Family members, non-addicts, normies, or anyone else interested in how the addicted mind works, this one is for you:
Are cravings real? What does addiction feel like? Is it a choice? Try this experiment in its entirety then you decide for yourself. Only 2000 words.
If you really want to experience a craving like an alcoholic or addict you must truly imagine the following scenario. After reading the scenario, and you want to physically feel the experience, please feel free to do so at your own risk. It may give a greater understanding to the power of craving.
But first, let me try to explain the word craving. It is highly overused and vastly misunderstood. This happens with many words, used in an exaggerated sense over time, and the connotation of the word slowly loses its true meaning.
In sports, we reference war, “It’s a battle out there,” “football is war,” “down in the trenches.” To those who were on the ground in battles such as this find this highly offensive. The word “war” has become so common, that we don’t blink an eye hearing a word that describes violence, death, and destruction.
“I am seriously craving chocolate right now.”
I’m sure we have heard that one before, perhaps we have even said it. But, that is just a desire. It is on your mind and you would really like some chocolate. But a craving is much stronger, your mind perceives it as a need. It would be more like, unable to function until you have chocolate.
Below, I’ll explain the experiment, followed with a more scientific look at craving and the brain.
This is how it works:
Make plans with someone real important to you. Make the plans definitive and someone that you admire and would not want to disappoint or let down in any way.
Now, comes the fun part…
Pig out all day before this event! And it can not be healthy food, it needs to be the good stuff, the greasy food. The next step is to have a few laxatives such as miralax or another stool softener.
Seems insane, right? Well, here comes the part where the experiment gets interesting. You are not allowed to use the bathroom, you need to hold it in no matter how significant the “desire.” At this point, you are doing everything in your power to prevent yourself from an embarrassing uncontrollable bowel movement with your pants on.
This is not longer a desire, this is a need. You really cannot hear anything else. You only see places in your mind that will allow you to go to the bathroom. You are in survival mode, and the only thing that matters is finding any possible solution in which you can release the pain.
I’m sure most people can relate in some sense, think about a long road trip when you are in the middle of the country and the “urge” to go is so great that you can not think of anything else. Or you are stuck in rush hour traffic, maybe a snow storm, or accident, and the pain is building up and there is nothing you can do to escape.
All you are doing is screaming “god! I just need to go to the bathroom!” It is intense. You can’t think about anything. You will be fine, after you go to the bathroom. The car next to you looks at you like you are psychotic. You give him the finger and scream profanities at him as if it is his fault – you don’t really care about the consequences because your priority is finding a restroom.
He gets on his phone as if to call the police on you to report your insane behavior. Further irritating you and putting you into a panic. But in some sense, it doesn’t matter, as long as you can use the restroom everything will be ok.
Finally, you can get to an exit ramp, wait at a few red lights, speed into the parking lot and sprint in the gas station. Only to find a line of customers with an old lady at the front using what appears to be 73 coupons. You are pacing back and forth, sweating, shaking, about to burst, even yelling, until you just run up to ask for the bathroom key.
More dirty looks from everyone, only for you to fire back and justify your behavior because your pain is so intense. Once survival mode kicks in, the rational part of your brain slows down tremendously. I think anyone has felt this scenario to some extent.
Then, the clerk tells you, “it is occupied right now, you will just have to wait.” There it is, within your reach. You just need a few more minutes and you wait, and wait, and wait. Start pounding on the door and you just hear a voice that says, “Almost done, just give me a few.”
You’ve had enough. You can not be late for your appointment.
But, this person is important to you, so you try to do the right thing and give them a call and the conversation goes like this:
You: “Hey, I’m running late. The damn bathroom guy, gas station, traffic. I seriously could kill somebody right now!”
Friend: “Woah buddy, it’s all good. I just got here. No worries. See you when you get here.”
You: “Fine, whatever.” Click. Hang up and back to screaming mode. Why is your friend making it seem like this is not a big deal. How can you calm down?
Then, your GPS has led you somewhere incorrect! Now it is that damn GPS’s fault! You are punching the steering wheel screaming out loud. And then your phone rings, it is your buddy. You try to calm down.
Friend: “What’s up man? You lost or something?” (With laughter)
You: “Yeah the stupid GPS has me someplace I’ve never even seen.”
Your friend is cool with it, laughs it off, gives you directions and then starts to share something that is very important to them. Take note of how difficult it is to listen to anything they say, you are just thinking about finding a bathroom. You really want to listen, but could care less. There is a new priority.
