It would be wonderful if once an addicted person became clean and sober, they never gave their former drug of choice another thought. Unfortunately, going through detoxification followed by drug and alcohol addiction treatment doesn’t mean that the thought of drinking or using will never come again.
What Happens During Addiction Cravings?
Addiction cravings may be more common in early recovery. A person in recovery will see, smell, hear, taste, or touch something that triggers a memory of past drug or alcohol use. The “something” may not be immediately recognizable to another person as being connected to the addiction. It can be anything that the addicted person associates in his brain with drinking or using: a particular person, place, car, etc.
When cravings occur, the brain is recalling past drug or alcohol use. These memories can be very intense. The person often remembers “positive” aspects of past substance use. In the present, he can experience thoughts like, “I miss doing [name of drug]” or “I would really enjoy [having a drink].”
This is a point where a person may be vulnerable to a slip, where they use their drug of choice very briefly and then get their sobriety back on track, or a full-blown relapse. There are some things that someone in recovery can do to deal with cravings to avoid either of these situations.
How to Cope with Cravings
1. Understand that Cravings Are Normal
The first thing to do when dealing with cravings is to understand that this is part of the recovery process. They aren’t a sign that someone has “failed” or “isn’t doing it right.”
When someone has been using addictive substances for a considerable time, they will experience cravings for their drug of choice. Detox is used to rid the body from the influence of addictive chemicals. Since addiction is a brain disease, however, it takes longer for the mind to “catch up” to this new way of living.
2. Sit with the Feelings
Even though the feelings that accompany a craving can be quite intense, they don’t necessarily need to be acted on. Some people find it helpful to picture the feelings as a wave and themselves surfing on top of it. That way, they can acknowledge their feelings and “ride them out.”
3. Use Relaxation Techniques
Taking some slow, deep breaths can helpful when faced with addiction cravings. This technique helps to slow down the body and the mind.
Deep breathing can be done almost anywhere. Inhale slowly for four seconds. Hold the breath for four seconds, then slowly exhale for four seconds. It can be helpful to mentally count the seconds while performing this breathing technique.
Meditation can also be helpful when trying to cope with addiction cravings. It’s a way to become deeply relaxed and stay in the present as opposed to focusing on past events, which is where the craving comes from.
4. Talk About It
Reaching out to a sponsor from a 12-Step group can definitely help when faced with addiction cravings. Close friends and family members can also provide support during times when cravings occur. Some people find prayer is an effective strategy for helping to defuse a craving as well.
All of these strategies have the same thing in common: they require the person who is in the midst of the craving to step back from simply experiencing the craving to talking about it. To do this, the addicted person must switch from being emotional to having a more logical mindset. This process is helpful in stopping the addicted person from continuing to spin out emotionally in response to the craving.
5. Go to a 12-Step Meeting
Speaking of 12-Step groups, they are called support groups for a reason. Someone who is experiencing addiction cravings and needs extra support is more than welcome at a meeting. They can go as often as they feel they need to.
6. Review Tools Learned in Addiction Treatment
How to cope with cravings and prevent relapse are two topics which are frequently addressed during drug and alcohol treatment. A person in recovery can review and draw on those tools and use them once they leave the addiction treatment center.
Great Oaks Recovery is a Houston area drug and alcohol treatment center that offers a full continuum of care to its valued clients. Our caring staff offer individualized programming to each person we work with to help them reach their recovery goals. Call us today to learn more about how we can assist you or someone you love.