How 12-Step Programs Can Help Cravings for Drugs, Alcohol

Much like a puzzle, there are many individual pieces to the development of an addiction, each of which contributes to an individual becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. These individual pieces come together as a confluence of factors that can be biological or genetic, environmental, social, or developmental. As such, people from all walks of life can become addicted to dangerous, mind-altering substances. Unfortunately, rates of addiction have continued to grow because of the misconception that acknowledging the risks involved with substance abuse will allow a person to prevent the development of addiction and, instead, remain in control of his or her substance abuse.

Over time, substance abuse gives way to actual addiction. While it develops as a result of behaviors, addiction has widely believed to be a disease, which is what most evidence has confirmed. However, despite the prevalence of clinical, evidence-based addiction treatment programs, there are millions and millions of people who use twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to overcome both the mental and physical aspects of chemical dependency.

Twelve-step programs are notable for their emphasis on the spiritual and social aspects of recovery, encouraging members to complete a series of steps as they progress to a state of spiritual awakening that will give them the emotional and spiritual strength to remain sober. Considering the borderline-mystical nature of twelve-step recovery and its focus on spiritual processes, one might question how a person can successfully overcome the physical aspects of addiction — withdrawal, cravings, and so on — using a process that puts its emphasis on one’s spiritual recovery needs. Therefore, the following will explain how the twelve-step method can actually help individuals to overcome the phenomenon of alcohol and drug cravings.

What Exactly Are Cravings?

For most people, the term “craving” is usually used to refer to those instances during which a person is experiencing a strong desire for some type of food or drink, but it’s not uncommon for one to experience a raving for certain activities. In short, cravings occur when someone begins really, really wanting something that they enjoy. For an addict, cravings for alcohol or drugs are part of daily life.

In a more technical and scientific sense, drug and alcohol cravings occur as an individual’s response to environmental stimuli that cause him or her to recall memories of the effects of alcohol or drugs. This often occurs in environments in which an individual frequently abused alcohol or drugs, but anything that the brain can connect to memories of instances of substance abuse — no matter how big or small — can trigger cravings.

Cravings are actually rather complicated phenomena, linked to cognitive functions or processes that include learning, reinforcement, and memory. When a person recalls a memory, the brain also recalls how the person was feeling during that event. If the person was intoxicated or experiencing some sort of intense pleasure during the remembered event, the brain will essentially begin to relive the experience, causing a strong emotional response in the person.

In effect, he or she will begin strongly desiring to feel the pleasure that he or she remembers feeling during similar circumstances. Moreover, these feelings are often pretty powerful, especially when alcohol or drugs are concerned as these substances already inherently promote reinforcement and learning. Those inactive substance abuse indulge in virtually all their cravings, which means that they deal with them by succumbing to them. However, for those who are in recovery, it’s important to learn how to deal with and resist cravings.

How Twelve-Step Recovery & Fellowship Helps With Cravings

When in a clinical addiction treatment program, individuals are taught how to resist alcohol and drug cravings in counseling and group therapy sessions. In contrast, twelve-step programs don’t offer the same evidence-based treatments and therapies; however, there are still many individuals who are able to overcome the physical aspects of addiction — including cravings — using the spiritual recovery method offered by the Twelve Steps.

One reason for this is attributed to the support system that twelve-step programs offer members. Moreover, members are encouraged to find a mentor, which is referred to as a sponsor in the program and is intended to help members through the twelve-step recovery process by offering their experience and knowledge as a vital resource. Sponsors and sponsees often form a very close bond with many sponsees turning to their sponsors during times of need, especially when they are experiencing cravings.

Individuals are encouraged to contact their sponsors when they’re feeling tempted to relapse or are experiencing alcohol or drug cravings so that the sponsors can help them overcome their temptation. Between the sponsor-sponsee relationship and the support that members offer one another, program membership itself serves as a major resource for helping individuals to overcome cravings.

Sharing is another aspect of the twelve-step method that helps with the phenomenon of cravings. In fact, one of the main tenets of the twelve-step method is the benefit of sharing with other members of the group. When members share with others about their cravings, they can acknowledge their cravings without having to indulge in them. Additionally, getting feedback from others and hearing others’ stories about cravings can be helpful when trying to deal with them.

Mindfulness meditation and mindfulness practices are common practices alongside the twelve-step method and have also been found to help individuals overcome their alcohol and drug cravings. With most cravings being short-lived — usually cravings last no longer than a few minutes — attending a meeting or even just having a brief, conversational exchange with another member can be enough to distract a person from their cravings, allowing it to pass and be forgotten. Overall, there are many aspects of twelve-step recovery and group membership that afford individuals many ways to overcome and resist cravings for alcohol or drugs.

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