What Is Craving?

Addressing the frequently asked questions dealing with addiction.


What is craving? I am a recovering alcoholic who once spent a couple of days in the hospital where the doctor gave me something because I was getting the shakes. The only other time I felt shaky was when I went into an alcohol treatment center where they gave me a tranquilizer to detox. I cannot say I ever had what they call craving.


Alcoholics who drink every day avoid craving because they keep the blood alcohol level high enough to prevent the symptoms of withdrawal. The only times you could have experienced craving was in the hospital and alcohol or drug treatment center when you were given medication to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms. Craving, however, can occur without withdrawal symptoms or long after the last drink or drug use, especially if the memory of the effects of the alcohol or drugs are evoked by strong reminders, called cues.

A report in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Research (Modell JG et al, 1992) indicates that many of the symptoms of craving in the dependent individual are similar to the thought patterns and behaviors of persons with obsessive-compulsive disorder, including recurrent and persistent thoughts about alcohol and the inability of the individual to resist these thoughts and a compulsive drive to consume alcohol and loss of control over that drive. 

Recently, the National Institute of Drug Abuse used PET scans to demonstrate how an area in the left frontal lobe of the brain “lights up” when a sober alcoholic is shown drinking scenes. This brain activity is accompanied by intense craving.

"Sober Days" ran in the Palm Springs daily newspaper, the Desert Sun, for several years in the 1990s-2000s. The popular Q&A column was written by Dr. James West, the Betty Ford Center’s first medical director. He remained with the Betty Ford Center until 2007, when he retired at age 93.

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