Cravings, urges and triggers are common experiences for people in all stages of addiction recovery. These experiences can be especially troubling for people in early sobriety, because they probably do not fully understand cravings, urges and triggers. Furthermore, people in early sobriety may not have developed sufficient skills to manage these experiences. There are five ways to handle cravings: understand how cravings affect sobriety, change your physical environment, reward yourself, analyze the urge and talk it out.
Understand the Role Cravings Has on Your Sobriety
Alan Leshner, Ph.D, former director of The National Institute on Drug Abuse, spoke on a PBS program about Relapse and Cravings. He indicates that there is a strong relationship between cravings and relapse, because cravings may be physiological phenomena related to the way addiction changes brain function. Because drug abuse alters the brain, it struggles to function normally in the absence of drugs.
Powerful triggers can cause cravings, and these triggers may be people, places and things that are associated with drug use. Recovering addicts are strongly urged to avoid friends and locations that were associated with drug use. In fact, these triggers can be so powerful that people experience physical reactions such as changes in heart rate, blood pressure and pupil size. By understanding cravings better, you are in a better position to try some of the other tips for handling cravings.
Change Your Physical Environment
Just as the former article suggests removing yourself from a previous drug environment, the article, How to Beat the Cravings of Nicotine Withdrawal, provides additional insight on how to change your environment to avoid cravings. While this article focuses on nicotine cravings, the principles pertain to many forms of sobriety, so change your physical environment in any of the following ways:
- If there were certain patterns that you had when you used drugs or alcohol, then change those patterns so that they no longer have the power to trigger cravings
- Spend as much time as possible in places where drugs and alcohol are not allowed, such as libraries, museums, theaters and churches
- Remove all forms of drugs and alcohol from your home. If someone in your family is taking a prescribed medication, then make sure that it is inaccessible to you.
- Exercise to reduce cravings, help relieve stress and improve mood
- Breathe deeply and learn other relaxation and meditation techniques that could help you
- Eat a balanced meal and drink plenty of healthy fluids
- Spending time doing fun and productive activities is a great way to distract yourself, contribute to your community, learn new skills and engage in different events
By focusing on implementing various changes in your physical environment, you are directing your attentions toward progress and distracting yourself from cravings.
The same article suggests that you reward yourself for your sobriety. Depending on your previous drug of choice, you are now saving considerable amounts of money by not purchasing drugs or alcohol. If you can allocate a portion of that money toward a future goal, then you can realize many benefits to staying sober. For example, say that you choose to go on a family vacation with the money you are saving. One benefit is that your entire family can spend some quality time planning the vacation. The anticipation of a trip is another reward. On top of all of these experiences, you are able to afford a wonderful time spent with your family and build positive memories that will last for years.
Even if you cannot allocate enough money for such a vacation, you can certainly plan and enjoy day trips or other activities that you can do together.
Analyze the Craving
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism trains people to deal with many aspects of alcoholism treatment and sobriety. In their session, Coping With Cravings and Urges to Drink, they strongly suggest that people take time to analyze their cravings. They refer to this analysis as urge surfing, and they correlate it to ideas behind many martial arts where people first go with the force of the attack. This concept suggests that you can initially join an urge as opposed to meeting it with a strong opposing force to control it. They identify the following steps to urge surf:
- Take an inventory of how you experience the craving
- Focus on one area where you are experiencing the urge. Repeat the focusing with each part of your body that experiences the craving.
- Challenge and change your thoughts
By practicing urge surfing, people can recognize that cravings come and go. These skills are intended to familiarize yourself with cravings and learn how to ride them out until they go away naturally.
Talk it Out
If you understand that cravings come and go, then you can talk through them in attempt to overcome them. By reaching out to professionals and your support network when you need them, you can talk through your cravings to overcome them. In addition to speaking with another person, you can also talk through journaling and other forms of expressive art.
Learn More About Cravings
Managing cravings is extremely important in early sobriety, and we want to help. Please call our toll-free helpline now, because our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you have about sobriety resources.