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Managing Craving Through Mental Techniques

Craving is the phenomenon which is particularly talked about while we consider the topic of addiction. When an individual develops dependence over the addictive substance and tries to quit, it starts producing withdrawal symptoms and then a person starts craving. Craving involves a disruption in individual’s emotional, mental and behavioral state. Emotional symptoms exhibit in the form of anxiety, frustration, irritability, and dissatisfaction. Mental or cognitive symptoms take the form of thoughts, images, and memories which prone towards reusing the substance. Behavioral symptoms are displayed through restlessness, wandering, or reaching to the sites where the substance can be seen, tasted, smelled, touched or heard about. Hence, the cycle of addiction revolves and never stops until the person takes some alternative steps to get rid of the craving.

There are several ways to manage the craving. Recent advances in the field of addiction have enriched us with a number of effective strategies. These tips and techniques help addicted patients to rehabilitate and get back into the fullest of their lives. Some of those techniques are discussed here.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques

Certain cognitive behavioral strategies are proved to be the effective ways to cope with uncontrollable mental states of craving.

Behavioral strategies:

To simplify this domain, we notify 3Ds for managing craving, i.e.

1• Delaying: delaying impulses is the best solution to avoid immediate gratification. If someone is committed to delaying the urge when a trigger is present in the environment, this decision encourages a person to not follow the cravings. A person can generate coping statements such as “I’m not going to act upon this urge right now, I’m Delaying this decision for a few minutes”.

2• Distraction: as you have delayed the urge for few minutes, you will now need to distract the chains of thoughts underlying craving. Distraction strategies can be anything you would like to do except following the craving. You may tune into your playlist, start running/jogging/exercise, take a deep breath, play your favorite game, talk to a friend on the phone etc. It will serve best for you if you keep the list of distraction activities readily available for you. Simply write down these activities on a piece of paper and paste at the place where it is easily accessible to you anytime. Use distraction until the craving subsides.

3• Deciding: as you have successfully stopped your craving, now think about the reasons for which you desired to stop craving. Enjoy those desired life events as you are free of pressure now. You would be happy upon your decision and applaud yourself for not complying with a mere urge.

Let yourself talk to someone about the urge:

This is another way to effectively deal with your craving. Be careful with whom you talk about. If you confide to a friend or a spouse who can help you handle the craving, it will work well. It is good to prepare that person before the actual situation arises. This negotiation will let you both to reach the desired results. If that person is not ready, he/she can end up in worry, nervousness or anxiety because of the thought that talking about craving may lead to relapse. If your loved one is well prepared for support rather than reacting to the situation, you both can ultimately reach to the goal of overcoming craving.

Experience the craving:

This is an innovative and effective tool to deal with craving. It serves as a simple but a different way to experience the urge. You don’t have to fight or resist the craving and neither to surrender the urge. You simply have to go with the craving as it occurs. You can practice this technique in two steps:

• Maintain focus on craving: you may find a comfortable place at your home and relax. Just focus on your craving where you find it in your mind and body. Concentrate on the sensations and feelings. Rate these sensations on a scale of 1 to 10 according to how intense they are.

• Put the bodily experience into the words: what signals you are getting from your body, verbalize them. Answer these question: what is the experience, where you find it, how intense it is, is it changing or moving, when it occurs at a different place, which body part is likely to respond.

Just verbalizing the experience will gradually subside the intensity. You can rate the intensity of sensations prior and after this demonstration. Many patients report that their craving reaches to zero level as they go with their experience.

Cognitive strategies:

Cognitive techniques utilize thought processes for gaining control over urges. The major strategies are as follows.

Identifying automatic thoughts:

Most people think that craving just occurs without realization and person eventually give in to this craving because of this false belief. When you try to look deeply into yourself at the time of craving, you will find out thoughts like this: “Craving is intense and uncontrollable for me”; “I would die if I don’t take the substance”; “I can’t live without substance because it helps me to overcome such a frustration in life”; “I will not be able to do anything until I take it”. Simply a person catastrophizes the experience of craving. Identification of these negative automatic thoughts is crucial. Without recognizing such thoughts, a person can’t step towards altering them.

Positive self-talk:

As you identify your automatic negative thoughts, the next step is changing them into the positive ones. Challenge your thoughts and normalize the craving through balanced thoughts. Challenging thoughts could be: “I never died even in times of intense craving”, “how many times I’ve seen or heard people dying of craving”. If you understand the temporary nature of such urges, it will get easier for you to propose balanced thoughts. Positive self-statements could be: “I don’t have to follow these cravings”; “I can deal with it”; “this will subside after a few minutes so I don’t need to rush for it”; “although it is painful but lots of individuals experience this and I can manage this without giving in”.

While understanding the uncomfortable feelings brought about by the cravings, you can de-catastrophize your thoughts and normalize them. Success stories tell us that by using positive self-talk, those people who were once addicted, have brought about drastic changes in their lives.

Reminding self about undesirable effects of substance:

It is observed that people remind themselves about the memories of pleasure and buzz during the times of craving. Look at this strategically. Whenever craving occurs, remind yourself about the worse consequences the drug has brought into your life, you will definitely unlike to use the substance at that particular moment of craving. Remind self about the positive consequences of staying sober.

Research Supporting Mental Strategies for Craving Management

Those strategies discussed above are not mere bookish strategies, a wide research background of cognitive processing has proven these strategies to be best available tools to deal with craving.

Neural basis of using such strategies is now the focus of research. In Germany, Dr. Cohen studied the effect of distraction strategies or ignorance of the stimuli on brain activity. She presented two kinds of tasks to the group of participants. One of the group was trained in ignorance strategy and was presented with pictures of emotionally charged situations where they had to ignore irrelevant cues. The other group of participants performed a simple task of ignoring the actual direction of a moving arrow and they had to tell about either left or right direction at which the arrow was pointed. The researcher recorded brain activity through fMRI while they were engaged in the task. Those who were trained in distraction strategies showed increased activity in their Frontal-cortex, the area responsible for effective regulation of emotions. Moreover, this group showed less activity in the amygdala, the area liable for generating negative feelings such angry, anxious or depressive moods. These findings illustrated that cognitive strategies alter brain activity and therefore, it can effectively be used in times of craving.

Another research by doctor Ochsner, K. N, was conducted at Columbia University in Laboratory of Social and Cognitive Neuroscience. Research participants were trained for cognitive behavioral plan to manage their cravings. They were instructed to label the word “Now” for the short-term pleasure received by smoking and the word “Later” while they think about the long lasting adverse effects of cigarettes. Findings revealed that by following “LATER” instructions, they were able to control their cravings. During their utilization of cognitive strategies, the brain activity was shown in pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for active goal planning and regulating behavior. Hence they could manage their cravings through imagining bad health consequences. Moreover, fMRI findings showed inhibited activity in the ventral region of Striatum, the brain area responsible for craving. Inhibited response in this area blocked the reward system which helped participants to manage their emotions and inhibit immediate gratification.

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