I found the article written by J. A. Brewer, “Craving to quit: Psychological models and neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness training as treatments for addictions,” to contain a useful description of addiction and craving.
One of the contributing factors to addiction is the formation of associative memories between the addiction and positive and negative affective states. A smoker remembers that smoking when stressed helps him to relax, and that when he doesn’t smoke he feels stressed, so he is likely to keep smoking. This in turn forms an addictive loop in which the smoker becomes stuck.
Craving is the urge to act on the desire for the addiction. When a smoker hasn’t smoked in a while, he will begin to actively seek out a cigarette and will not feel like himself until after he has smoked. However, it is important to note that craving is not a response to the object of addiction; rather, it is a response to the affective tone that accompanies the perceptual representation of the sensory object. Craving is not about the actual cigarettes, it is about the feelings that accompany the cigarettes.
I recently read the article “Cognitive and affective mechanisms linking trait mindfulness to craving among individuals in addiction recovery” by E.L. Garland that I think I can use in my research proposal.
The article is about how mindfulness is related to craving. Craving is the subjective experience of physical data related to the withdrawal from the cue (alcohol, drugs, etc.). More than just the physiological experiences, craving is the inner interpretation of those experiences. It is the constant thought of the craved substance, the anticipation of how good it will feel when the addict finally gets the substance, and all of the thoughts and behaviors that drive individuals to acquire the substance no matter what the cost. I want to utilize this behavior in addicts to see if they are so focused in their cravings that they ignore reality, in the form of ignoring pain. I wonder if their need for a fix is so great that other perceptions do not even register in their minds. I feel like this repetitive, central goal might be somewhat similar to meditation that involves repeating a mantra, so I will have to read more on meditation. Meditation could be a good contrast against addictions, since it is viewed in a positive light rather than a negative one and has already been shown to increase pain tolerance.
In this study, craving was measured using the Penn Alcohol Craving Scale. It measures the duration, frequency, and intensity of craving for alcohol on a 7 point scale with questions such as “How often have you thought about drinking or how good a drink would make you feel.” This is perfectly designed to test the craving levels of the alcoholics in my proposal. Since the scale was modified in the article to also measure cravings for drugs, I think it would be reasonable for me to modify the scale to measure the cravings of pathological gamblers. This way, I would be able to compare the levels of craving of the addicted participants to their performance in the pain test.