Have you ever felt stressed or anxious when you wanted to drink that beer at 5pm after work but found that you had already gulped down the last beer the night before? You aren’t alone. Many people report anxiety/stress along with cravings. Science is now helping to explain more accurately what is happening in the brain in those moments.
When you really crave an addictive substance or activity, there is more operating than just the craving. Your brain’s stress/anxiety center is also simultaneously activated. For decades, scientists thought drug and alcohol addiction was the result of two separate systems in the brain — the reward system, which was activated when a person used a drug, and the stress/anxiety system, which kicked in during withdrawal. According to Science Daily, scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have found that these two systems are actually linked. Their findings, published recently in the journal Nature Neuroscience, show that in the core of the brain’s reward system are specific neurons that are active both with use of and withdrawal from drugs, alcohol and possibly other addictive substances and activities. This means that craving and stress/anxiety are one motivational system, like a double whammy compelling you to use or drink.
Buddha knew this thousand of years ago. He spoke about desire and fear and how they work together to cause suffering. Certain Eastern energy work modalities have known about this correlation for thousands of years also. For example, Tong Ren, an energy modality from China that we use at the Kiloby Center finds that many of the same meridian points in the body involved in addiction correlate to the same points for stress/anxiety. At our Center, we have known about this link for a long time. We use two separate eastern-based inquiries simultaneously – the Compulsion Inquiry and the Anxiety Inquiry – to dismantle this “one motivational system” of craving and anxiety/stress.
With western science now confirming this link, how you look at your own addictive cravings may need to change rather drastically. For example, developing an aversion or negative judgment towards an addictive substance or activity sounds like a great idea when you are trying to abstain from that substance or activity. However, aversion and negative judgment (or even shame and guilt) can bring up stress and anxiety, thereby potentially increasing the craving for the substance, which is linked to that anxiety/stress. At the Center, our goal is to reduce not only the craving for a substance or activity but also the aversion and judgment against it (as well as the shame and guilt) so that stress/anxiety do not inadvertently fuel the craving.
This new scientific finding is likely to influence more changes in the addiction recovery field including the development of new drugs and new non-drug interventions for treating addiction and stress/anxiety together.