Anyone who is, or has been, addicted to drugs or alcohol has experienced the intense craving for their substance of choice that is impossible to resist. For those in recovery, it is a constant battle to fight cravings that can occur at any time. For teens and adults alike, resisting taking their cravings is very difficult even with the knowledge that surrendering results in relapse.
Teens in recovery are often surprised by the intensity of their cravings. Understandably, they may feel that by obeying treatment practices and avoiding prior habits, associations and triggers such as clubs and dealers, they will be equipped to live a drug-free life. However, the psychological triggers behind the cravings are part of the brain’s reward system and are almost impossible to overcome without professional treatment followed by long-term support in recovery.
Cravings for certain addictions can be explained in biological terms. The brain rewards positive behavior by releasing pleasure inducing chemicals such as dopamine. The same system generates negative behavior by releasing stress hormones. The problem for teens taking harmful, man-made substances is that the substances they use cause the release of dopamine, which promotes a feeling of euphoria. Opiates also release endorphins adding to the feeling of euphoria. The brain quickly adjusts and associates drug or alcohol use with a positive feeling and releases more dopamine, thus begins the vicious cycle of addiction.
Recovering teen addicts may feel that they are fighting against the natural instincts of their bodies, which is why emotional support is necessary with appropriate medication in some cases. Habituation describes what happens as an addict continues to abuse a substance over time. The amount of dopamine is reduced and the pleasure lessened as the amount of substance ingested is increased a trend known as building a tolerance. Rather than reducing the dosage of drugs or alcohol, the addicted person increases it in an effort to recapture the euphoria felt with the initial dose.
The result is a psychological addiction, an effort to gain pleasure by using a substance. A physiological dependence occurs when a person uses the addictive substance to mask withdrawal symptoms caused by an attempt to stop using the substance. Common triggers that cause cravings leading to relapse for teens include being involved in social occasion where drugs or alcohol are available, social isolation, boredom, self-pity or even simply being around drug paraphernalia. Thankfully though, there are ways to combat the cravings caused by these triggers.
Using these and other coping skills learned in rehab to deal with stress will help a recovering teen remain vigilant and maintain their sobriety. Post-rehab teens should continue to attend support meetings and ask for help if needed. It is also helpful to keep a journal to record progress made as well as eating a healthy diet and getting adequate amounts of sleep.
It is possible to experience a craving for a particular substance even after many years of sobriety. Awareness of triggers and having the tools to overcome a craving are the best defenses against relapse. A teen has every right to be proud of his or her accomplishment in conquering an addiction and its cravings and to live a healthy and productive life.
Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a treatment center specifically for teens. We specialize in the treatment of addiction, mental health disorders and behavioral problems. If you would like further information please call 866-615-7266 to speak with a member of our team who will be happy to assist you.
Written by Veronica McNamara, Sovereign Health Group writer