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Can Playing Tetris Help with Cravings?

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Thanks to a recent study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, you can now add a quick game of Tetris to your arsenal of ways to combat cravings.

Many theoretical models have been developed to explain the anatomy of a craving, which is believed to be both physiological and psychological, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The physiological aspect is due to changes that affect the reward and motivation areas of the brain, while the psychological component has to do with learned behaviors and the negative emotions that once triggered drinking or drug use.

Cravings are a potent trigger for relapse, and relapse prevention strategies focus in part on techniques that can help alleviate cravings.

Playing Tetris: A New Relapse Prevention Technique?
The University of Plymouth in England and Queensland University of Technology in Australia found that playing Tetris for just three minutes at a time can reduce the intensity of cravings for a number of activities and substances, including drugs and food.

Researchers divided 31 study participants into two groups, and all participants were prompted seven times a day to inform researchers about any cravings they were experiencing and rate the intensity of the craving on a scale of one to one hundred. Half of the participants were also instructed to play Tetris for three minutes after reporting their cravings, after which they were asked to report the intensity levels again.

The study found that playing Tetris reduced the intensity of cravings for drugs, food and various activities from 70 percent to 56 percent.

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The researchers postulated that the effects of Tetris on cravings is largely due to the fact that craving involves imagining indulging in the object of desire, but playing an engaging and visually enticing game like Tetris keeps those mental processes too busy to focus on the craving.
Distracting a Craving
The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites distracting yourself as one of the most effective ways to alleviate cravings, but rather than playing Tetris, they recommend physical activity. Making a list of activities to do when craving strikes—go for a walk, do five pushups, play Tetris for three minutes—and keeping the list with you at all times can help you quickly deal with the craving before it leads back to drugs or alcohol.
Other Strategies for Reducing Cravings
Maybe you’re one of those people who has limited spatial awareness or very little patience for games, and as such, Tetris holds no appeal for you. Not to worry. Here are a few alternative strategies that have been shown to reduce the intensity of cravings:

Talk about it. Discuss your craving with someone who’s supportive to help reduce the feelings of anxiety that often characterize cravings.
Ride it out. Visualize your craving as an ocean wave, and then close your eyes and ride the wave from its inception to the point at which it crashes on the shore and dissipates.
Give it attention. Focus all of your attention on the craving. What does it feel like? Where does it seem to sit in your body? Does it change? What color is it? Many people report that giving the craving so much attention makes it disappear entirely.
Remind yourself of the negative consequences of giving in. Sure, it would feel good to use in order to make the craving go away, but what might the consequences be, and would they be worse than the cravings?
Talk to yourself. The automatic thoughts associated with cravings, including negative thoughts like, “I’ll die if I don’t have a drink” or, “This craving will never end,” are often greatly exaggerated. When you catch these thoughts, counter them mindfully and explicitly. Tell yourself that you will not die without a drink and that the craving will, indeed, end.

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Photo by Ted & Dani Percival from Pleasant Grove, Utah, United States of America (Tetris lamp) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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