One of the major concerns of many of my hypnotherapy clients is that prior to starting therapy, they worry about how they will deal with cravings that they expect to get once they have stopped smoking, drinking or taking drugs…

Many seasoned therapists of differing ilks, especially those that specialise in addiction and know far, far more than me on the subject, often refer to the difference between “wanting” and “liking” of the addictive substance or behaviour. There is also the idea that cravings are a programmed response to environmental signals that have been connected to addiction through experience.

What actually is a craving? I agree with these descriptions and often introduce my own clients to the idea that cravings are strong memories that are linked to the effect of drugs, alcohol, nicotine (or other behaviours) on the brain’s neurochemistry.In fact, imaging studies have shown some intense brain activation when pictures that are linked to drug use (like a pipe, or a white powdery substance resembling cocaine) are shown to adddicts.

The immense neurotransmitter release that is often brought on by the ingestion of the addictive substance is responsible both for the experience and the lasting effects on learning. When it comes down to it, memories are really the brain re-experiencing (as much as is possible) an event, so it makes sense that reliving a drug, sex, or other past-compulsive experience would cause a serious emotional reaction. When one remembers, cortical areas associated with the sights, sounds, smells, and thoughts related to the event are activated in a manner very similar to the initial experience.

Some of the most amazing people I have met through therapy and other areas of life, are those that get to the point where no matter how strong the craving, they refuse to throw everything that they have worked towards out the window for another hit…. Yet early on in their progress, they tell of how it can be incredibly tempting.

For those of you that have just stopped smoking, drinking, gambling or taking drugs… If and when you have a craving, recognise it for what it is. You might as well enjoy the rush, it’s like a freebie you don’t get to control. By being scared of the feeling, you induce more anxiety and shame that may lead you to act out. People tend to fight with that seemingly hypnotic allure of a craving… Instead, recognise your lack of control over the craving, let the experience happen, and go about your life. Then later, recognise how wonderfully in control you truly are 🙂

If the experience is overwhelming, make sure there’s someone you can talk to about it (a therapist, partner, parent, or a sponsor). As time passes your cravings will become less and less frequent and as your mind gets into the right place, you’ll look back and wonder how you ever struggled…