Overcoming an addiction isn’t easy. In fact, it’s downright difficult. Why? Cravings. Awful, terrible, uncomfortable, godforsaken cravings – that’s why. Cravings are the number one reason why people return again and again to their drug or drink of choice. Cravings are what ultimately lead to relapse.
Here’s what happens: someone with an addiction to drugs or alcohol will swear off drinking or drugging. They will make a sincere commitment to stop getting high or getting drunk. They will make an earnest promise to themselves and to their loved ones that they will get sober. This pledge may last for a few days or even a week or more….. but once the cravings kick in, all promises go out the window. Without proper treatment or effective alternative methods to reduce cravings, the cravings will win every time and the addiction will continue.
Cravings affect the brain and the body in a profound way. They are so intense; they overcome reason, willpower, and good old fashioned common sense. Cravings cause a chemical reaction in the brain, which brings about physical responses in the body. These reactions and responses alert the body to give in to the craving. It really is that simple.
The Phenomenon of Craving – Understanding the Disease of Addiction
To understand cravings, it is important to understand how and why they happen. Cravings are what lead to addiction. Addiction is a brain disease. It is not a moral failing. If you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not a bad person. You are a person who has a sickness that requires medical attention.
Here is a quick summary of how and why cravings occur:
When you introduce certain chemicals into the body – opiates, alcohol, or cocaine, for example – they work on the reward center in the brain. This causes the brain to be surged with “feel good” chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. These “feel goods” make the entire body feel euphoric, which causes the brain and the body to want more. This is what a craving is….. it is your brain and body working together to alert you that it wants to feel good again. As a result, your body will have a physical reaction that will cause you to want to partake of the chemical again…. and again…. and again.
In the field of addiction treatment, there are now a number of alternative methods to reduce drug and alcohol cravings. Let’s discuss what works and what doesn’t. But first, let’s be clear: Northpoint is not a proponent of any one particular method and we may not offer these methods in our current treatment programs. This article is only designed to serve as an informational resource to educate you about what alternative methods to reduce drug cravings are currently available.
In reading about these few alternative methods to reduce cravings, please keep in mind that there is no pill or practice that cures addiction.
New Study Reveals that Deep Brain Stimulation Could Reduce Heroin Cravings
Deep Brain Stimulation – it sounds nice, doesn’t it? The name seems indicative of some kind of mental massage that will result in relaxation and an increased overall sense of well-being. Well, don’t let the name fool you. This is no mental massage. This is a highly intense form of addiction treatment, a potential practice that is relatively new to the recovery field. Although it is not yet available to the general public, experts are saying this alternative treatment will only be used in extreme cases of heroin addiction.
Deep Brain Stimulation, also known as DBS, is a form of electroshock therapy used to reduce heroin cravings. DBS introduces low doses of electrical stimulation to a region of the brain region known as the subthalamic nucleus. Amazingly, medical experts are still not sure what function this part of the brain serves, but they have proven that when introduced to electrical current, the subthalamic nucleus reduces heroin cravings.
DBS has been proven to have a positive effect for those who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, Depression, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Now, after a recent study, DBS is gaining traction in the addiction treatment community as a possible way to combat heroin cravings. A recent scientific study using rats as clinical subjects revealed that heroin-addicted rats showed less interest in heroin after receiving DBS treatments.
Those who have struggled with heroin addiction for many years generally become willing to try anything to kick heroin once and for all. For many, DBS may sound inviting. “You mean all I have to do is have my brain operated on and I will be free from heroin addiction? Sign me up!” Think again.
DBS is a highly invasive procedure that requires brain surgery. DBS can cause memory loss and other negative side effects. The risks are high and the procedure may not have any positive, lasting results. If it is made available, DBS would only be considered for heroin addicts who have tried every other possible method of treatment.
If you are addicted to heroin, there are currently a number of treatment methodologies available that are far less invasive than DBS. Before you start thinking about waiting for DBS to become available as your “be all, end all” cure for heroin addiction, check into current treatment options with proven results.
