn’t what you eat, but what you do when you are not eating? For most people that’s exactly the issue: the problem is cravings. Cravings are why you switched from one plan to another; cravings are why you feel you need to “cheat.” And cravings will come no matter what diet or “way of life” you choose.
So instead of, yet again, changing what you eat, why not change you, by changing what you do when you’re not eating? Here a 5 suggestions that will help you do just that and get those pesky cravings under control.
Write it down
“Wait… you want me to write down every single thing I eat or drink?” Absolutely. Keeping a food diary greatly improves your chance of success. Food diary users are more likely to lose weight, less likely to crave and more likely to stick to their plans. If writing down your meals is too cumbersome, a number of smartphone apps like LoseIt! and MyFitnessPal make logging a snap, and even allow you to scan the barcodes of foods to automatically enter their nutritional information. If you have issues with orthorexia, this may require some special modification/attention, but most people who struggle should take inventory. Many food diary users, however, will log their meals for a while and then stop, which leads to the next suggestion:...
Over the last several years, nearly every new diet on the scene has addressed cravings by suggesting “cheat meals.” Usually the hack formula goes something like this:
All the other diets you have tried have been wrong because they didn’t pay attention to the problem with food X. Food X and those like it are a major problem. You need to stop eating them. Here is a plan to do that and some recipes to show you that eating without food X is possible and even enjoyable. This is not a diet; it’s a way of life. Here are a bunch of people who have successfully lost weight on this plan. Oh and by the way, because the cravings will be intense, you should give yourself a break and cheat every once in a while. Of course, one major problem with these diets is that they don’t adequately address the more important issue: craving. In fact, research shows that dieting actually increases cravings.
However, another even more important reason these diets fail is that they never really address what is really core to the weight gain, dieting, weight loss cycle: shame. Shame drives the cravings bus. Shame is why you gain the weight back every time. Shame is what tricks you into thinking you “deserve” that piece of chocolate cake. Shame tells you that deserve to cheat every once in a while. For most people on the roller-coaster of dieting and weight gain, the diet they are really on is the shame diet. And they are bingeing and purging shame in a vicious cycle that no diet will ever adequately address.
Rather than a cheat meal, want to know what you really deserve? (Hint: it’s not some deep awareness about the toxic effects of wheat or gluten). It’s self-love, acceptance, peace, a sense of purpose, and connectedness. Shame destroys all of these basic human needs by tricking you into thinking that you deserve something that actually hurts you. Just think about it: does it really make sense that either cheating or dieting could be a solution for shame?
Leaving aside the issue of dieting…could it ever make sense that a new way of eating could solve the shame problem? And if you’re doing the cheating, who exactly is being cheated?...