Recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is a lifelong process, and cravings can pop up years after you’ve stopped using. Cravings are a normal part of recovery, and almost everyone who quits drugs or alcohol experiences them. Fortunately, it’s possible to get through them without experiencing a relapse, and cravings do subside over time. No matter where you are in your recovery journey, understanding cravings and knowing how to deal with them can help ensure your long-term success.
Cues and Triggers that Start Cravings
In some cases, a craving can come out of the blue. More often, though, a craving begins when you encounter a trigger or cue that causes your brain to think about the drug. This could include participation in activities that used to lead to drug use, hanging out with friends who did drugs with you or going to places where you remember doing drug. One of the first steps to dealing with cravings is figuring out how to avoid them in the first place. Changing your daily habits or finding new activities to take up your time can keep you from encountering things that lead to a craving.
Coping With Cravings
Sometimes, it’s almost impossible to avoid everything that could set off a craving. Certain smells or a song on the radio might make you think of the time before your recovery, and before you know it, a craving has begun. Having a plan to cope with unexpected cravings can make them easier to get through. Some evidence-based strategies for dealing with cravings at the moment they occur include:
Finding a Distraction
When you feel a craving coming on, distracting yourself with another activity can help. Distractions should take up mental energy to be effective, so passive activities such as watching TV might not work as well as playing a board game with a friend or walking your dog around the block. Putting yourself in a situation where it’s difficult to use drugs is another way to get through a craving. Going to a movie or going out to brunch with a friend keeps you in a safe place for a few hours during the height of the craving. Make a list of distracting activities before your next craving so you have some alternatives already in place.
Engaging in Physical Activity
Physical activity serves as a distraction, but it also has other benefits that help reduce cravings. The natural endorphins released during exercise change your brain physically to make cravings less intense. Everything from shooting hoops to digging in your garden can help increase endorphins and help you get through the craving.
Finding Support & Accountability
Talking to supportive friends or family members can help you get through a craving. You might find that describing what you’re experiencing reduces the intensity of the craving. It’s a good idea to ask someone in advance to be your support person if you plan to talk through a craving. A trusted friend or support group sponsor may agree to help you with this process. Make sure the person you plan to speak with understands that talking about your cravings is a way to get you past them, not a sign that you’re planning to use drugs or alcohol.
Focusing on the Negatives of Drug Use
Cravings often remind you of all the positive aspects of drug use while causing you to overlook the negative things. Write down a list of negative effects of drug use on a small index card and keep it on you to refer to when a craving starts. Reading through the negative effects when a craving starts helps you resist the craving.
Talking to Yourself
Use your inner voice, the one that often voices self-doubt or self-criticism, to tell yourself positive messages instead. When facing a craving, voice positive thoughts out loud to convince your brain to move in a positive direction. Tell yourself that the craving may be strong but you can get through it, or remind yourself that no matter how it feels, you won’t actually die of a craving.
Paying Mindful Attention
Mindfulness is a strategy of paying close attention to how you feel, what you’re thinking and how your body is responding. Sitting down during a craving and focusing on your breath moving in and out of your lungs can cause a relaxation response that calms both your brain and body. Meditation, praying or journaling can all be healthy responses to a craving.
Riding the Craving
For some recovering addicts, riding the craving from start to finish is an effective coping technique. One way to do this is to imagine the craving as a difficult task you have to complete, such as climbing a mountain or rowing a boat to a faraway island. Imagining the hard path with a definitive ending can help you power through the experience until the craving has faded away. Another option for going with the craving is to sit quietly and focus on the changes in your body throughout the process. Note where your body physically expresses symptoms during your craving and watch how those symptoms change as you move through the craving. With each craving that you experience, your self-knowledge about the process grows. Eventually, you can start anticipating the strength and length of each physical and emotional reaction to a craving and feel confident that you’re moving through the steps toward the end of the craving.
Different people respond to different techniques, so you might have to try a few different ways of dealing with cravings to find the best options for you. You might use a variety of different techniques at different times, or you might find that doing multiple things at once works best. However you plan to deal with cravings, you should practice the techniques you plan to use beforehand so you’re prepared when one hits. You may also want to reward yourself after making it through the craving by treating yourself to an ice cream or massage. Knowing that there’s a reward waiting at the end of the craving can also help you power through it.
It’s important to remember that most techniques to deal with cravings don’t eliminate them completely. You can reduce the frequency and intensity of cravings, but you might not be able to completely eliminate them.
Get the Skills for Recovery Success
Dealing with cravings is just one component of a successful recovery. Outpatient Services in Lake Worth, South Florida can help you build the skills you need to withstand cravings, prevent relapses and resist drugs and alcohol in the future. Give us a call at (844) 211-7944 today to speak with an intake counselor about starting your journey toward recovery.