Getting clean and sober from drugs and alcohol is no small feat and requires addiction recovery help and support to deal with craving!
Staying clean and sober is nothing short of a miracle for most addicts. In treatment, we focus greatly on relapse prevention and that includes how to deal with cravings to drink or to use drugs. The old anti-drug campaign “Just Say No” to the craving had some merit but ask any recovering addict and they will quickly tell you that it’s not as simple as just saying “No.”
Craving not only has a physiological aspect, but it is driven by emotional and mental components. In fact, craving something, anything (food, sex, drug, gaming) is hard wired into our entire being and is motivated at our deepest level of the drive to survive. As humans, we are all vulnerable to addiction.
“When we get hooked on the latest video game on our phone or our favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, we are tapping into one of the most evolutionary conserved learning processes currently known to science,” writes neuroscientist Judson Brewer in The Craving Mind. “This reward-based learning process basically goes like this: We see some food that looks good. Our brain says, Calories, survival! … See food. Eat food. Feel good. Repeat. Trigger, behavior, reward.”
Another name for addiction is habit. When we do not fulfill what a habit wants us to do, in effect, we have physical, emotional, social and mental mechanisms that try to push us back into the habituated grove. We feel better when we live in what we have established as our comfort zones. The common name for that strong push back is “craving.”
While craving can be anywhere from mild to intense and can have the power to ruin a person’s recovery, there is good news about craving:
Cravings are temporary. The average craving usually only last about 7 mins.
Cravings do not necessarily mean the person is failing at recovery.
Cravings often serve as a messenger to the person that something needs to be adjusted in their recovery program or some need is not being met.
Cravings can be managed and lessened if acknowledged and dealt with in a timely manner.
The key to managing cravings is to first learn what your triggers are and adjust your lifestyle to avoid those triggers as much as possible.
It’s also important to gain some self-awareness to understand when and what craving means about you and your recovery. Not everyone experiences cravings the same way. Talking to other people in recovery about their experiences with cravings can be a great way to help identify the ‘not-so-obvious’ ways cravings can occur.
Cravings can serve as messengers to let you know something needs to be addressed physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually. Who better to help with identifying these messages than other recovering people who have successfully dealt with cravings!?!
Since the average craving lasts only about 7 minutes, think about what you do in the 7 minute window. The urge will either subside or if it will grow into a compulsion to use. This is the proverbial ‘fork in the road’.
Here is a list of suggestions for managing cravings:
Don’t ignore it. Be honest with yourself. Trying to pretend it’s not happening will likely make the craving last longer. Own the feeling and then commit to deal with it in an appropriate way.
Call your sponsor or accountability partner or trusted friend and admit to the craving right away. There is something about saying it out loud to a trusted person that tends to take a lot of the craving’s power away. (Seriously, just try it!.) You can always call a professional for help.
DO NOT call a using buddy!
Remember the consequences of using. Think about what you will gain from not using and what you will lose if you give in.
Be patient with yourself. Try not to get into self-doubt or loathing because you are having a craving. Move into the solution and avoid letting yourself hang out too long in negative thinking. Craving will not kill you but what you do about the craving might.
Start and keep a journal. Write down every thought and feeling that is occurring no matter if they make sense. If you are a techy and not into pen/paper, there are tons of journaling apps available that can be password protected for your privacy.
Pray and mediate. Take a few minutes, find a quiet place and say a prayer or meditate with some deep breathing techniques.
Go to a 12 step meeting. If you are currently at a 12 step meeting, speak up and let the group know you are struggling. Often times, people will offer to sit and talk with you or go get coffee after the meeting to help you work through your thoughts and feelings.
Read some recovery literature. Meditation books, The Big Book, The Recovery Book, The NA Basic Text, The AA Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions
Make a Gratitude List.
Go for a walk or do some form of exercise.
Give yourself a little time to ride it out – remember, cravings usually only last 7 mins
Remember HALT. – Take caution to keep from allowing yourself to get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired – And if these things are occurring, take measures for self-care right away.
Look for ways to help others. Getting outside of self and helping others is a great way to keep selfishness from turning into cravings.
Make a plan for the next few hours that includes taking care of self and interacting with other people in recovery. Plan for something fun or pampering in some way (get nails done, a haircut, go for ice cream or a cup of coffee, a movie, visit a friend or relative).
Managing cravings appropriately will actually improve the overall health of your recovery. Left alone, cravings will fester and grow into compulsions. This is completely avoidable if you will commit to take some action to safeguard your recovery as soon as the craving sets in.
Remember, this craving too shall pass!