mental obsession and cravings – a vicious cycle

One of my blogger buddies and her family are suffering. Cokewidow recently posted Expectations, where she describes what it’s like living with an addict teetering on the brink of a dope binge. What her family is going through is heartbreaking. They are all caught up in the vicious cycle of addiction. Until the cycle is broken things will get worse over time. They’re plenty bad enough right now.

Cokewidow’s husband, though he’d been clean for a few days, recently told her he wished he was off getting high. He has a mental obsession that leads him back to drugs even when his system is drug free. It is this mental obsession that makes it all but impossible for him to remain clean.

The Doctor’s Opinion from the book Alcoholics Anonymous offers the best description of the nature of addiction – the mental obsession and physical cravings, that I’ve ever found. Here, in a nutshell, is the crux of the dilemma the alcoholic/addict faces, and the only viable solution I’ve ever heard of. (Just substitute your or your addict’s drug of choice for alcohol.)

Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks—drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery.

On the other hand—and strange as this may seem to those who do not understand—once a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules.

I think it’s important to differentiate the physical craving from the mental obsession. The mental obsession is what goes on when the addict isn’t using, but that leads them back to the drug. The craving is what happens once they ingest any amount of the drug. When the craving starts, so does the trouble. If you’ll read the comments at cokewidow’s Expectations post, you’ll see that her husband hasn’t been home in days. He’s using, and craving, and that takes precedence over everything else.

If he can find a bottom that doesn’t kill him, he will be able to be helped. I have very little tolerance for pain, at least for an hardcore addict. As a result, I’ve been able, at times, to stay sober for lengthy periods. Two of my three best friends pursued their obsession with drugs to the grave late last year. The third is almost certainly on borrowed time. If I don’t follow the “few simple rules” of the program, I’ll be dead, or worse, soon myself. There’s nothing nice about addiction.

UPDATE: It should be noted that it’s doubtful I’d be able to stay sober if I was facing what cokewidow’s husband is. That said, I’ve known a lot people who have faced similar crisises without returning to active addiction. The program does work if you work it , one day at a time.


8 Responses to “mental obsession and cravings – a vicious cycle”

  1. 1 cokewidow February 29, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks for putting such a clear view on the situation. What do you mean by “it’s doubtful I’d be able to stay sober if I was facing what cokewidow’s husband is” ?? Because we have a chronically ill son, and a run of such bad luck?

    I appreciate you Rob… please know that.

  2. 2 Rob N. February 29, 2008 at 7:03 pm


    The stress y’all are under would very likely kill me. I have a long history of throwing away lengthy sober stretches when the going gets tough. It’s important to understand, however, that I was no longer using the simple tools that had kept me sober for years. Had I been, I almost certainly never would have relapsed.

    Your husband and I are addicts. Using drugs, lying, stealing, cheating, and all that goes with it is what we do. It’s really something of a miracle when someone like us isn’t using, or at least wishing we were. It can happen though. The solution is there for the taking, if we want it bad enough. Unfortunately the vast majority of us never accept the plan as offered. You need to be prepared for that eventuality.

    In the strongest terms I encourage you to call Alanon. Commit to going to two or three meetings a week for a month, if it’s at all possible. Listen to the people there. Try the program they offer you. If, after 30 days, you don’t like it, then it’s not for you. Somewhere, though, you need to find a lot more support than you can get from over the net. It’s important for you and your son.

    I’m preaching and I apologize. It’s just that you and your husband are my kind of people, and I feel very strongly about trying to help when the opportunity arises. It helps me. You and I are both pretty open about our problems and have written extensively about them. Still, if you’d like to discuss something off the record, feel free to email me at cracked dot head dot rj at google dot com. After a bender is often the best time to approach an addict, so the opportunity for your husband may be at hand. You can’t do it though. It has to be another addict/alcoholic – someone he can relate to. If your husband is willing, I assure you there are people willing to help as close as the phone, and probably only a short drive from your home.

    I wish you both well,


  3. 3 cokewidow March 1, 2008 at 1:30 am

    Thanks Rob, I will look into finding a meeting nearby. If he won’t go, I will. He isn’t living here right now and I’m not sure if things are going to work out. But he is still my son’s father and of course, I love him. I will stand by him in one way or another. I just don’t know my role in his recovery yet, hoping that he has one.

    On another subject, I don’t understand the terribly aggressive attitude of people like transformedia… I am insulted by his suggestion that I wallow in self pity or enjoy living in pain. And what is wrong with baring your soul, especially if it helps you or someone else? I have seen this kind of thing before on a cocaine help website… one member constantly picks on everyone, especially new members, in much the same fashion. What gives?

  4. 4 Rob N. March 1, 2008 at 8:39 am


    Just try it. It might be better if your husband didn’t go, at least to the same location you do, at first. Alanon might help you, and by osmosis, your husband. I know you want to help your husband get better, but it just doesn’t work that way. He has to want help and be humble enough to accept the help as offered by other addicts/alcoholics that have learned to live sober. You need to learn to take care of yourself, emotionally and spiritually, in spite of your husbands antics. Alanon can help you do that, if you’re willing.

    Commit to making several meeting over several weeks. If you don’t like the people at one meeting, try another. You’ll know in a very short time if it’s for you or not. That said, one or two meeting just isn’t enough time to make an informed decision. Frankly no one in my family, or any of my old girlfriends, have ever liked Alanon. It’s not for everybody. But it changes a lot of lives for the better, just like AA.

    I can’t really speak to all the aggressive, confrontational stuff that goes on in cocaine circles. Though I’m a crack-head and briefly tried CA, it was readily apparent to me that there was very little quality sobriety there and the meeting were to raucous for me. Additionally, CA is infamous for being a place for druggies to make other druggie contacts. AA is the way to go for the addict/alcoholic, IMHO.

    I suspect the belligerent tendencies of people like transformedia are after affects of a treatment center experience. They encourage that sort of crap, I think, to try and break people’s denial. In real recovery circles, AA and Alanon, there’s plenty of straight talk, but very little of the confrontational bullshit. Most of us don’t really care if newcomers take it or leave it. It’s up to them, not us. We do, however, like for them to give it an honest attempt. It may very well be only hope they have. I would say 1 in 10 stick it out for anything like a year, at least on their first attempt. The numbers are probably similar for Alanon.

    There are a lot really crazy silly people in recovery circles. You won’t like all of them. It’s a cross section of the population where people of every personality type, profession, and religion are represented. You may very well meet some folks you can identify with there. If you do, your life will be enriched tremendously, or at least mine has been.

    Take care.

  5. 5 cokewidow March 2, 2008 at 1:26 am

    Thanks so much for all the info and insight. I thought we could just start going to meetings together! Glad to know that isn’t a good idea. I appreciate it… Take care too.

  6. 6 Rob N. March 2, 2008 at 9:48 am

    cokewidow – I’m not an authority by any means. I do know that you need to go for you and he needs to go for himself, or it’s a waste of time.

    See ya’.

  7. 7 Tessa March 10, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Hmmmn. THanks Rob. I found this a really interesting post. I had an eating disorder for years and years and years. My attraction to this was of course mental but until I was able to get to the bottom of my triggers I would just wait (often irritably) until I could be alone with my disease. It consumed me and no matter how hard I tried I would always go back with promises to myself to change…I’m out of the cycle (mostly) but it helps me understand some of the people around me a bit better.

  8. 8 Prester John March 10, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    Tessa – It’s pretty much stock AA/12-step stuff. That makes it gospel where recovery is concerned, at least to me. Thanks for the feedback.

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