Overcoming Cravings During Recovery

"A craving or longing for alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs is very common, especially in the early weeks and months of stopping substance use, regardless of how motivated clients are to stay substance-free… Therefore, being able to identify and label cravings is necessary for recovery to progress.”

~ Dennis C. Daley and G. Alan Marlatt, Managing Your Drug or Alcohol Problem

No matter how motivated a person in recovery from addiction is, there are still times when they face the temptation to use or drink again. While “relapse is a part of recovery” is an old phrase thrown about too often, there are useful strategies, effective treatments, and approved medications that can ensure that relapse is one part of recovery that can be avoided.

Unmanaged Cravings Lead to Relapse

Cravings are the powerful urge to drink alcohol or use drugs again. The can be so overwhelming as to completely override good intentions or willpower. They are caused by three factors:

  • Changes within the brain – Chronic drug or alcohol abuse alters the brain’s reward system. When someone is severely physically dependent upon an intoxicant, they cannot experience pleasure or motivation without being under the influence. In other words, a craving can be thought of as the brain’s response to the absence of substance.
  • External Triggers– Anything or anyone associated with past substance use:
  • People – drugging/drinking buddies, family and friends who drink or use
  • Places – liquor stores, bars, nightclubs, drug dealer’s house, anywhere where use normally took place
  • Things – drug paraphernalia such as bongs, rolling papers, needles, empty bottles, etc.
  • Internal Triggers – Negative emotions such as:
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Depression
  • Frustration
  • Guilt
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Jealousy
  • Resentment
  • Sadness
  • Shame
  • Unworthiness

Fighting Cravings

Avoidance is always the best strategy in recovery. Wherever possible, physically avoid external triggers. While avoiding internal triggers can be harder, staying busy and keeping your mind occupied is an excellent strategy:

  • Stay physically active — exercise, go for walks, ride a bike, etc.
  • Listening to music—Music has been shown to regulate mood.
  • Meditation—Just 11 daily minutes of mindfulness meditation reduces alcohol cravings and consumption.
  • Read recovery literature
  • Keep a journal –  Charting how your cravings come and go helps you better tolerate them.
  • Get busy—Pursue your hobbies and cultivate new interests.
  • Be social—To combat loneliness, meet with sober friends or family members.
  • Use Your support system—You are not alone. When cravings hit their hardest, you can:
  • Call your sponsor
  • Talk it over with your therapist
  • Discuss it in group therapy
  • Attend a 12-Step fellowship meeting
  • Have a “sober buddy” sit with you.

Medications That Help with Cravings

Depending upon your drug history and substance of choice, there may be medications that can help:

  • Acamprosate (Alcohol)
  • Buprenorphine (Opioids)
  • Methadone (Opioids)
  • Naltrexone (Opioids and Alcohol)

If you live in Southern California and need help for an addictive disorder, the trained and experienced professionals at Chapman House Treatment Centers are your go-to resource.  Since 1978, Chapman house has been one of the most-trusted alcohol and drug rehab programs in Orange County.

Click HERE to get help NOW.


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