One of the most difficult aspects of addiction recovery is the management of cravings. Cravings for drugs and alcohol are common regardless of where a person is in their recovery. Although they tend to be the most intense during initial withdrawal and detox, cravings can surface months or even years after substance abuse has stopped and can lead to relapse. But they do not have to.
Cravings can be physical or psychological in nature and they are highly individual. Every person experiences cravings differently and responds to them in various ways. While some people are capable of completely ignoring them, others need help creating coping mechanisms and methods of avoiding temptation in order to overcome them. The experience of cravings is a normal part of recovery and does not mean there is a problem. It does not mean that a person is weak-willed or unable to resist temptation. Understanding that cravings should be expected and that they are not permanent can make it easier to know what to do when they arise.
What Causes Cravings?
While cravings can occur at any point during recovery, a person tends to be most susceptible to them during initial withdrawal. As the body adapts to the absence of your substance of choice, cravings can become less frequent over time. This does not mean that the risk of cravings resurfacing goes away. In fact, there are a number of different triggers that you may encounter in your daily life that causes cravings to occur. While these are different for everyone, there are common themes and situations that trigger cravings. These include:
- Being around the substance you used to abuse
- Observing others using substances
- Spending time in environments where substance abuse occurred
- Hanging out with peers who abused substances with you
- Feeling emotions that generally triggered substance abuse in the past (this can include attempting to escape from negative feelings or using substances as a means of celebrating)
- Experiencing physical sensations you commonly associated with substance use
Studies show that substance abuse can change chemical balances in the body and affect brain chemistry. Drugs and alcohol can rewire the brain, causing a person to experience intense cravings in order to fuel addiction. Much of this can be addressed in treatment, but in some cases, it may not be reversible. This makes the development of healthy coping mechanisms and alternative outlets vital to successful sobriety.
Managing & Overcoming Cravings for Drugs or Alcohol
Cravings affect everyone differently making it important to try a variety of methods of coping in order to determine what is most effective. In any case, the most effective way to manage cravings is to be aware of your triggers so that you can anticipate when a craving might surface. While you can do your best to evade triggering situations, they may not always be avoidable, making it important to identify them early on in order to prepare for when they occur.
Some methods of managing cravings include:
- Having a plan: If you know that you might be in a triggering situation, it is important to plan ahead. Knowing who to call in case you need help, having a way to get out, and preparing methods of managing your feelings can help you get through difficult situations that may threaten your sobriety.
- Stay busy: Boredom can be a trigger for relapse. When your mind is allowed to wander, cravings can resurface and it can be difficult to say no to using. The more you are able to occupy your time and attention with other hobbies and activities, the less likely you are to struggle with cravings.
- Talk about it: Sometimes, talking about the cravings you experience with someone you trust can help you get through it. Friends and family members can be an excellent source of support and help you move past feelings that can fuel cravings or trigger relapse.
- Allow yourself to work through it: You may not always have resources or support available to you when going through a difficult time. Sometimes, simply experiencing the craving and working through the difficulties of it can be helpful. Focusing on the progress you have made and reflecting on your growth can help minimize the influence of cravings until they subside.
- Exercise: Exercise is one of the most successful methods of reducing cravings. Working out can release endorphins that boost mood and affects the way your mind and body feels. This can distract you from cravings and be a positive outlet for thoughts and feelings that would otherwise increase the risk of relapse.
- Engage creatively: Listening to music, dancing, creating art, and exploring other creative avenues can help distract you from cravings. Much like engaging in exercise, creative expression can be a healthy outlet that allows you to deal with difficult thoughts and feelings in a productive way.
Cravings can be overwhelming, but they will pass. Learning how to cope with them can help you become stronger in your recovery. There are countless avenues to explore when discovering what helps you cope most effectively. Spending time and energy uncovering these interests can minimize the influence of cravings and help in your journey in recovery.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.