Pleasurable Cocaine Memories Can Trigger Cravings

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Cocaine is a highly addictive drug [1]. Relapse isn’t uncommon, and neuroscience is starting to have answers about why this may happen [2]. Drug use changes the brain in ways that make it harder to stay sober. One of the ways that the brain is changed involves memories. Research shows that even just remembering past cocaine use can bring up positive feelings and cravings [2].

This is why relapse prevention is so important. Health care professionals that treat cocaine addiction may help their patients to create a relapse prevention plan to help maintain sobriety even when they have cravings.

A relapse prevention plan is going to look different for each person. However, most relapse prevention plans have the following components:

Know Your Cocaine Triggers

Relapse prevention plans often have a list of triggers. Triggers can be anything that causes emotional distress or cocaine cravings. Someone may use drugs to cope with the discomfort. For example, let’s say someone is stressed about completing schoolwork. Maybe they start getting overwhelmed because they’re worried they can’t complete them on time.

This might trigger them to use cocaine to cope with the stress. Having awareness about the different types of things that trigger you can help you be more prepared for when you are triggered. Someone who is trying to maintain their sobriety may start thinking about positive drug memories.

It can be easy to get fooled by the positive memories and discount the negative aspects of cocaine use or addiction. Remind yourself of the reasons you want to be sober and the positive consequences of sobriety.

Identify Coping Skills

Man's face with beard fighting Cocaine addictionAnother component of a relapse prevention plan is a list of coping skills. Triggers are inevitable, so you have to know how to deal with them. Coping skills can be any healthy behavior that helps someone tolerate cravings or reduces distress.

Knowing effective coping skills for your unique triggers can help you feel more confident and prepared. For example, if you know that you get overwhelmed with school, and this is something that leads to cocaine use for you, then having skills you can use this stress can help prevent relapse.

Since research is showing that even just memories of cocaine can cause cravings, it is important to know how to cope with these memories. Using coping skills is one way to disrupt the memory and lessen the urge to use [2].

Use Your Support System

A third component of the relapse prevention plan is having people who can support you. Sobriety is hard to maintain without support from other people. Your support network could be made up of friends, family, therapists, a 12-step sponsor, or anyone else who supports you.

Even though science shows that memories alone can trigger cocaine cravings, there is hope. Research also shows that these memories can weaken over time [2]. The longer someone maintains their sobriety, the less power these memories hold. It can be difficult to cope with these thoughts and urges, but it is possible. Keep using your relapse prevention plan—it can help you heal.


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, March). Cocaine drugfacts.

[2] Perlman, W.R. (2021, February 22). Disrupting cocaine memories prevents return to cocaine use in rats. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 17, 2021
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 17, 2021
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.