Curbing Cravings in Recovery

It is highly likely that you will experience cravings during addiction recovery. While there are things you can do to help curb such cravings, it’s important to note that not all tricks and tips work the same for everyone. And sometimes, you may have to try several techniques before one becomes successful and you find the tools that you enjoy or prefer. Consider trying the following tips when you or someone you know need a bit of extra support to get through those challenging moments that cravings create.

The Craving Cycle Basics

Those who are going through the recovery process from substance use will likely experience some level of cravings. It can be helpful to understand the four steps of the craving cycle that develop from addiction and habits:

  • Cue or trigger
  • Craving
  • Response
  • Reward

Cues and triggers have the power to enhance the desire or craving for your substance of choice. A cue or trigger is a specific time, event, location, person, environment, or emotion that may lead to or heighten a craving. The response of a cue or trigger is the action or thought you take or make based on cravings. You have the power to control these responses. However, a cue or trigger will result in either a relapse or a break in the addiction cycle that leads to lasting recovery.

You can use craving management tools and techniques to help get past a craving successfully. The reward step of the cycle is a result of the response that will provide you with a teachable moment or satisfaction from your choice. This is a critical step in that when you replace your response with a healthier alternative to substances, you should reward yourself with something that provides you with something of equal or comparable pleasure and enjoyment. This will help you avoid giving in to a craving so that the cycle becomes easier to break each time. A great starting point to breaking the cycle is understanding your cues and triggers. These will be different for each person, and some cues and triggers will lead to stronger cravings over others.

Know Your Cues and Triggers

It is extremely difficult to cope with cravings. Remember that cravings are not signs of weakness, but rather it is a natural reaction throughout the recovery process. You have the power to control cravings with the right tools and understanding of your own personal process. While some cravings will happen simply because you have an addiction, other cravings may be a result of cues or triggers. If you can learn and understand these triggers and cues, you can help eliminate at least some cravings and minimize the effect that cravings have on you at any given time. You will likely still have cravings for many months or even years; however, they will be fewer with less punch. Most people have internal and external triggers.

External triggers are often considered to be high-risk circumstances. These are scenarios that often include things, places, people, and various moments throughout the day that cause people to want to use, such as bars, old friends, social events, and more. This is when your environment really comes into play. In terms of triggers, these are the easier ones to control. To stop such triggers, it is best to avoid any situation that causes a trigger. This might include making the difficult decision to cut ties with friends or family who might be sources of external triggers.

Internal triggers are trickier because they can seemingly appear out of nowhere and for no reason. Oftentimes, these triggers occur from emotional reactions. Whether you receive good news or you find yourself stressed, worried, excited, nervous, or anxious, these internal triggers are a bit more complicated. You can learn the sources of these triggers with specific craving management tools.

Craving Management Tools

Cravings may seem like they are controlling your life in the early days. It is important to know that you are, in fact, the one in control. You have the power to defeat them. The best way to stay on track with your recovery is to use craving management tools. You may never know exactly when a craving may strike, but you can help curb your cravings by pushing past them with strategic and targeted techniques.

Some tools and techniques will work better for you than others. And some will work better for other people. Certain tools may not always be an option based on where you are when they strike, so be sure you have backups in place. You have to find the best solutions for your personal needs. While sources vary about the length of time that cravings can last, it is estimated that cravings may last between 15 and 30 minutes. Keep in mind, though, that each craving and person will be unique. Use these 10 techniques to get through this challenging moment in your day:

  1. Activities and hobbies – Find activities and interests to pursue that will help pass the time when a craving strikes. Many people take this time to learn a new skill, such as dancing, a language, cooking, gardening, sewing, ice skating, or painting. If you do not want to get in touch with your creative side, you can use these moments to help others by volunteering, mentoring, donating, or starting a business or nonprofit.
  2. Address the thought – For some people, addressing the thought of a craving directly helps to overcome the desire more effectively. The way to do so is to focus on the sensations and feelings rather than to avoid them. It is believed that if you can embrace the craving for what it is, you can better learn to move past the desire. Utilizing this technique allows people to become detached from the immediate situation and to center all thoughts around the craving.
  3. Distractions – In some cases, seeking out any and all distractions can be helpful. The type of distraction is often less important than the distraction itself. You might deep clean the oven, ceiling fans, vents, floorboards, or anything else that will take around 30 minutes. You might also do laundry, meal prep, or run errands. Distractions can be in the form of anything that will take your mind off the craving at the moment, including helping kids with homework, playing with a pet, mowing the yard, paying bills, managing a budget, and so much more. It can even be quite therapeutic to play some music and dance around for a while to help shake out the cravings.
  4. Exercise and wellness – One of the best ways to curb addiction cravings is to prioritize exercise and wellness in your life. If you go for a walk or exercise each time you have a craving, you will find yourself in better shape in no time. You might also lose weight. It is a great idea to focus on wellness, in general, to help with both your physical and mental health. You can participate in yoga, meditation, cardio, and so much more. During cravings, you can spend time creating an exercise and wellness strategy, tracking your food intake, and planning weekly meals.
  5. Exit immediately – Cravings often occur because of places, people, and circumstances. When you find yourself in tempting scenarios, it is best to remove yourself from the moment immediately. If someone wants to meet in a trigger place, such as a bar or party, try to avoid it altogether. Sometimes, it is people who instigate the urge to use. In these moments, just leave and get away from those individuals. It might also be a good idea to remove toxic people from your life who trigger cravings. Do not be afraid to skip trigger events, like the Superbowl, holiday parties, and others.
  6. Medication – It is possible to use medication to help combat cravings. These medications are not always available for everyone. The availability may depend on the addiction, the program, the doctor, your insurance, your health, your state of residence, and other variables. You will require a prescription for these medications, and some are not yet available in the U.S.
  7. Reflection – When cravings hit hard, reflect on the reasons you are going through recovery. Take the time to write down your reasons for becoming sober either on a piece of paper or the notes on your phone. Reflection is a powerful motivator for many people to be able to push through cravings no matter the strength of the desire. The simple act of remembering why you want a sober life can be highly effective.
  8. Roll with it – Certain people find success by just rolling with the situation. If you can, embrace the craving, and ride it out. Aim to accept that cravings are simply part of recovery, and hang on for the ride. Tell yourself that these desires are only temporary and that in a short amount of time, they will pass. This technique will not work for everyone.
  9. Substitutions – Substitute your response and reward system. When you have a craving, rather than succumbing to substances, replace them with something else you enjoy that is also good for you, such as putting $5 or $10 in savings to spend at a later date. If you seek a more immediate reward system, try exercise, a healthy treat, a new movie, or anything else that will make you happy.
  10. Talk it out – A highly successful craving management tool is to talk it out. Talking about your craving, the reasons you strive for sobriety, your triggers, and anything else can be highly beneficial. You can reach out to peer groups, friends, family, support groups, religious advisors, sponsors, and others. It really does not matter with whom you speak just as long as you talk during a craving until it passes.

Cravings will come and go. If you can find a way to commit yourself to one of these techniques for the duration of a craving, you will make it to the other side successfully. Each time you overcome a craving, the easier it becomes to defeat the desire in the future. Beating your cravings may never be easy; however, it will become easier.

The End of Cravings

Cravings will become less powerful over time; however, they could very well last for several months or years after you quit substance use. Each person will be different. As such, it is essential to be armed with your craving management tools and techniques to be able to fight them at any time and from anywhere.

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