We know that addiction affects the reward process of the brain. Basically, the reward process is a way for our brains to encourage our bodies to behave in a way that manages health and survival. It does so by releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that reacts to neurons in the brain that results in sensations of pleasure. So, for example, when we exercise, our bodies release dopamine, resulting in what many may refer to as a “runner’s high”. However, dopamine doesn’t just work as a way to encourage specific behaviors. It also plays a role in how our brains learn and even create new memories. So, as a result, the brain can work to anticipate a behavior that will result in the release of dopamine. This tells us that what happens around us can play a crucial part in how drug use affects the reward process of the brain. And, how surroundings can play a part in enabling addiction and its development.
Scientific studies have shown us that environmental signals can stimulate specific areas of the brain associated with addiction. Specifically, areas of the brain which are responsible for the processing of emotions. As a result, certain stimuli can bring about emotional response. For example, when a person dependent upon nicotine catches a scent from a lit cigarette, they may experience a craving to smoke.
Because environmental cues can motivate drug abuse for those living with substance abuse disorder, it’s important to make necessary changes to environment during recovery. Basically, since environmental factors are tied to emotional response, they can bring about cravings for those in recovery. And, these cravings can be dangerous as they can and do lead to relapse. So, to prevent a relapse, it’s best to be aware of the environmental factors that can stimulate cravings as to avoid them. Some environmental cues which can turn into relapse triggers may include:
People: One of the most challenging environmental relapse triggers people in recovery have to deal with is people. Before treatment, people in recovery hung out with others who use or enabled use. But, once treatment is over, it’s important to be wary of who you hang around. This is due to the fact that simply being around individuals who you’ve developed memories which relate to dopamine release with can bring about intense cravings. While it’s not easy, it’s best to try to surround yourself with new people who support and encourage sobriety.
Places: If you’re a recovering alcoholic, going to a bar can be an environmental cue that strikes up emotion. For other individuals in recovery, there may be other places to stimulate emotional response. Whether it’s a ballpark, the movies, or back alleyways, it’s always best to determine which places that may trigger cravings for you. That way, you can learn to avoid these environments. And, develop coping mechanisms to prevent relapse if you’re ever to be in those types of environments unintentionally.
Stress: Many people first start using drugs or alcohol to ease the symptoms of stress. But, after long term use, stress can prompt an emotional response like cravings due to dopamine and the reward process. So, if you know that you have an emotional response like craving drugs or alcohol due to stress, it’s important to not only understand how to manage stress but manage the emotional response as a result of the stress itself.
During treatment, individuals can work to identify environmental cues which may bring about emotional response personally. This way, they can work to establish healthy relapse prevention methods in order to continue with sobriety. Here at Willow Place for Women, we help women struggling with addiction to establish a number of relapse prevention methods, as well as discover their personal relapse triggers. This way, they’re prepared for a life in recovery.
If you or a loved one needs help with addiction, we’re here to offer support. Contact us today to ask us more about our program for women struggling with alcohol and drug addiction.