What is meant by craving?

Craving is usually associated with a craving for cigarettes and drugs such as cocaine or heroin, but can also be a craving for food, a loved one or even a place or ritual.

In many instances, a craving for a drug can be enforced by a physical urge – where the body needs the drug to maintain a desired state or avoid an unwanted one. In the case of heroin addiction or alcoholism, a craving for the drug is usually strengthened by a strong desire to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

The psychological element of craving is more complex and often more powerful and difficult to negotiate if it becomes problematic. Much of our learned behaviour is established by associating an act, place, sight or smell with a desired outcome. In the case of an enjoyable effect, such as having a cigarette or a whisky to calm you down or make you more sociable, a feeling or place can trigger a craving. Hence many people crave a cigarette or a drink when in a social situation such as in a pub.

In the case of addiction, a craving can be almost constant, particularly if the drug is being used to avoid withdrawal or is acting as an aid for social situations and for coping. This is made worse if people in the places where the user socialises take the same drugs or use them for similar reasons.

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