- How can you control cravings at the subconscious level?
- How can you avoid cues that lead to cravings when these cues get processed unconsciously, and it all happens so quickly that you may start craving drugs, with no idea of why?
- How can you control cravings that stimulate a system of the mind responsible for self preservations acts such as sex and eating, cravings that provoke this system strongly enough to override all other impulses (including towards food or sex)?
Well the answer is that you can, but it’s really really hard! A study released today in PLoS One, funded by NIDA and the National Institute of Health, reveals that cocaine addicts can experience cravings after being shown pictures of drugs for only 33 milliseconds – so fast that the cocaine patients weren’t even aware of having seen them, but were aware of all of a sudden wanting cocaine!
Study authors Dr. Anna Rose Childress and Dr. Charles O’Brien, at the University of Pennsylvania used MRI imaging to observe brain response after cocaine patients were presented with pictures of crack, or a crack pipe, pictures flashing by so fast, that patients were not consciously aware of them. The brain however does see, even when we are not aware of it, and after each provocative stimulus, researchers saw a dramatic response in the limbic system of the brain.
The limbic system is responsible for reward and pleasure, and is known to be involved with addiction.
Cocaine addicts can see things in their environment, not even realize that they see them, and start feeling strong urgings to use cocaine. When a major strategy for early relapse avoidance involves minimizing these types of cravings provoking stimuli, this is obviously very problematic.
Researchers claim that greater understandings of the neurological underpinnings of addiction and craving takes them closer to medications that may work to minimize this effect in the limbic systems, and give cocaine addicts (and likely all addicts) a much better chance at quitting. Willpower is essential for recovery, yet willpower has nothing to do with addiction. We cannot call addicts who relapse weak for failing to manage impulses they can’t control. Willpower keeps addicts in treatment, fighting, but willpower alone is just not enough.