6 Practical Tips For Dealing With Cravings in Recovery
Dealing with cravings in recovery can feel truly impossible.
The truth is, cravings are resistible, no matter how overwhelming they can feel.
Although the idea of facing cravings can be scary, there is power in knowing that you are stronger than your cravings.
Additionally, there's so much you can do to manage your cravings. Know that as time passes, you will face them less and less.
Read on to learn more about where cravings may come from, and discover our top 6 tips for dealing with cravings in addiction recovery.
What are cravings in recovery?
Although there isn't one set definition to encapsulate all that a craving is, it can be understood as…
- An intense desire to feel the effects of drugs or alcohol
- A mental state during which a person is focused solely on obtaining drugs or alcohol
- A desire to use drugs or alcohol when presented with an opportunity
Cravings are completely normal and are a part of recovery.
Every single person in recovery has experienced cravings early on, and may even face cravings from time to time later in their recovery.
When cravings happen, they can feel so incredibly overwhelming. Your mind can take you to the point where you feel you have no other choice but to use. You can’t imagine any other way of getting through the craving.
The truth is, you can get through the craving without using.
You can experience relief from the craving, and have it pass you by without turning to drugs or alcohol.
When you learn how to manage your cravings, you set yourself up for long-lasting recovery from addiction.
Cravings and brain changes
Cravings feel incredibly strong at the beginning of recovery. However, they become more manageable and lessen in intensity over time.
One source of cravings stems from brain changes that happen over time during active addiction.
After ongoing substance use, the brain rewires itself and associates the substance use with positive feelings.
Therefore, when the body is not getting the substance, the brain experiences an intense desire to have those substances in order to feel good. Of course, taking in the substance doesn't actually provide genuine good feelings.
Although cravings are one of the most difficult aspects of recovery, they can actually offer us a great deal of insight if we allow them to. This is because cravings are hardly ever random, and are usually prompted by something else.
What are triggers?
Simply put, a trigger is something that prompts a craving.
In recovery, we often hear how important it is to stay away from specific people, places, and things, and that is due to the nature of triggers.
Triggers are incredibly unique to each individual person, but fall into several overarching categories:
- Social triggers. Social triggers are dependent upon the people you place yourself around. You may be triggered by the people you are around, or people you run into, if they remind you of times when you used to engage in substance use.
- Pattern triggers. Pattern triggers revolve around habits that you became accustomed to within your day. Examples of this can be using substances first thing in the morning, at a certain time of day, or when the weather felt a certain way. Experiencing that pattern trigger may prompt you habitually to want to engage in use.
- Emotional triggers. Emotional triggers happen when we are faced with a challenging emotion that we previously used substances to cope with. This can be an emotion such as grief, anxiety, emptiness, boredom or depression.
- Withdrawal triggers. This usually happens in very early recovery, when the body still connects drugs and alcohol to positive feelings, thinking it needs them in order to feel good. This type of trigger generally fades as the body restores its balance.
The importance of dealing with cravings
One of the reasons that it's so important to manage cravings is so you can prevent relapse.
Relapse typically happens not as a one-time event, but rather, it is a process in and of itself.
The emotional, mental, and physical stages of relapse happen when we aren't vigilant about our thoughts and emotions.
This lack of observance accompanied by an external trigger is a recipe for relapse.
Learning how to manage your cravings will not only help you prevent relapse, but will give you more insight into the kinds of things that prompt you to want to use in the first place.
When you have a better understanding of the types of things that prompt you to want to use, you can focus on healing those areas and things that you can control. You can also learn how to adjust your environment to best support your sobriety.
6 tips for dealing with cravings in recovery
Below are 6 tips to try out the next time you find yourself struggling with an intense craving.
1. Accept the craving
An important mental shift to make when you feel a craving is to accept that you are having one.
As previously mentioned, everyone in recovery has dealt with cravings, and it doesn't mean that you are messing up or doing something wrong.
Acknowledging the craving is incredibly important because trying to push it away, or beating yourself up, will only make it worse.
When we can resist something, or try hard not to think about a thing, we inevitably think about that thing even more. When you're having a craving, even when it feels really intense, it's okay to accept what you are feeling.
This doesn't mean it's okay to lean into the craving and to use. It just means to acknowledge that you're experiencing the craving, which helps to give it less power.
