Cravings are one of the most common aspects of recovery that individuals experience. Normal cravings are a familiar phenomenon to most of us; for example, if you’ve ever gotten hangry or developed tunnel vision for a new pair of shoes, you’re familiar with the pangs of longing. When you’re starving, you can practically taste the food that you are thinking about. For recovering drug addicts, cravings are not too dissimilar to the sensation of feeling starved.
Ongoing research is revealing that the compulsion to use drugs again goes beyond simple desire or momentary feelings of impulsivity. Drug use fundamentally alters the way our brain’s experience pleasure, in some cases inflicting lasting changes that can take years to recover from. According to Psychology Today, substance cravings are an act of the brain literally re-experiencing the sensations of drug and alcohol abuse. Imagine it like this: You’re hungry and you catch a whiff of cheeseburgers being grilled. Immediately, you start imagining the taste of those burgers, the texture, and the pleasure of eating it. With recovering drug addicts, a simple smell, sight, sound, or thought could set the brain off fantasizing about using again.
However, cravings are different for every person. Some people may feel a desire to use occasionally, while others may feel an intense and burning need to start using again. Some people may simply have free time and find their mind wondering what it would be like to use once more, others start on the same path but quickly dive into an obsessive fixation. Regardless of your history with substances, recovery involves learning how to cope with these cravings in the healthiest manner possible.
How to Resist Cravings After Rehab
If you’ve made it to the point where you’ve graduated from an accredited rehab facility, congratulations! It has not been easy to get to this point but you deserve some praise for making it farther than most do. Now comes the time when you must apply what you’ve learned in rehab to the real world and learn to cope and thrive without the use of intoxicating substances. This is easier said than done, but fortunately there are multiple strategies and coping methods with specific activities that can help you achieve and maintain sobriety.
If you find yourself in a situation where you fear you may use again, there’s a five-point method for staying sober that is part of the SMART Recovery program. The DEADS method is a useful, non 12-Step method for craving management that many individuals find useful.
1. Delay Using
Cravings come and go. If you can acknowledge that cravings have happened before and that they inevitably go away, you can be certain that these cravings will pass on. Sometimes it becomes difficult not to fixate on a craving, so you can try some kind of mentally or physically stimulating activity to occupy your brain until the feelings passes.
If the urge to use feels like it is too strong, then simply remove yourself from the situation. This can be as easy as leaving a room where substances are present to changing the channel from a beer commercial. Just change your environment to one that does not trigger any cravings and try to avoid locations that trigger you in the future.
This can be the hardest approach to conquer, but with practice it becomes easier. Simply accept that you are experiencing cravings and accept that they will eventually pass. You are looking your addiction directly in the face and putting it in its place. Once you’ve learned to accept the onset of cravings and accept that they are not the end of the world, you can sit through them and come out fine on the other end.
This approach incorporates specific beliefs and counter arguments that you construct during the rest of SMART Recovery, but it can be completed without the assistance of the rest of the program. This approach involves recognizing the false “beliefs” that addicts tend to fall into, such as “I need to use to feel happy/confident/functional” or “I don’t deserve a happy, sober life” and to counteract these thoughts with reality. Often times, addicts skew logic into “all or nothing” thinking that doesn’t reflect reality. Take a step back and ask yourself what the rational outcome of your usage will be. Drug addiction doesn’t make you a bad person and no one needs substances to be happy, these are only momentary feelings based on emotional thinking.
Ultimately, some addicts find it necessary to replace their addiction with something that can fill this hole. Come up with a list of activities that can keep your mind occupied and have them prepared for whenever you may suddenly experience cravings. This could be going for a run, writing your thoughts and feelings down in a notebook, completing a Sudoku puzzle, going to gym, drawing a picture… the possibilities are endless.
6. Enlist Professional Help
If you find that your cravings are still lingering after you’ve tried these methods, it may be worth the investment of enlisting a professional addiction counselor or enrolling in an outpatient treatment center. Here, you’ll have more exposure to addiction resources and will be able to work directly with professionals about what you are experiencing. By choosing professional help from drug and alcohol recovery centers over relapse, you are preventing yourself from possibly sliding further into an addiction.
7. Attend Meetings
The basis of the AA, NA, and Al-Anon programs is that shared meetings can help recovering addicts to stay sober and support one another in achieving a substance free lifestyle. As such, attending support groups for your specific addiction can be a beneficial tool in the fight against cravings. Other individuals will be able to share their own stories and support you in staying sober while providing an outlet for any feelings you may feel uncomfortable sharing with the rest of the world.
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8. Find a Sponsor
A sponsor comes from the 12 Step program and is someone who can serve as your “sober sponsor”. This is a person, usually someone who is also a recovering addict, who you can call no matter what for emotional support and relapse prevention. Having been through similar hardships, they will respond from a place of experience with no judgement or criticism.
Recovering addicts typically find sponsors by attending 12 Step meetings, participating in discussions, and asking people afterwards if they would be able to act as your sponsor. In some instances, the rehab center you graduated from may provide you with the phone number of someone who could be your sponsor. When it comes to picking a sponsor, you should look for a few characteristics, especially if this is your first time having a sponsor.
You should choose a sponsor whom:
- You relate to, or whom you respect and admire
- Has at least 1 year of sobriety under their belt
- Has 1 or more other sponsees and is actively engaged with them
- Actively lives the 12-Step Principles in their daily lives
- Is honest and open-minded
Keep in mind that a sponsor is also an active person in recovery. That means you will need to be their to support them as well. Many addicts discover a sense of purpose and fulfillment accompanying sponsorship, because you are actively helping another person who is going through the same struggles as you. Addicts often struggle with feelings of depression, loneliness, and isolation, so sponsorship is an integral component of recovery that shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’re unsatisfied with your sponsor, do not hesitate to find a new one. It is not uncommon to have multiple sponsor relationships.
Managing cravings is one of the most important aspects of recovery you will need to master for long term sobriety. Using tools from SMART Recovery and 12 Step programs can increase your chances for maintaining long sobriety from intoxicating substances. If you would like more information about addiction counseling, resources, and information about treatment, visit the Landmark Recovery blog today!