Anyone who’s engaged in addictive behaviors will experience cravings throughout the recovery process. It’s undeniable that recovering from addiction is a lifelong process. Managing your recovery takes skill building and practice.
Craving your drug of choice or any drug will often be a challenge you’ll need to overcome time and time again. Cravings are normal and the strength and frequency of them will decrease overtime. Cravings start in the brain and trigger physical and psychological symptoms. Learning, adopting, and utilizing coping strategies will help you learn to resist cravings.
6 Facts About Addiction Cravings
Cravings can help you understand what’s happening in your mind and body such that you think you need to use. The overwhelming need is tough but you are tougher. Here are six things to consider about cravings:
- Triggers bring on cravings When you find yourself mentally triggered, your internal pain calls for relief. Old addictive patterns are called upon to treat the uncomfortable emotional feeling. Though your addiction has been the way you’ve chosen to deal with this feeling, it’s not the only way to soothe your pain.
- Cravings are a normal part of addiction Just because you stopped using, been to rehab, gone to therapy, attended meetings, etc…it doesn’t mean you won’t have cravings. You will. Most definitely, you will. Just because you stop using, your craving won’t also stop. You need to learn how to manage them.
- Cravings vary from person to person Just as each person has their own recovery story, each also has their own individualized experience of cravings. They are completely subjective.
- Cravings are temporary While there’s no telling how long a craving could last, what is for sure- they’ll pass. As all encompassing as they may feel, craving come and go.
- Medication can help with cravings If you feel like you may need some more help with your cravings, it’s best to consult with a medical professional for a prescription. There are various medications that can help with everything from alcohol to opioid cravings.
- Cravings lessen over time Early on recovery, cravings are at their strongest. Please know they don’t remain that strong. In long-term recovery, you’ve learned how to manage them and learn coping skills to kick in sooner to help you out.
18 Ways to Deal with Cravings
- Identify the root of the craving They aren’t magic and don’t appear out of nothing. Cravings are triggered by people, places, and things. Take a moment to take inventory. Think through or write down what may have led to the craving. Who are you with? Where are you? What are you doing? What are you feeling? Build recognition of your answers. They can help you resolve this issue and help you to avoid the trigger in the future.
- Speak with someone you trust Talking out your concerns with a trusted friend can help bring clarity to the situation. Connecting with someone else can bring a different perspective and a sense of understanding. Getting support at this challenging time can be an essential part of your recovery.
- Journal about your feelings Ultimately addiction is about soothing pain. Instead of using it to avoid it, taking pen to paper and writing out your feelings can be very therapeutic. Using is only temporary but your feeling will stay with you until you process them. Working through our feelings by writing them out can be truly gratify and you can refer back to them when needed.
- Spend some time with a pet Whether you have your own or you visit with a friend’s pet, animals intuitively know when you’re hurting. Petting and hugging a furry friend, you might find yourself talking out what triggers you, too.
- Do the opposite If you are triggered when you’re tired, go for a walk. If you’re triggered when you’re excited, go take a yoga class.
- Eat some healthy food Craving substances is your body expressing hunger. Of course it’s not actually for food but you don’t actually recognize hunger as well when you’re stinkin’ thinkin’ about using. So go grab a bite. You may actually be hungry for some food and it might help put some distance between you and your craving.
- Concentrate on breathing Okay so the goal here is to help your mind and body relax. Try to focus your attention on deep breathing. Close your eyes, place a hand on your heart and one on your stomach, and take some deep breaths. Notice how the breath filters into each part of your body from head to toe. Calmly slow your breathing down.
- Don’t give up Relapse is part of recovery. If you give into your craving, know that it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. You can continue on. The setback cannot destroy the work you’ve done.
- Try mindfulness This word seems to be everywhere. If you don’t what it means or how to do it- here ya go. The idea is to engage all your senses and focus on the present moment. So think about what you can see, touch, hear, taste and smell. Then look at the cravings as you imagine them and watch them float away. Can you see them anymore? Can you still feel them?
