If you’ve ever suffered from any kind of addiction, then you know what it is like to have cravings. It’s an overwhelming feeling of need that feels like it can only be satisfied by going back to your addiction. If you do go back, you’ve relapsed. Becoming aware of cravings and learning how to manage them is one of the biggest elements in relapse prevention.
Having cravings in recovery is normal. You can expect to have fairly intense cravings for your drug of choice as you get started in your recovery process. Up until the point when you stop using, drugs or alcohol are your way of coping with anxiety, stress, and all of life’s demands. It’s only natural that you will feel the need to have a coping mechanism when you get clean. However, in order to avoid relapse, you have to learn how to deal with cravings without going back to using. The goal isn’t to eliminate the cravings, instead it is to recognize when the craving cycle begins and intervene before you pick up drugs or alcohol to cope.
The Craving Cycle
The types of cravings and how intense they are depend upon the person, but there are some common patterns that most people in recovery share. Typically, the craving cycle progresses in this manner:
Trigger response- Something – a thought, person, event or thing – triggers an emotion or thought that makes you want to cope in your old addictive way. It could be a sound, smell, music that you listened to while using, or something as simple as driving by a bar you used to frequent. This sets the cycle in motion.
Obsessive thinking- Once you have become in touch with your old pattern of addictive behavior, your thoughts will lock onto the familiar habits. It becomes exceedingly difficult to get away from those thoughts. You may start to rationalize using again in your head, or start weighing the pros and cons. The more you consider it, the stronger the urge to use becomes.
Intense craving- This is when the full-blown craving feeling occurs. It’s often both emotional and physical. You feel a compulsive need to use or drink and can’t think of anything else. In a physical sense, you may start feeling a stress response like a pounding heart, sweating, and shortness of breath. When you get to this point, the pull toward using is extremely strong and it’s very hard to resist using.
Though the craving cycle can be very powerful, it isn’t out of your control. While you can’t always control a craving from happening, you do have the power to not act on it. The important thing to learn is that you need to identify when you are in the trigger phase of the craving cycle. Once you learn to do that, you will be able to avoid progression in the cycle and prevent relapse. When you successfully intervene on cravings, you will feel more in control, and you will continue to grow and heal in your recovery.
Ways to Resist Cravings
The following are five suggestions that may help you resist cravings and avoid relapse:
- Use healthy distractions– Distraction can be a negative coping mechanism when it’s used to avoid dealing with emotions or situations. However, when used right, distraction can help you redirect your attention to more positive thoughts and actions. Some healthy distractions that may help you let go of cravings are:
- Change of scenery – Go outside for a walk, jog, bike ride, or car drive. The goal of this is to get you away from whatever was in your environment that triggered you.
- Talk to someone supportive – Call a friend, family member, or sponsor who understands and supports your recovery. They will likely be able to help you feel more grounded and reassure you that you can make it in recovery.
- Do something fun – Play a video game, watch your favorite television show, read a book, or start a project you have been putting off. The key is to do something that you enjoy and that will replace your craving feelings.
- Play the tape until the end- Once you are triggered, you are probably romanticizing or glamorizing using again, imaging how it will feel and how it will make things better. Now is the time to remember your last, dark days of using or drinking. Consider what the outcome of having a drink or using a drug will be, by remembering where it got you in the past. Perhaps you were arrested while using or fought with friends and family. Maybe you injured yourself or someone else. Wherever your addiction took you before, it will likely take you again – and worse. When you remember drinking or using honestly, it will help to alleviate the desire to act on it again.
- Get physically active- When you exercise or do a physical activity, your brain produces natural feel-good chemicals that improve your mood, reduce stress, and ward off depression. You don’t have to work out intensely, a brisk walk, pulling weeds or other gardening, or even putting on music and dancing can help.
- Meditate or pray- For some people in recovery, relaxation, meditation, or prayer work well in alleviating triggered responses. Taking deep breaths and relaxing, repeating a mantra or affirmation, or doing some gentle yoga, can calm you down and help you release the craving feelings. If you are religious, prayer can offer you the same type of comfort.
- Don’t believe your first thoughts– When you are triggered, you may automatically have thoughts that arise that may seem indisputable. For example, you may run into an old drinking buddy who suggest that you go get a drink. Without even thinking about it, your mind may start rehearsing scenarios where it would be fun to hang out with that friend again. You have to tell yourself the truth about what would happen and resist the urge to fall back into old behaviors.
Cravings can be intense, and they can pop up when you least expect them, but when you have the tools to deal with them, you can intervene and continue on the path of recovery. The good news is the intensity of craving does lessen over time. While it may never go away completely for some people in recovery, it does get better. At Serenity AtSummit, we can help you learn to cope with cravings effectively to help you avoid relapse. If you are struggling with addiction or chronic relapse, contact us today and get the help you need.