Keeping drug and alcohol cravings under control while you’re in recovery can feel like a daunting or even impossible feat. Even with the strongest motivation to remain sober, a combination of willpower and determination likely won’t be enough to avoid a relapse in the early stages of recovery. Instead, building a strong foundation of guidance and support as well as putting a concrete control plan in place are better defenses.
Understanding Drug and Alcohol Cravings
First of all, recognize that cravings don’t equate to weakness. Substance abuse changes the way neurons trigger in your brain, and once someone becomes reliant upon drugs, their brain is chemically wired to want more. It doesn’t mean they want to return to their substance, but that their body is in a state of withdrawal that comes with unpleasant symptoms.
Cravings can be either physical or mental. Physical cravings often come in the form of shaking, sweating or aching muscles. Mental cravings manifest as an intense desire to want drugs or alcohol and a perceived inability to think about anything else.
Mental cravings are often caused by triggers. A trigger might be an old friend who was a frequent drug or alcohol accompaniment, a place that was associated with substance use, an emotional state that led to alcohol or drug consumption or even a smell or taste. Many things can serve as triggers for intense cravings.
These cravings, whether physical or mental, can be powerful. That’s why it’s so important for each addict to figure out how to control their specific cravings rather than letting the cravings control them.
Some of the best craving management and relapse prevention activities are to:
- Get physical: Exercise can calm the antsiness that can accompany recovery. With a long list of mental, emotional and physical benefits, exercise is a healthy way to curb the withdrawal symptoms and give you an outlet to keep you from relapsing.
- Voice it aloud: When you’re struggling with cravings, lean in to your support system. Vocalizing your struggles will help you pinpoint your triggers and stay accountable to the people who love you.
- Meditate: Known as a way to find inner peace and focus, meditation is a wonderful way to soothe yourself during times of craving.
- Get creative: Go dancing, break out the canvas, start a new journal or use music as an outlet. Let your creativity lead you and serve as an outlet and distraction in times when the cravings hit.
- Take a bath: A warm, aromatic bath can help soothe some of the physical symptoms of craving. If you find your muscles aching or your chest tightening in response to wanting drugs or alcohol, a hot bath can help you unwind and relax until the cravings pass.
- Commit to abstinence: Over time, cravings can be reduced as you retrain your brain’s neurons to live without the substance. The addiction will never go away entirely, which is why abstinence is so important in avoiding relapse. You may think a one-off drink or occasional drug use is permissible as long as it doesn’t make you slip back into regular usage, but even infrequent use can threaten to trip up your progress.
- Avoid your triggers: Once you’ve pinpointed what these triggers are, make a game plan for avoiding them in your life. It may mean moving to a new area, cutting yourself off from certain people or avoiding particular parties or events, but stepping away from these reminders will help you to defuse drug cravings and avoid relapse.
Gateway Foundation has trained professionals ready to help you or a loved one navigate the journey to a life-changing recovery. Contact us today to learn more!