2. Find a distraction
Even though it doesn't feel like it while it's happening, a craving doesn't actually last forever. In fact, most cravings last about 15 minutes. The reason they can feel like they last much longer is because we keep them alive in our minds. We try to deny that the craving is happening, spinning in our minds about what we should do next.
When we stay in that place mentally, we fall deeper into a thought spiral of convincing ourselves that we need to use in order to make the craving go away. However, that is simply not the case.
In order to pull yourself out of this mental spiral, find something to distract yourself with. You can do this by engaging in something that takes up a great deal of your attention.
Some examples of this are...
- talking with your friends
- immersing yourself in a movie
- going for a walk
- doing a physical activity
- doing something creative
The intent here is to find something that will occupy your attention and concentration. By doing so, you take your mind away from the thoughts that continue to perpetuate from the craving.
3. Assess the situation
When you’re faced with a really strong craving that isn't going away, assess the situation that you're in.
- Are you in an environment that is causing you stress?
- Are you around people who remind you of when you used to use?
If so, you know these external factors are triggering the craving.
When this happens, exit the situation. For example, if you're at a party and the alcohol there is triggering you, it's okay to leave. Remind yourself that you are being triggered by something external and the craving is going to pass.
Your sobriety and your well-being are the most important things. It's okay to have healthy boundaries and to keep yourself away from situations that might trigger you, big or small.
4. Look at your thoughts
A craving is a feeling that becomes perpetuated by your thoughts. When a craving arises, pay attention to the kind thoughts you're having about the craving.
Most likely, your thoughts are making the craving even worse.
If you're having thoughts like “I can't handle this craving, this craving is terrible, I need to use to get rid of this craving,” know that these thoughts are making the situation even more intense and stressful.
It may feel impossible, but you're always in control of your thoughts, even in the middle of an intense craving.
Tell yourself that cravings are completely normal in recovery, and that the craving itself will pass. Additionally, take a look at where your craving might be coming from.
Observe if the craving is a response to thoughts you're having about a situation that has nothing to do with drugs or alcohol. For instance, if you're nervous about going to your first group meeting, or if you feel stressed out about your relationship.
Pay attention to if these stressors have prompted you to want to use. Realising that the craving has nothing to do with drugs or alcohol gives it far less power and can help ease the overwhelm, allowing it to pass quicker.
5. Play the tape
A technique used by many in recovery who are faced with cravings is called playing the tape.
When a craving arises, you'll likely start to think about how good it would feel to use, and you let your mind stay in that place.
In what's called reflection bias, we often forget the full scope of how things were when we look back on them in hindsight.
Playing the tape means playing the tape forward in our minds, past the act of using.
What would happen after you use?
Playing the tape allows us to observe the negative things we would feel about ourselves if we were to use again. We think about how we would ruin our sobriety, or how we would let ourselves down. We may even think about how we may hurt the ones we love.
Playing the tape through is a powerful strategy in managing cravings and helping them become less powerful.
6. Talk it out
Cravings can feel so powerful and out of our control when we stay in our minds with them. This is why talking to someone can be so helpful.
When we talk to someone about our craving, it helps decrease the power the craving has over us. Also, talking about the craving can help us realise where it's coming from, and we can understand that it likely has nothing to do with the drugs or alcohol itself.
Talking to someone can also help us feel normal with our cravings.
It may feel hard to reach out to someone if you're struggling with a craving, because you may feel like they are judging you or that you are doing something wrong. Rest assured that cravings are normal, and having a trusted friend in recovery can help you to normalise the experience and talk it through.
If you don't have a trusted friend or loved one to talk to, consider speaking with a counsellor or therapist. They can also help normalise your cravings, and help you understand where they're coming from so the cravings have less power over you.
If you don’t have anyone to talk to, and don’t feel ready to seek therapy or counselling, you can always pop into a Recoverlution circle to express how you’re feeling and what you’re struggling with.
Here, you can find people who are going through exactly what you’re going through or who have been where you are and can offer guidance and support.
A final note on dealing with cravings in recovery
The most important things to remember when it comes to cravings in recovery are that...
- cravings are not irresistible
- you can get through cravings without using
- cravings are completely normal
- you are not doing anything wrong if you are experiencing a craving
Recoverlution offers a wealth of resources on ways to manage your craving, whether it's digging deeper into your own thoughts, practising exercise, breath work and yoga, or using meditation.
As always, be gentle with yourself as you navigate your cravings, and know that you are not alone! you can join our Community for free and speak with like-minded others who have already joined our platform
Author - Thurga