Naltrexone – A Prescription Medication That Reduces Opiate Cravings
Naltrexone is now a popular method used to reduce cravings in opiate addicts. Naltrexone is a medication, available only by prescription from a doctor. It has been proven to reduce cravings in opiate addicts. Whether the opiate of choice is street heroin or legal opiates like Hydrocodone or Oxycodone, Naltrexone is prescribed to those who have become physically dependent on opiates.
Naltrexone significantly reduces withdrawal symptoms for those who are addicted to opiates. Opiate withdrawal can be extremely painful; causing muscle spasms, fever, hot and cold sweats, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. These physical withdrawal symptoms trigger overwhelming cravings and the addicted person will use opiates just to bring relief to the physical body. This is why opiate addiction is so persistent.
Those who have become addicted to opiates will have a sincere desire to quit, but will quickly find they cannot stop on their own due to the extremely uncomfortable nature of opiate withdrawal. Naltrexone eases this discomfort and reduces cravings. Naltrexone does not offer the physical high you would expect from opiates. It is designed to make the brain and body feel normal without opiates, but it does not create a buzz because it blocks opioid receptors in the brain.
Those who choose to use Naltrexone as an alternative method to reduce drug cravings should do so under the care of a doctor in conjunction with treatment. Although Naltrexone is designed to help an opiate addict kick opiates, it is not meant to be a long-term solution to the problem. Addiction treatment, counseling, and 12-Step support is always recommended for those who take Naltrexone. Eventually, someone taking this medication will have to stop taking it, which is a process that should medically supervised over a period of time.
Fight Alcohol Cravings with Antabuse, The Oldest Drug of Its Kind on the Market
With certain substances (marijuana, for example), you can simply stop taking them and move forward on the path to recovery one day at a time. Alcohol is not one of these substances. Withdrawing from alcohol can cause seizures, stroke, and even death. Someone who has become a chronic alcoholic cannot overcome cravings without help. He or she will most certainly require a supervised medical withdrawal and medication to aid the process.
While there are a number of medications currently on the market that help drug and alcohol addicts fight cravings, Antabuse is the oldest of its kind. It has been a popular alternative to reduce cravings for more than 50 years. Antabuse works in a strange way, though. It does not necessarily reduce cravings in and of itself. Instead, it works by preventing the body from absorbing alcohol and inhibiting an enzyme that causes the body to process alcohol. So, when an alcoholic takes this medication and then drinks alcohol, he or she will become violently ill. This tricks the brain into associating alcohol with illness.
Antabuse has proven to be very effective. Where the alcoholic drinker once associated alcohol with pleasure, Antabuse causes the alcoholic drinker to associate alcohol with pain. This triggers a new response in the brain, which makes the once alcoholic NOT want to drink.
The obvious problem with Antabuse is that alcoholics want to drink. When they take the medication and find out they cannot drink, they simply stop taking the medication. The only way for this medication to work is for the alcoholic to commit to taking Antabuse no matter what. This is easier said than done. Many people have found that Antabuse worked for them, and it helped them learn to associate alcohol with illness. However; many others do not take the medication long enough to receive any positive benefit from taking it.
Topamax – A Medication Gaining Credibility for Reducing Cocaine Cravings
It has been said that cocaine is the most addictive substance on the planet. Clinical studies using rats as subjects have shown that when given food, water, and cocaine; rats will take the cocaine until they die. They will completely ignore the food and water and overdose on cocaine. This sounds a lot like cocaine addiction in humans, right?
Cocaine is a highly addictive substance that causes extreme cravings. Time and time again, cocaine addicts will swear off cocaine after their last binge only to return to the drug days later. Why? Cravings. Awful, terrible, uncomfortable, godforsaken cravings – that’s why. The good news is, there is now a drug available that offers an alternative to reduce cravings.
