Cravings can be one of the scariest and most challenging things that you face during recovery. These urges may seem to come out of nowhere, even if things have been going well and a person has been sober for awhile. Cravings should never be taken lightly however, especially if they become persistent. They don’t necessarily always signal a coming relapse, but recurrent urges to use drugs or alcohol could be a sign that you have work to do with some aspect of your recovery.
What is a craving?
A craving or urge can be defined as an overwhelming desire for a particular thing. People who are working to overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol will experience cravings regularly because it has become a regular part of their routine. That intense desire to use drugs or drink is what makes addiction so difficult to overcome. During the early stages of recovery, experiencing urges can be quite common. They never completely go away and many who have been sober for awhile still experience them from time to time. What changes is the way a person chooses to handle those urges.
What causes cravings? And how to deal with triggers.
There are a few theories about why even longterm sober people continue to experience cravings from time to time. One theory known as incentive salience describes cravings as subconscious forces that the brain has developed in relation to being rewarded. It takes time for this association to fade away. It’s important to realize that experiencing urges may be the result of brain wiring that changed with addiction, rather than the result of doing something wrong in your recovery.
It’s also a good idea to pay attention to the way you respond to success and failure during recovery, as these are the times when urges are most likely to arise. Going through rough times often produces a strong urge to drink or use drugs, as does celebrating a success or accomplishment. These triggers often continue to crop up well into the recovery process. Becoming more comfortable in your sobriety and finding new ways to cope with difficult times and celebrate the good times will make dealing with these triggers possible.
Other things that can trigger a craving or relapse include:
-going through depression
-using any other type of mind altering substance
-self pity or playing the victim
-overconfidence about recovery
-frustration with recovery
-having unrealistic goals or expectations
-behaving dishonestly or in poor character
-romanticizing past drug or alcohol use by reminiscing or dwelling on memories
-having relapse dreams can sometimes create urges
-visiting places where past drug or alcohol use took place
Dealing with cravings.
There are many strategies for dealing with urges as they arise. These helpful tips can make the desire to use or drink more manageable and less overwhelming the more they are practiced. Consider these tools for your continued recovery.
-Be aware that thoughts do not have to lead to actions
-Check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling. Oftentimes feeling tired, sad, or hungry leads to a craving.
-Observe your cravings and realize that they are simply thoughts that will arise and disappear.
-Persistent cravings may signal that you need to work on a specific area of your recovery. Pay attention when and how they arise.
-Be especially mindful with how you handle the highs and lows of your life.
–Talking to a sponsor, therapist, or support group about your cravings can help.
-Don’t take recovery for granted – be engaged and committed every step of the way.
Don’t feel guilty or punish yourself for having cravings – they are a normal part of recovery.