How Feelings of Loss and Sadness Can Cause Cravings

How Feelings of Loss and Sadness Can Cause Cravings

Learn to anticipate drug cravings, and you will have an important skill for long-term recovery. Many recovering addicts suffer from relapse due to the onset of negative emotions, but this problem is a part of the recovery process whether you have been sober for weeks or years. As researchers learn more about the neurochemical processes of the brain, they have discovered the connection between substance abuse and self-medication for emotional and physiological pain. In other words, recovery is not a matter of whether cravings will occur or not, but when. By preparing for them ahead of time, you can develop a strategy for managing them without relapsing.

Intense emotions are among the most powerful relapse triggers. Feelings of loss and sadness can send an addict into a drug-seeking pattern even after years of sobriety. The following experiences frequently generate emotions that can cause cravings:

  • The end of an important relationship
  • The death of a loved one
  • Personal illness
  • Persistent financial difficulties
  • Career frustration or disappointment
  • Boredom
  • Unmet expectations in life
  • Physical disability

Negative emotions cause drug cravings, because the brain remembers the relief that substances provide. Drugs and alcohol directly affect the same area of the brain that manages emotions, impulse control and the formation and recollection of memories, and substances create short-term pleasure, or at least a brief reprieve from the emotional pain caused by these experiences. In response, the brain recognizes this relief, so it then uses every psychological tool it has to keep that relief coming. This response can and frequently does include the following subconscious, psychological reflexes:

  • Your brain will only memories of the relief and good times associated with drug abuse, not the pain, shame and suffering
  • Your ability to resist temptation and to endure discomfort will be greatly reduced
  • Mildly negative emotions will become intensely painful very quickly
  • Your mind will tend to fixate and obsess over the situations that cause you pain
  • You will begin to justify your use of drugs as self-medication and will blame others for your struggles

Addiction changes both the chemical structure of the brain, along with the way it handles various types of information. When physical or emotional distress occurs, the brain immediately drives any behavior that provides relief. This process takes place in a part of the brain that is much more powerful than rational thought, so an addict may be well down the road to relapse before she is even aware of it. The key to avoiding relapse is to develop a plan well ahead of time.

Advance Preparation for Times of Grief

If you wait to deal with your cravings until you notice them, then it will likely be too late to stay clean. By the time you become conscious of your desire to self-medicate your pain, then you may be unable to override the process going on in your brain. Therefore, the secret to avoiding relapse is to develop a plan well ahead of time. Your plan might look something like this:

  • Identify and list the kinds of life experiences that cause grief, loss and sadness
  • When one of these problems occur, go to your emergency response plan immediately
  • Call your recovery sponsor, counselor or a sober loved one to discuss the news
  • Invite people to hold you accountable during difficult times
  • Allow yourself to feel appropriate feelings and focus on processing those feelings
  • Avoid down and alone time
  • Spend time focusing on the good things in life and the good times you have had
  • Do creative tasks, such as song writing, journaling, painting or writing poetry
  • Speak about your sadness and grief out loud

Creative exercises often help people get in touch with their emotions. Articulating those feelings verbally or through writing moves them into the rational or conscious part of the brain. This movement increases your ability to manage those feelings instead of being managed by them. Write out your grief response plan and share it with others. Make sure that the people closest to you and your recovery are aware of your plan so they can step in when tragedy strikes to help you avoid relapse.

24 Hour Grief and Relapse Help

If you would like more information about how sadness, loss and grief can complicate your recovery, or if you would like help developing your response plan, then please call our toll-free helpline now. Our admissions coordinators are standing by 24 hours a day with free help. Our staff will answer any questions you have and can even connect you with treatment if you are ready to do so. Hard times come to everyone, so the wise person prepares for it. Let us help you become that wise person.

If you are a recovering addict, or simply want to stop using drugs during life’s problems, then know that we can help you get and stay healthy. Although it might feel like it, you are not alone; call now for instant, professional support.