8 Ways to Handle Substance Cravings in Addiction Recovery
Cravings are one of the biggest challenges for anyone recovering from addiction. Cravings sometimes seem to come from nowhere and demand that you use again immediately. When a craving strikes, it may feel so intense that you feel like you can’t possibly resist it. However, you can resist cravings and it will become easier the longer your recovery lasts. While cravings never go away completely, they do gradually become less severe and less frequent. Most people notice a significant reduction in cravings after one year and again after five years. The following strategies can help you weather cravings and strengthen your recovery.
Accept what you’re feeling.
The first thing is to recognize what you’re feeling and not try to push it away or bury it. Cravings are a normal part of recovery. Every gets them. They’re just obstacles you have to overcome if you want to remain sober. Cravings often feel deeply rooted impulses and naming the impulse can give you more control over it. When you experience one, say to yourself, “This is a craving. It’s a feeling everyone gets and it will eventually pass.”
Once you’ve identified and labeled the craving, don’t push it away or bury it, but instead try examining the feeling without judgment. Where do you feel it? What exactly does it feel like? Is it steady or does it come in waves? What thoughts come with the feeling? And so on. The more closely you examine the various components of the craving, the less overwhelming it will feel. It may help to have a daily mindfulness meditation practice so you will be familiar with mindfulness before you need to use it to combat cravings.
Examine your assumptions.
As noted above, see if you can identify specific thoughts that tend to come along with cravings. These thoughts might be something like “I must use drugs or alcohol right away,” or “I’ll die if I can’t use again,” or “I’ll never be able to stay sober long-term anyway.” These thoughts are often characterized by catastrophizing, extreme thinking, or unrealistic expectations. When you identify these kinds of distortions, try analyzing them. Look for the distortions. See if you can spot errors in your logic. Push back against this distorted thinking by thinking of counter examples. For example, you’ve probably had cravings before and you didn’t die, so you’ll probably survive this craving too. If you’ve been through treatment, you’ve probably learned these skills and others in therapy, but sometimes it’s easy to forget to use them in the heat of the moment.
You’ve probably learned by now that cravings don’t get worse indefinitely, or even stay at the same level of intensity. They sort of come and go. They may only last a few minutes if you leave them alone. However, people often keep them alive by dwelling on them, worrying about them, and generally devoting more energy and attention to them. The way to break this cycle is simply to distract yourself for a while. Go for a walk, read a book, play a video game, or engage in some hobby. The more attention your activity requires, the less attention will be left over for the craving.
If you’re mindful during a craving, you will probably notice you get pretty tense. That’s a normal reaction to not being able to have something you feel like you need. Physiologically, you react much as you would if you were very hungry and someone was trying to prevent you from eating. You prepare yourself to fight for it. However, you’re only fighting yourself. The good news is that just as your mental state affects your body, your body can affect your mental state. Therefore, if you can practice relaxing, your brain gets the message there is no emergency and that the craving is just a false alarm. Just as practicing mindfulness helps you remain aware in the moment a craving strikes, practicing relaxation exercises daily can help you relax in the midst of a craving. Relaxation exercises typically include methods of progressive relaxation or visualization.
You never have to endure a craving by yourself. There’s always someone you can call, whether it’s a friend, a sponsor, someone from you 12-step group, or even a stranger. For example, the Sober Grid app can put you in touch with a sober person near you if you’re having trouble. Loneliness is often a cause of cravings and just hearing a friendly voice can make you feel less alone. Real face-to-face contact is even better, so if you can get together with someone for lunch or coffee, that’s a perfect way to ride out a craving.
Get some exercise.
Exercise is an excellent distraction from a craving. Exercise has several advantages over other potential distractions. Many studies have shown that exercise reduces feelings of stress and anxiety while improving mood, concentration, and self-control. Exercise of moderate intensity will distract you from your craving, especially if you are outside and have to pay attention to your environment.
Play the tape.
“Play the tape” is a strategy you often hear in 12-step circles. It simply means when you think about using again, imagine the scenario all the way through; don’t stop with the apparent satisfaction of relapse, but think of all the consequences that will follow. Think about how you will feel the next day, the disappointment of having let yourself down as well as your loved ones, the difficulty of having to start over, and the pain and frustration that led you to to get help in the first place. Imagine these negative consequences as vividly as possible and let the feelings this evokes counterbalance the fleeting temptation to use again.
Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.