The brain is a remarkably adaptable organ. It learns certain patterns and repeats them automatically so that you don’t have to think about everything that you do. However, it can take time to reverse unhealthy patterns that have been reinforced over the years. You may still have drug cravings in recovery as your body goes through withdrawal or much later as you continue to see lingering effects of the addiction.
Cravings are normal at any point in your recovery. However, intense, frequent cravings increase your risk of relapsing.
It’s Crucial to Take These Steps for Overcoming Cravings During Recovery
“I’m pretty mindful,” you may think. But mindfulness is more than being aware of your surroundings or considerate toward others. Mindfulness training is a practice that uses specific techniques to observe the workings of your own brain and body. It requires you to take a step back from your thoughts and notice what’s going on inside of you without judging it.
Renewal Lodge implements the Mindfulness in Recovery curriculum in each of its individualized programs. This practice cuts the cord between some of your subconscious triggers to use and your behaviors. It doesn’t always eliminate all of your drug cravings. However, it does help you stay grounded and respond appropriately using other methods of overcoming addiction cravings.
Urge surfing is an especially effective strategy to curb cravings. It relies on the fact that every sensation that goes through your body completes a circuit and passes. When you get cravings, you pinpoint where and how you feel them in your body. Then, you use breathing and relaxation techniques to ride the wave until it passes.
One of the reasons that mindfulness helps combat drug and alcohol cravings in the long run is that it aims to delay satisfying the craving. The cycle of cravings, drug use and addiction is reinforced when you reward your pleasure network with the drug. However, every time you avoid using in reaction to a craving, you strengthen the pathways that encourage you to take a healthier action.
Therefore, distraction is one of the keys to managing cravings. Doing something different puts a cog in the wheel that was running your addiction. It shifts the pattern of using and makes you less likely to relapse in response to cravings in the future.
Having a list of potentially effective distractions can help you take constructive action in the moment. Your list might include activities such as:
- Taking a bike ride
- Calling a friend
- Going to the movies
- Taking a shower or bath
- Occupying yourself with a hobby
3. Get Into a Flow
Doing an activity that puts you into a flow state involves more than distraction. It allows you to use your skills easily and activate parts of your brain that produce calming, mood-enhancing chemicals. A runner’s high is an example of a flow state. Artists and musicians can access this state while they’re immersed in their craft.
Some of the benefits of entering flow states include:
- Improved mood
- Reduced ego reaction to triggering events
- Fulfillment and dopamine release from reaching a goal
- Improved creativity
- Enhanced mental flexibility
You won’t always be in a flow state even when you’re doing the things that you love. But if you practice entering this realm, you’ll become more adaptive in the face of cravings and feel more purposeful in everything that you do.
4. Avoid Triggers
Recognizing the triggers for cravings allows you to make accommodations for them. If you can’t avoid certain triggers, you can prepare yourself for them by practicing some of these other techniques for responding to cravings.
But awareness of your triggers also lets you avoid them. If big parties give you alcohol cravings, stick to small gatherings. If you have a habit of sitting down with a beer as soon as you get home from work, head to the gym before picking up food to eat when you arrive.
5. Call Someone
You’ll likely build a network of supportive friends and mentors as you go through recovery. These are the people on whom you can rely on when you’re struggling with cravings. Call your sponsor if you have one. You can also reach out to a trusted friend who has agreed to support you in recovery. Peers from your groups might be able to help too. Just make sure that they are equipped to talk to you about your cravings without triggering theirs.
6. Establish Safety
Your cravings often arise when your central nervous system is activated. The psychological and physical responses that accompany stress, trauma and high emotional states make you feel unsafe. Cravings occur because your body wants to access a feeling of safety in the quickest, easiest way. You can escape the panicky fight-flight-freeze response by using drugs again.
But using again will throw you back into an unsafe cycle. Therefore, you’ll need to learn strategies for establishing safety without them. When you feel overwhelmed and rattled, take the time to comfort yourself. Perhaps you feel safest watching a movie at your parents’ house. Maybe you need to crawl into bed with a good book. In many cases, learning how to calm your breathing lowers your heart rate and establishes safety within the body.
7. Respect Recovery to Manage Cravings
While it’s normal to experience cravings in recovery, it can be hard to manage them if they’re coming on frequently. If cravings lead to a relapse, you haven’t failed in your sobriety. Instead, you’ve gained valuable information about what triggers your drug use. You can use this awareness to do more of what works and relinquish what doesn’t.
Addiction Recovery Services at Renewal Lodge
Remember that addiction is a chronic disease. It can be managed but not cured. Therefore, you need to prioritize yourself and your sobriety. If you’re romancing the idea of using recreationally or having regular cravings, you might be heading off track. At Renewal Lodge, we meet you where you are to optimize your chances of long-term sobriety. Our programs are designed to support you at every stage of recovery.