How Emotions Cause Cravings: 6 Ways to Cope
Cravings in addiction recovery can feel like one of the most difficult aspects of recovery to deal with. Oftentimes, we try to avoid the craving by pushing it down or ignoring it.
However, cravings can actually offer us insight into what’s going on with us internally. They can teach us about how we’re actually feeling, deep inside.
Cravings show us where our thoughts are and where our emotions are. They can also teach us about our relationship with a substance.
Not only are cravings normal, but they are inevitable, especially in early recovery. Instead of being intimidated by this, we have the power to prepare ourselves for what to do when a craving arises.
Learning about where a craving may really be coming from is an invaluable asset to have on your journey through recovery and as you continue to grow as a person.
Where do cravings come from in addiction recovery?
Cravings don’t happen randomly. They’re triggered by an external or internal cue.
What this means is that something in your environment or something happening internally, such as your thoughts or emotions, triggers a craving for alcohol or drug use.
This is why many treatment programmes and recovery groups urge you to be mindful of the people, places, and things that you come across while in recovery.
When you began to engage in drug or alcohol use, it will have served a purpose for you. Maybe it calmed your anxiety or allowed you to feel something when you felt empty. Perhaps it helped you feel more connected to others. Maybe it helped you escape when you felt you couldn’t face life.
When a craving arises, it is typically because something is happening internally that your body and mind are now looking for drugs to alleviate.
The emotional root of cravings
During active addiction, our ability to feel our emotions, let alone understand them, becomes compromised. Drugs and alcohol cause our feelings to numb out. During recovery, we start to feel again. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand what we’re actually feeling after being numb to them for so long.
A research study conducted by Penn State University uncovered that people who experienced positive emotions during withdrawal and recovery also experienced lower-than-usual cravings. With this, it makes sense that those experiencing negative emotions may experience more cravings.
What’s causing the craving?
It’s important to take the time to understand what drugs and alcohol provided for you emotionally. This will often correlate with the emotional root of where your cravings are coming from.
For instance, if you were engaging in alcohol abuse, maybe it numbed your feelings of anxiousness. Maybe you turned to alcohol when you felt lonely. Perhaps alcohol helped you feel more connected with others.
Knowing this is important because it means that in recovery, anxiety-inducing situations may act as a trigger for craving alcohol. It also means that focusing on working through your anxiety should be a priority in treatment.
If you were engaging in opiate abuse, maybe it numbed you from feeling emotional pain. Whether that was sadness, hurt, or guilt. Maybe something traumatic happened in your life. Using opiates will have helped you to “escape” from the memories, even though they were only pushed further down.
This is important because in recovery, you can shift your focus onto facing whatever it is you may have been trying to run away from during active use. You can work towards healing those parts of you. Thereby, ensuring a greater likelihood of long-lasting recovery.
These are just a few examples, but understanding the emotional drives for engaging in substance abuse is so critical. It thereby creates a unique pathway of healing for you to follow during recovery. Your relationship with your substance of choice will tell you what it is you need to work on internally. It may mean dealing with anxiety, depression, or working through past trauma.
Top 6 Ways to Cope With Cravings in Recovery
Now that you know a little bit more about what lies at the root of cravings in recovery, let’s jump into what you can do about them!
6 Ways to Cope With Cravings in Recovery
Below are 6 ways to cope with cravings in recovery:
Increase awareness of your emotions.
When you stop and look at your emotions, you give them less power over you. Being able to observe an emotion, identify it, and then allow yourself the space to manage that emotion instead of being consumed by it and any automatic thoughts and behaviours that follow is an invaluable skill. It will help decrease your cravings while understanding what’s really going on inside of you. This ability puts you back in control and creates space for you to choose what to do next, rather than falling victim to habit and urge.
Create a list of coping skills for any “negative” emotional state.
For instance, this list can include several things you can do when you’re feeling anxious, several things you can do when you’re feeling depressed, and/or several things you can do when you’re feeling lonely. Be sure that the list includes things that actually help you. For instance, meditating may do wonders for some, but may not be the go-to for others. Only include what actually works for you based on your individual needs. Create this list beforehand and keep it somewhere handy, like the notes section of your phone.
Have a person or network of people you can turn to when facing a craving.
Having a support system is invaluable during addiction recovery. Addiction can be incredibly isolating, and knowing that there are people who understand how you feel makes a world of difference. When a craving arises, reach out to one of these people. Let them know what’s going on. Talking it out can be a huge weight off, and helps the craving pass. When we’re talking it out, we can realize that the craving was coming from an emotionally-driven place, and just getting the emotion out can help the craving to dissipate as well.
Create a mind-body connection.
Whether or not you realise it at the moment, a physical response occurs when we experience certain emotions. Because of this, learning what we feel like within our bodies when a trigger occurs can help us get ahead of our cravings. In order to develop a closer relationship with our bodies, we can strengthen the mind-body connection by engaging in practises such as yoga, meditation, breath work, or exercise. These activities can also help you manage a craving after it has arisen by relaxing your mind and body.
Play the tape.
When in the middle of a craving, the mind will tell us things that aren’t true. You may start to romanticise drug use or its euphoric effects. In what’s called recall bias, you’ll start to only think about the perceived good that came from using, rather than all the negatives that came along with it. You may also start to have thoughts along the lines of, “I’ve been clean for a long time now, I can let myself have just one.”
Playing the tape is a technique that allows you to continue past this rose-coloured phase. Play the tape fully out, all the way through to the end. Imagine that you do have that drink or take that drug - what happens next? Really sink into the feelings of how things have played out before - feeling guilty, feeling disappointed in yourself, going on a bender, feeling that you’ll have to start your clean time all over again, and anything else that arises. These thoughts will often remind you of why you stopped using in the first place, and can help to quieten the cravings.
When experiencing a craving, the mind often spirals in thought. You may have thoughts such as, “I need this now or I’ll die,” or, “I can’t go on if I don’t have this.” The thing is, our thoughts aren’t bigger than we are, and we have the incredible ability to shift our thoughts.
A way to do that with the aforementioned examples would be to tell yourself instead, “I don’t need this now. I can get past this without using. This is going to pass and I will be fine.” The more often you practise this consciously, the easier it will become.
A final note on managing cravings in recovery
Cravings can be difficult to deal with, but preparing yourself ahead of time with tools and strategies can be the difference between long-term recovery and relapse.
For peer support, feel free to join a circle or create your own right here in our Recoverlution community, where you can connect with like-minded people who know exactly what you’re going through.
Author - Thurga
6 practical tips for dealing with cravings in recovery
- Sleep Quality and Emotions Affect Opioid Addiction Recovery - https://www.psu.edu/news/research/story/sleep-quality-and-emotions-affect-opioid-addiction-recovery/
- Stress May Be Causing Your Cravings - https://www.cnn.com/2013/05/23/health/lifeswork-stress-sinha/index.html
- Habit Formation, Craving, Withdrawal, and Relapse Triggers: Addictions’ Effect on the Amygdala - https://www.mentalhelp.net/addiction/habit-formation-craving-withdrawal-and-relapse-triggers/
- How to Cope with Emotions in Early Recovery - https://journeypureriver.com/coping-emotional-triggers/
- 7 Ways to Handle a Drug or Alcohol Craving - https://www.fortbehavioral.com/addiction-recovery-blog/7-ways-to-handle-drug-or-alcohol-cravings/
- Developing Strategies to Cope with Cravings - https://novarecoverycenter.com/treatment-programs/behavioral-therapies/cope-cravings/