Updated on 08/02/23
Choosing a life of recovery can be one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, but the choice does come with challenges. One of those major challenges is overcoming cravings. Cravings are a part of the reality of substance use disorders. They can happen anytime and be mild or intense. Although cravings can be uncomfortable, the five strategies discussed here can help you manage and overcome them.
1. Use Mindfulness to Manage Cravings
The term “mindfulness” has become extremely popular in the therapeutic community lately, but the practice has been around for many years. What does mindfulness mean and how can it help you manage your cravings?
Mindfulness can be thought of as a state, trait and practice. When you are in a state of mindfulness, you experience non-judgmental, non-reactive, present-centered attention and awareness of cognition, emotion, sensation and perception. Two primary mindfulness practices are:
- Focused attention: Attending to an object such as the sensation of breathing or visualization while acknowledging and letting go of distractions.
- Open monitoring: Being conscious of both the field of awareness and the experience of internal and external stimuli in that field without attaching to any specific object of attention.
There are many simple ways to practice mindfulness that you can use every day:
- Quietly sit and take slow, deep breaths. Focus solely on the sensation and feeling of breathing. Distracting thoughts will happen. Do not judge them or yourself. Acknowledge them and let them pass.
- Slow down and pay attention to the world around you. Try to focus on experiencing your environment with all your senses. What sounds do you notice? Is the air warm or cool on your skin? What colors in your immediate environment stand out to you? What smells are you aware of? Find something to eat, have a small portion and focus on the flavor and texture of the food.
- Be present in each moment and set an intention to find joy in simple pleasures.
When you practice mindfulness, you learn to acknowledge your cravings, accept them without judgment and shift your focus until they pass. If practiced consistently, mindfulness becomes a natural, healthy response to cravings through the process of habit formation.
2. Get Away from the Trigger
Often, you can change, leave or avoid situations that cause you to experience cravings. This sounds simple, but sometimes we miss or do not think of straightforward solutions. For example, if you are buying groceries, avoid the aisle where the alcohol is located. When watching TV, change the channel if the characters on the show are using drugs or drinking. If you are at a social gathering and start to experience cravings and urges to drink or use drugs, leave the gathering. Most friends and family will be supportive of your recovery and will understand.
3. Remember Your “Why” and Think About the Consequences
Why did you choose recovery over substances? Whatever your “why,” remember it and put all your focus on that when you feel cravings creep up. This takes your focus off the substance and back onto your reasons for remaining abstinent.
Think about the negative consequences associated with using substances again. It could be waking up with a miserable hangover due to alcohol or remembering how you feel when the drugs wear off. Maybe you fear being incarcerated or hurting loved ones. Perhaps you have chronic medical conditions that have improved since you have been in recovery. If you start using again, those conditions could be exacerbated. When you stop and think about the consequences of using and weigh them against all that you have gained in recovery, it can help you ride out the cravings.
4. Find a Distraction
When cravings start, try doing something that you enjoy and that requires focused attention. It can be anything you like if it helps shift your focus and thoughts to something else. You could try:
- Watching a movie
- Writing in a journal
- Taking a walk
- Putting a puzzle together
- Playing a game
- Going for a hike
- Calling a friend to catch up on life
Remember, cravings do not last forever. They can be intense, but they will pass, and having a few enjoyable distractions to fall back on can help lessen the discomfort you experience until the cravings pass.
5. Talk It Out
Do not bottle up your feelings! Sometimes the simple act of naming something or speaking about it takes away at least some of its power. You do not have to endure cravings alone. Call a sober, supportive friend or family member, or sponsor (if you have one), and talk to them about your cravings. See if they can come over and stay with you for a little while. They can help distract you and having someone with you can keep you from obtaining substances until the craving passes. If your in-person support system is limited, there are numerous online communities and support groups where you can discuss your cravings and feelings surrounding them. For example, 12-step groups like AA and NA offer online meetings. Always exercise your best judgment and discretion when interacting online. And of course, Casa Palmera has an alumni program that is with former patients for life that adds extra support on one’s recovery journey.
The Good News About Cravings
Cravings are a part of the recovery process and can be intense. The good news is that cravings do not have to derail your recovery. Your cravings may come and go throughout your recovery process, but they will become less frequent and less intense over time. The more you practice healthy strategies and coping techniques, the easier it becomes to manage and overcome cravings.
Even when you overcome drug or alcohol use, cravings can happen. At Casa Palmera in Del Mar, California, our patients are provided with an individualized aftercare plan to help them maintain sobriety after treatment, including skills for managing cravings. Support from others in recovery can be vital to maintaining sobriety. Our alumni program provides a safe, supportive community where former patients can build those connections. If you need extra help on your recovery journey, call Casa Palmera at (855) 508-0473 today.