Everyone who struggles with a substance use disorder must learn how to deal with addiction cravings. Overcoming cravings is the major hurdle that separates addiction and sobriety.
What Are Addiction Cravings?
Cravings are an intense, seemingly unbearable withdrawal symptom. Withdrawal is the brain’s way of alerting you to the “need” for more drugs. The chemicals in drugs send signals to the brain that generate feelings of euphoria or bliss and also help block pain. When these effects wear off, symptoms of withdrawal kick in. Users may feel extremely depressed and experience pain throughout their entire body during withdrawal, and they will also experience addiction cravings. A craving is a psychological withdrawal symptom. Many addicts describe it as the urge to get drugs at whatever cost, as if their life depends on it. These irrational cravings are the reason why addicts may lie and steal to get drugs, even if such behavior is out of character under normal circumstances. But cravings can also show up when one is no longer actively using. In this case, cravings are triggered by a powerful memory of substance use. For example, if you are in recovery for an alcohol addiction, walking into a bar and smelling the alcohol and seeing other people drinking may spark strong cravings for alcohol.
How to Deal With Addiction Cravings
It’s best to know how to deal with addiction cravings before they kick in. If the cravings become too intense, you’ll have a one-track mind and may not think clearly, so it’s best to nip them in the bud. Here are some tips to help you not give in to addiction cravings:
- Have a support network on speed dial. This is especially important if you are trying to sober up from active use, because the addiction cravings will be the most powerful during this time. Talk to someone on the phone or ask someone to come over and be with you. They can give you a pep talk, distract you and, above all, make sure you don’t try to get more drugs or alcohol.
- Learn how to redirect yourself. Let’s say you accidentally turn into the beer aisle at the grocery store. Turn around! Walking all the way down the aisle (the same aisle where you used to buy beer, no doubt) and looking at the brand names won’t do you any good. There is no need to “test yourself” to see if you can overcome temptation. Just turn around immediately and avoid this trigger.
- Discover new activities to immerse yourself in. What do you like to do that makes you lose track of time? Maybe you like to paint, run or go to the movies. When you feel a craving creeping in, squash it by immediately distracting yourself by doing something more purposeful.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of staying in the here-and-now. It can help to remind you that you are not using drugs — including why it is important to not use drugs — and to keep you calm in the face of cravings.
Cravings don’t have to ruin your sobriety. They may come and go throughout your recovery. Have a plan of action to keep cravings under control, and don’t forget to reach out to your recovery specialist if cravings seem to come more often or be more intense than usual.