- Remove yourself from the situation If you are in an environment where drugs or alcohol is present and could lead to you using, leave. Just get out of there. You don’t have to stay. Take a walk. Get a ride home. Jump on a bus. Just go.
- Connect with someone who’s been sober for several years Chances are someone who’s been sober longer than you have been through what you’re experiencing. They have probably learned some tips to help you through a tough time from their unique perspective. They might meet you for coffee or take you to a meeting. They might just talk to you on the phone until you’ve talked it through.
- Slogans, saying, and mantras Write a list that you can refer back to when you need motivation phrases. Be sure to read through them whenever you need them.
- Remind yourself of the consequences There’s a lot that’s changed since you’ve gotten clean or sober. You’ve come out of the darkness and into the light. Remembering how far you’ve come and how much you have to live for can help you remember it’s not worth giving into your cravings.
- Stall, delay, hold out It’s been said that craving lasts about an average of 15 minutes. That’s it. Now when you’re in the midst of the 15 minutes it might feel like forever. But rationally you know it’s not a whole long time. Make a promise to yourself that you can hold out for at least 15 minutes. You can do it!
- Go to a meeting All excuses aside- your Higher Power is however you define it and meetings can really be the best thing for you in your time of need. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people can really be just what you may need.
- See a therapist If you have a therapist, maybe consider asking them for a session sooner than later. If you aren’t already seeing a therapist, it may be a good idea. If you’re in crisis, call 911 or go to your closest urgent care or emergency room.
- Remind yourself why you stay sober There must be at least one reason. Most people say they stay sober because of their children or parents. It may also be your significant other, pet or an upcoming event. Pick something in your life and know that you need to stay clean or sober for it/them!
- Exercise Busy your body with something else. Admit it, your body could use some repair after all you’ve been through in addiction. Reduce your craving by releasing endorphins and dopamine. And if you’re up for the chaThirty minutes of exercise each day will lessen cravings, too.
Seeing a Mental Health Professional
If you become concerned about relapse, it’s best to seek the support of a mental health professional- such as a social worker, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. When you see someone professionally trained in mental health care, they can help you understand the difficulties you’re experiencing.
Sure just the thought of seeking mental healthcare can create more cravings. You may think they will make you talk about your past. Or that you won’t connect with them to feel comfortable to talk about anything. Maybe you’re afraid to cry in front of anyone let alone a stranger. Worse- you think they’ll put you in a hospital, rehab or institution.
Please know I don’t bring this up to elicit fear but to say- those who work in the mental health field are trained to work with you at your own pace. You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. Ever. The idea is to create a safe space for you to feel comfortable to connect with someone who can help you understand your symptoms and learn to manage them. Therapists are legally bound to uphold privacy and confidentiality. That means they can only repeat what you’ve said to them if they are concerned about your safety or the safety of others. Anything else you tell a therapist, they cannot repeat to anyone else without your consent. You literally have to sign paperwork stating they can talk to others about what you’ve shared with them.
Keep in mind- Untreated substance abuse disorders can be harmful to your health and even fatal. If you think you or your loved one may have a substance use disorder or addiction, see a doctor or therapist to determine the best course of treatment.
When to seek emergency treatment
Here are the signs and symptoms would warrant a trip to the emergency room immediately:
- changes in consciousness
- trouble breathing
- seizures or convulsions
- signs of a possible heart attack, such as chest pain or pressure
- any other troublesome physical or psychological reaction to use of the drug
If anything listed is cause for concern, call 911 or go to your local emergency room immediately.
Laura Geftman, LCSW is the Founder of The Calm, Cool & Collected and a practicing therapist. Beyond all things cannabis and mental health, Laura is passionate about developing greater understanding for kindness and acceptance. In her free time, Laura can be found on her yoga mat, in a kayak or singing karaoke.
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