Recognizing and Overcoming Cravings in Early Recovery

When you complete a treatment program and head home, you’ll probably feel on top of the world. In fact, it may seem like you’ll never want to drink or use ever again – after a period of significant substance use, you’ve worked hard to get your life back and start over fresh. What could possibly go wrong? Of course, life happens to all of us, sober or not. After you spend a few days back in the “real world,” you may be surprised that the urge to use is back again. Today, we’ll discuss cravings and how to deal with them.

 

What is a Craving?

A craving is an obsessive, all-consuming urge to use drugs again. They are physical compulsions created when dopamine is released. Regardless of which substance one craves, the experience is fairly similar. The urges can happen on and off long after withdrawal and treatment have concluded.

There are a few different schools of thought to explain the experience of cravings. Many researchers believe that they are, in fact, extremely strong memories tied to drug use. Because of the way drugs and alcohol affect the brain, the reward system is flooded with feel-good neurotransmitters in a way that is not achievable without substance use. This pattern of reinforcement – drinking or using, then an immediate reward – effectively trains people to maintain an addiction.

 

What Causes Cravings?

Cravings can be caused by almost anything. For example, people, places, and things associated with past substance use can serve as powerful triggers. Finding yourself in an environment like a party or celebration may also make drugs and alcohol available to you, resulting in cravings.

Emotional distress can also create the desire to use again. Stressful days at work, interpersonal issues, or depression are all examples of potential triggers. This is because alcohol and drugs often serve as coping mechanisms for those who are addicted – rather than deal with difficult situations, the general pattern of behavior is to disengage and instead turn to substance use.

Your physical wellbeing is also important in relapse prevention. Cravings can emerge when self-care falls by the wayside. If you stay up late, eat poorly, or stress yourself out without taking breaks, it’s possible to feel that old urge again.

 

How to Resist the Urge to Use

Fortunately, it’s fully possible to manage and overcome cravings. Be sure that accountability is your first instinct – pick up the phone, call your sponsor, and attend meetings the second you feel uncomfortable. You can also incorporate the following items into your recovery:

  1. Know your triggers. Remember that people, places, and things tied to your past substance use can cause you to experience cravings. By identifying your triggers, you’ll be able to mentally prepare for the desire to use or avoid the situation altogether.
  2. Plan, plan, plan. Going off of the previous point, you should prepare for any potentially triggering moment by having a plan for how you will react. You can avoid – for example, you can take an alternate route home instead of deciding to pass your favorite bar – or you can create coping mechanisms that you will call upon in times of stress.
  3. Feel your feelings. This recommendation comes from the study of mindfulness. Instead of fighting against your cravings, ride them out. They won’t last all day; odds are that they will disappear in around fifteen minutes. If you wait long enough, the urge will subside.
  4. Distract yourself. If you can’t avoid your triggers for whatever reason, choose instead to divert your attention. Incorporate this step into your planning phase by creating a list of distractions for these moments. Use a game, brisk walk, or phone call to redirect your thoughts until the moment passes.
  5. Attend therapy. You probably learned some relapse prevention techniques while in treatment, but everyone could benefit from ongoing education. Consider participating in an aftercare program or attending therapy to keep yourself supported and curious in your recovery.
  6. Reach out to others. One key phrase of recovery is that “no one does it alone.” In instances of pressure and temptation, don’t hesitate to reach out to your sober support network. Whether it’s with your sponsor or a close friend, discussing your urges is a healthy response to cravings.

 

Austin’s Premier Addiction Treatment Facility

Specializing in long term care for the treatment resistant, BRC Recovery provides a wide range of holistic recovery offerings. Our gender-specific programs and aftercare monitoring services ensure that those seeking sobriety will find themselves continually supported and empowered in early recovery. Call 1-866-905-4550 to learn more.