Like most chronic illnesses, opioid addiction is complex. But it can be helpful if caregivers and their loved ones take the time to understand how cravings and triggers may be related.
When we learn something, we acquire new knowledge, behaviors, attitudes and ideas. Sometimes we learn without even realizing it. In fact, one method of unconscious learning is called classical conditioning. This way of learning is a process in which an automatic, conditioned response is paired with specific stimuli.
For example, say your favorite food is chocolate cake. Over time, you’ve grown to love the feeling you get when eating a slice. You might associate the sight, smell, and taste of chocolate with pleasure and that idea of enjoyment is what makes the chocolate cake so desirable.
Classical conditioning can also be associated with opioid addiction and cravings. Many people who struggle with opioid addiction may have a craving if they’re in an environment or are around people who remind them of their opioid use. This could then trigger a desire to use opioids again. Counselors who specialize in addiction often advise these people to stay away from settings and situations that may trigger opioid use.
You may know someone who’s struggling with opioid addiction today. Maybe this is the first time they’ve considered treatment or the fifth time they’ve relapsed. Whatever the case, this is a crucial time for the patient, caregiver and healthcare professional to work together to identify triggers and discuss treatment options.
Remember, the treatment process is highly individualized. No single treatment is going to be appropriate for everyone. That’s why I encourage you to understand all of your loved one’s options. Be sure to discuss benefits and risks of each treatment with a medical provider. For more information, watch my video about National Recovery Month.
As someone who has dedicated many years to researching this chronic brain disease, I hope you find strength and understanding as you navigate your own caregiver journey.