“There’s This Thing That Keeps Rising in the Background”

Craving is “the one condition all addicts agree is their worst enemy,” Lewis said. “This is one place where science and subjectivity have to come together. Scientists need to focus on this, because addicts are completely unanimous about it. This is the enemy. It’s not physical withdrawal symptoms, it’s not relief. It is craving.”
Buddhism teaches that “craving is the fundamental engine of personality development,” Lewis said. “It’s what keeps us going around and around.” But if you don’t much like the notion of the wheel of reincarnation, Lewis suggested, then you can contemplate “the cyclical nature of how we repeat patterns in life that lead to suffering.”
“Craving is such an unpleasant state, that after a while, you end up doing it, you get the drugs. I did opiates, and I would spend hours and hours trying to sit on my hands, trying to watch something on TV, trying to go for a walk, and finally, there’s this thing that keeps rising in the background, and it doesn’t go away. It was a constantly growing tension, an anxiety and discomfort, that came from very deep down. You spend most of your energy trying to hold this thing at bay, and according to the ego depletion literature, you can’t do that for very long. These cognitive control centers just give up. They are limited resources.” …
“Craving traps you in delay discounting,” said Lewis. “Immediate reward is worth more than imagined future happiness. The job of dopamine in the striatum is to increase the attractiveness or value of one goal, and to reduce the attractiveness and value of all the other goals. This is a brain that is well designed for addiction. You get tons of dopamine rising up in anticipation of reward. So you’re really stuck in the immediate. At which point you’ve effectively lost contact with the rest of your life. In the narrative of who you are, you can’t even include next week, or the next morning.”

About Eve Tushnet

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