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What’s the Difference Between a Desire and a Craving?

At a basic level, a craving is an intense desire. Not only do you want something, but you feel like you must have it. While we can desire pretty much anything, we tend to crave fundamental things like food and sex. Of course, a craving can also be to satisfy drugs or alcohol, or any other addiction. Unlike food or sex, we don’t need drugs or alcohol; we only feel like we do. The addiction has essentially promoted those things to basic necessities.

Cravings, though powerful, can only be satisfied temporarily. We have to keep eating to live. If you have a food addiction, though, your cravings exceed your physical needs. You eat too much, you gain weight, you begin to suffer from obesity-related problems, but still you crave food. Clearly, it’s not just you stomach you’re trying to fill.

Similarly, when you crave drugs or alcohol, it will never be enough. It won’t fill you up, no matter how much you consume. You may know this already, but it doesn’t stop the cravings. You feel like you need a drink the way you feel like you need food. It feels like a solution to a persistent problem, even though rationally, you know it’s not.

Desires are mild by comparison. You might strongly desire something and still be persuaded to let it go. If you want a new car, for example, and you can’t afford it, you might be disappointed, but you probably won’t feel like you absolutely must have it. If you do feel that way, the car probably stands in for something more like a craving. For example, a teenager might see a car as the only way to win social acceptance. A car is merely a convenience whereas social acceptance is a much deeper need.

Most desires can actually be fulfilled. If you want to have a car so you can drive around, you can satisfy that desire. If you want to have a car so you can feel accepted, loved, and whole, the car probably won’t satisfy you. The latter is more akin to a craving; it’s when you assume some external thing will solve an internal problem.

This is why playing the tape is such an important strategy for dealing with cravings. Logic will never get rid of a craving. You have to think it through and really feel the inevitable disappointment of first, not getting what you were looking for, and second, having to start all over in recovery. With time, and probably the help of a therapist, you can address the problem at the root of your cravings.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.