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Plenty of science and research exists that looks at drug cravings post-recovery. This can be a difficult period for drug users. Lacking the tools to deal with cravings may lead to relapse. Drug use changes the brain in many ways, and it can be beneficial to learn more about how the brain changes due to prolonged drug abuse for a better understanding of cravings and how to deal with them. A drug user may feel that they cannot control their cravings, but their power lies in being able to control their reactions to those cravings

The Influence of Drug-Associated Memories

After finishing treatment, people may be surprised by how strong and frequent their cravings may be. These are subconscious urges influenced by environmental stimuli or emotional distress. The University of Cambridge conducted a study that suggests that there are techniques for erasing drug-associated memories and that medication administered during treatment can help address these memory recalls. Medication-based treatments are not a new practice and may be a suitable option for some patients, but medications to erase addiction-associated memories are in the early stages of clinical trials.

The reason why medications may be helpful is because of changes in specific regions of the brain that influence drug-associated memory recall. The hippocampus, amygdala, and dorsal striatum are the main areas of focus. These areas of the brain control cues and events that can turn usage into abuse and stimulus-response. Drug use can modulate memory function in each of these regions of the brain. The post-treatment craving, therefore, is more than just thoughts or habits, but legitimate changes to someone’s thought process and responses to those thoughts. If a person is guided in experiencing triggers without the stimulus-response, however, the cues may gradually lose their power.

How to Manage Drug-Associated Memories

Many techniques for managing drug-associated memories are clinical, which means they should be done in a treatment facility or with the guidance of a licensed clinician. Although there are many programs that deal with these types of triggers, a couple of techniques are very simple and very effective: mindfulness and stillness.

We have touched on the benefits of mindfulness before which is quite simple. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of internal or external situations and experiences with an accepting, non-judgmental attitude. This is often accomplished using various meditation techniques. The most common way of practicing mindfulness is to focus on your breathing by taking deep breaths and releasing them slowly. When dealing with drug-associated memories, ask what is really needed at that moment, the drug or to de-stress? Will using again help with stress or just prolong it? This is where the mindfulness technique of stillness comes into play. 

The practice of mindfulness has always suggested that to step away from the chaos of life and simply “be” is vital to well-being. Stillness can be practiced by watching ripples in the water of creeks or streams, watching the flight of birds in the sky, or observing an animal in their moment-to-moment actions. It is the simplest form of mindfulness meditation and can be performed anywhere and anytime necessary. 

Stillness also helps us understand that recovery is not a destination, but a journey. Sometimes we need to be still to see how far we’ve come. It’s important to approach mindfulness with loving compassion. Not all journeys are linear, and self-judgment due to seemingly unmanageable cravings can be seriously counter-productive.

Seeking Experiential Therapy

Experiential therapy sometimes referred to as adventure therapy, is all about self-discovery. This type of therapy is especially useful for behavior modification by helping people become aware of how they process experiences and the emotional triggers that influence their thought processes. Therapy through self-knowledge can be very beneficial when managing addiction-associated memories. During treatment, people may learn which environmental triggers cue memories associated with drug use. During treatment, patients are closely guided and it can be beneficial to continue with therapy after completing a treatment program, particularly if someone is concerned about the chance of relapsing. Look for clinics that offer services like adventure therapy. 

It may be less intimidating to talk to a therapist in a more relaxing setting, such as a park or nature preserve. Surrounding yourself with a calming environment may help reduce the environmental triggers that cue cravings. That setting can be more effective in managing the cravings associated with the brain changes caused by drug use. Introducing animals into therapy settings can also positively transform the environment while building rapport between the therapist and patient, which can motivate the patient to take a more active role in therapy sessions. This is crucial for managing drug-associated memories. Animal therapy is one form of experiential therapy that is popular for not only addiction recovery but also trauma and mental health disorders.

A person’s belief in their own ability to change is essential in motivating someone towards addiction recovery. Self-education is one way to foster success in treatment and daily life once treatment ends. Credible, comprehensible, and timely information can help people understand how their addiction drives some of their behaviors or impacts their life. This will give them an idea of where to start changing their behaviors. They begin to see which actions trigger their cravings the most, or which ones help them overcome their triggers the best. Managing drug-associated memories is exactly that–learning about your brain and how it changes due to drug use to support relapse prevention. 

In trying times like a pandemic, managing your cravings may seem harder than ever. Many people are finding that cravings may be even stronger and more frequent than before. With lockdowns and social distancing, it may be harder to find a clinic for treatment.  At The Guest House Ocala, we are proud to boast a staff that is dedicated to the health and safety of our clients. We are taking extra measures to ensure our facility meets the standards set in place for COVID-19. Many people may not realize that clinics like ours are functioning during this time. We are still here to help. If you or someone you love could benefit from some extra support during the pandemic, do not hesitate to call us at (855) 483-7800. We offer telemedicine appointments in addition to our in-person services. We are here to help you recover from addiction and learn to manage cravings and triggers.