Topamax (Topiramate) is an anti-seizure medication approved to treat Epilepsy and migraine headaches. Recent studies have shown that Topamax works on the same part of the brain that causes cocaine cravings. Although the drug is not currently FDA approved for this purpose, more and more doctors are prescribing the drug to cocaine addicts to reduce cravings. Topamax has been proven to reduce the amount cocaine addicts use by lessening the uncomfortable cravings that are associated with the “jones” that come with the drug.
Topamax is not designed for long-term use and it is recommended that cocaine addicts who take this drug also get social support through 12-Step meetings or other treatment-oriented resources. This drug is not intended to be a “magic pill” that mysteriously removes cocaine cravings. It is intended to work to reduce cravings so that an addicted person can reach out for help and work with others to achieve long-term sobriety.
Like any other drugs, Topamax does have its negative side effects. Many people who take Topamax say the drug dulls their senses and makes them feel lethargic. It can slow the mind, causes a disruption in cognition, and degrade creativity. However; most people who were addicted to cocaine and found relief with Topamax say it was a worthwhile tradeoff. Cocaine addicts who used Topamax and were able to achieve sobriety as a result of the drug say it was worth it to feel a little weird for a while in exchange for the freedom they found.
Yoga? An Alternative Method to Reduce Cravings? Seriously?
Yes. You read that right. Yoga is now touted as an alternative method to reduce drug cravings.
So far, we have talked about three methods to reduce cravings in the addicted person. We have introduced Deep Brain Stimulation, an invasive surgery that uses electroshock therapy to reduce cravings in heroin addicts. We discussed Naltrexone, a medication used to reduce opiate cravings. And, we have learned about Topamax, which is now being prescribed to cocaine addicts to reduce cocaine cravings. Now, let’s talk about a more holistic approach.
More and more treatment facilities across the United States are incorporating holistic practices like yoga into treatment plans for those seeking freedom from active addiction. Yoga is an ancient Eastern practice that has gained popularity in the West in recent times. Yoga focuses on body posturing and breathing techniques to reduce stress, quiet the mind, build flexibility, and increase overall health.
Prolonged drug use alters brain chemistry. Yoga is said to assist in rewiring the brain to its proper balance by regulating stress-inducing chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline. It is also supposed to positively affect a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is directly related to drug cravings.
Yoga calms the mind, builds the body, and lightens the spirit. The mind, body, and spirit are all affected by the disease of addiction. Although yoga may not have instantaneous results in regards to reducing cravings; with time, yoga can become an integral part of the recovery process for someone who is looking to live a sober lifestyle.
What Doesn’t Work to Reduce Cravings – Willpower
The main reason why people stay stuck in the cycle of addiction is that they try time and time again to implement willpower as a way to reduce drug and alcohol cravings. The fact is, willpower doesn’t work. Sure, it may work once or twice, but in the long term, the disease of addiction and the powerful cravings it produces will win every time.
People in recovery often refer to willpower as “white knuckling it.” The idea here is that if you hold onto your chair long enough for your knuckles to turn white, the craving will pass and you can move beyond the uncomfortable feeling. If you are currently battling an addiction to drugs or alcohol, chances are, you have white-knuckled it one more than one occasion. But, ask yourself, how is that working in the long run? Have you been able to put together more than a week of sobriety on your own without help? Chances are, the answer is no.
Because of the way the body processes drugs and alcohol, many addicted people can string together a few days or maybe even a week of sobriety. Then, the severe cravings hit. This is because the body is finally processing all of the residual toxins from the last use, which is usually when cravings take over like a beast. These cravings are usually so overwhelming, even the most determined person will give in to the cravings and use their drug of choice again.
If you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, you need help to recover. Willpower alone will not bring you any lasting relief. Willpower is not the way to reduce cravings and combat the disease of addiction. To find real recovery from addiction, you need professional addiction treatment from a team of medical professionals, or, at the very least, you need the support of a 12-Step group.