Likely they would say, “What is your problem? You are not yourself? Don’t you even care, you are acting very selfishly.”
You try to justify it blaming it on traffic, gas station, GPS, etc. Then you try to manipulate it and turn things around on your friend. You do not have time for their stupid story, you just want to get to a bathroom.
“Well dude can’t you just wait until I get there!” you yell back, “Why are you being so impatient, I just need to focus on the road now. You always do this!”
Your good loving day has gone wrong. People are looking at you like something is wrong with you. Now, you are mad at your friend, start thinking about all their flaws and imperfections and wonder why you even want to see them.
Another gas station comes up, ok this has gone on long enough. You park, sprint in, sneak through the door past a little kid. When his father says something to you, you lash back quickly. Then, another line! AS the clerk wishes “have a nice day,” to customers all you can think about is how there is no possible way this day can be good until you use a damn bathroom!
You are being rude, impatient, and angry towards everyone. That is not who you are, this is your brain using its most primitive area – the amygdale responsible for survival.
Suddenly, another worker comes up and says, “Man you really need to use the bathroom. Let me show you to the back and you can use the staff restroom. I know that feeling, man. There is nothing worse.”
Now, picture an identical situation but this second worker tells you, “You are a grown man/woman and need to learn to control your bladder. Every other customer was here first, when it is your turn we will get to you. The world does not revolve around you.”
Quite a different reaction in the two scenarios, I would imagine.
You finally get to go and now you are relaxed, you come down, and feel like yourself. The first store clerk gives you a dirty look, the dad with his kid pulls his child closer and makes some remark as you try to explain your situation. Try calling up your buddy and he tells you to just forget it, this is why he stopped talking to you in the first place.
The whole day was changed because of this. Everyone has seen you as a bad guy, manipulator, and selfish punk. Then you start to believe it, which causes depression, anxiety, or other mental problems. This leads to isolation and secrets because you no longer want to hurt anyone. You are trying to protect them from the hurt. All this time alone, you build up more and more shame and guilt. This cycle continues until your depression increases, so you drink again to ease the pain.
At this point, anyone who has been severely depressed understands. You could win the lottery, and really not care at all. Nothing can change how you feel inside.
This is a true and real craving. It is living from a survival point and no one else understands the true torture you are going through. There is no way to help someone by judging them, or locking them up for their behavior. That does not work.
We can teach addicts, but in order to do that, you first need empathy.
A craving is much like this experiment of having the urge to go to the bathroom. Or if you are starving, all you see is the food places on the road and you miss the beautiful trees and the people. That is what an urge is truly like.
The human brain develops from the bottom, back, and inner part and works its way to the front. The most primitive functions take place here in the amygdale. It is responsible for two main functions; survival (fight-or-flight), and emotional learning.
Our brains are designed this way to help us survive. This goes back to the caveman days before they could even talk or communicate. Man gets attacked by a Saber-tooth Tiger and his heart races, starts sweating, heavy breathing, muscles tighten, and his focus is intensified. He escapes to his cave and slowly his heart rate slows down, breathing slows down, and his body adjusts to normal. The brain knows it no longer needs these survival tools.
After this experience, the brain learns that A) Saber-Tooth Tigers are not kind and B) In the future, I will stay away from these things. In addiction, similar structures of your brain develop these same pathways. You are looking to change your mood/emotion, you take a substance, and it works. You learn that A) this substance makes me feel good and B) In the future, when I want to feel this way, I will take this drug.
Substance abuse is about relying on a drug to alter mood/emotion. This can be to increase a positive feeling (euphoria, excitement, motivation) or remove an unwanted one (depression, anxiety, shyness). Over time, these pathways in the brain are created. This is especially true during the adolescent years in which are brain is developing. The female brain does not fully mature until about age 21 and the male at 25. This is the major reason why the legal drinking age was increased to 21. There is mass amounts of research and studies that show the increased rate of addiction if one starts using as a teenager. That is because the brain is going through it’s most significant learning period, the prefrontal cortex is developing, and neural pathways are being created while others are being pruned away.
If you want to feel it, I mean this not as a joke. You can really do this. You will know what a craving feels like. Then see the nasty looks you get and judgment’s, and see how much that helps.
Then, you feel the physical, emotional, and psychological pain of a craving. A craving is something that is required, needed, and a problem that requires prompt attention.