How to Deal with Addiction Cravings to Avoid Relapse
If you have ever suffered from any kind of addiction, then you know that dealing with addiction cravings to avoid relapse isn’t easy. It’s an overwhelming feeling of need that feels like it can only be satisfied by going back to your addiction. I know how it feels – in early sobriety, I had intense addiction cravings that felt all-consuming. I had to learn to deal with them, or I was in danger of relapsing. For me, learning how to deal with the addiction craving was the key to avoiding relapse.
Having addiction cravings in recovery is normal. You can expect to have pretty intense cravings for your drug of choice as you get started in your recovery. Up until the point when you stop using, drugs or alcohol are your way of coping with anxiety, stress, and life’s demands. It’s only natural that you will feel the need to behave the same way when you get clean. However, to avoid relapse, you have to learn how to deal with addiction cravings without using. The goal isn’t to eliminate the cravings, instead, it is to recognize when the craving cycle begins and intervene before you pick up drugs or alcohol to cope.
The Addiction Craving Cycle in Recovery
While it may sometimes feel different to you, there is a common cycle that most cravings follow:
- Trigger response: Something – a thought, person, event or thing – triggers an emotion or thought that makes you want to cope in your old, addictive way. It could be a sound, smell, music that you listened to while using, or something as simple a driving by a bar you used to frequent. This sets the cycle in motion.
- Obsessive thinking: Once you have become in touch with your old pattern of addictive behavior, your thoughts will lock onto the familiar habits. It becomes exceedingly difficult to get away from those thoughts. You may start to rationalize using again in your head or start weighing the pros and cons. The more you consider it, the stronger the urge to use becomes.
- Intense craving: This is the full-blown craving feeling. It’s often both emotional and physical. You feel a compulsive need to use or drink and can’t think of anything else. In a physical sense, you may start feeling a stress response like a pounding heart, sweating, and shortness of breath. When you get to this point, the pull toward using is extremely strong and it’s very hard to resist using.
Though the craving cycle can be very powerful, it isn’t out of your control. While you can’t always control an addiction craving from happening, you do have the power to not act on it. When you successfully intervene on cravings, you will feel more in control, and you will continue to grow and heal in your recovery.
Ways to Resist Addiction Cravings
The following are five suggestions have worked for me and may help you resist addiction cravings and avoid relapse:
- Use healthy distractions. Distraction can be a negative coping mechanism when it’s used to avoid emotions or situations that you have to deal with. However, when used correctly, distraction can help you redirect your attention to more positive thoughts and actions. Seeking a change of scenery, talking with someone who supports you, and doing something that you enjoy, are all healthy distractions that will help when you’re in the midst of an addiction craving.
- Play that tape to the end. Once you are triggered, you are probably romanticizing or glamorizing using again, imagining how it will feel and how it will make things better. Now is the time to remember your last, dark days of using or drinking. Consider what the outcome of having a drink or using a drug will be, by remembering where it got you in the past.
- Get physically active. When you exercise or do a physical activity, your brain produces natural feel-good chemicals that improve your mood, reduce stress, and ward off depression.
- Meditate or pray. For some people in addiction recovery, relaxation, meditation, or prayer work well in alleviating triggered responses. Taking deep breaths and relaxing, repeating a mantra or affirmation, or doing some gentle yoga, can calm you down and help you release the craving feelings. If you are religious, prayer can offer you the same type of comfort.
- Don’t believe your first thoughts. When you are triggered, you may have automatic thoughts that arise that may seem indisputable. For example, you may run into an old drinking buddy who suggests that you go get a drink. Without even thinking about it, your mind may start rehearsing scenarios where it would be fun to hang out with that friend again. You have to tell yourself the truth about what would happen and resist the urge to fall back into old behaviors.
Addiction cravings in recovery can be intense and pop up when you least expect them, but when you have the tools to deal with your addiction cravings, you can intervene and continue on the path of recovery. The good news is, the intensity of craving does lessen over time. While it may never go away completely for some people in recovery, it does get better.
DeLoe, J. (2017, August 3). How to Deal with Addiction Cravings to Avoid Relapse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/debunkingaddiction/2017/08/avoid-relapse-in-addiction-recovery-by-dealing-with-cravings