All people in recovery will experience drug craving at one point or another. For some, it can be more common than others, but cravings are just a reality of recovery. Drug cravings can sometimes be extremely intense and acute or they can be subtle and chronic. Regardless of how bad cravings can get, they do not have to run your life. There are many tools and coping skills that can reduce the frequency of cravings or stop a craving right in its tracks. In early recovery, cravings can be very intense, so it is important to learn some of these coping skills early on.
The longer you are in recovery and the more you do to reduce cravings, the less common they will become and the less burdensome they will feel. With the right recovery program, cravings can become very rare. It all depends on how dedicated you are to sobriety and how willing you are to try new things. For many, recovery is about changing one’s lifestyle completely. If you stay in your old ways and react to stress in the same manner, then you will be almost certainly headed toward a relapse. Recovery is about learning new ways to cope with triggers, stress, and mental health. In that past, you may reach for a drug or a drink to self-medicate. Now, you must find healthy distractions and ways to relax and release.
1 – Distractions and Hobbies
Finding hobbies and fun activities in recovery is crucial. Boredom is a proven trigger for drug cravings for many people, so the more fun you have the less likely you are to experience cravings. Some of these might be joining a book club, bike riding, hiking, camping, painting, starting a band, learning an instrument, taking classes, swimming, kayaking, and the list goes on. If you are part of a 12-step fellowship, ask other sober people what they do for fun. You are guaranteed to find people who have regular hobbies and that are likely to invite you along. There are even sober sports leagues! If you genuinely try to reach out to new people, you are bound to find a hobby you like, even if it is something you have never considered trying before. Try getting out of your shell and try new things whenever the opportunity arises
2 – Exercise
It is estimated that half of all people who suffer from addiction have a co-occurring mental health condition. Exercise is proven to help treat depression, anxiety, and stress, all of which can be powerful triggers for drug cravings. Exercise helps increase “feel good” chemicals in the brain and help rewire the reward system which likely has been damaged due to substance abuse. Because drugs typically drain the brain of reward system neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA, and norepinephrine, it can be hard to feel pleasure in early recovery and even into long-term recovery if left untreated. Sometimes medication can be needed to correct these chemical imbalances, but exercise is a proven natural way to correct the brain.
3 – Calling someone
Sometimes it can be very hard in the moment, but immediately calling another sober person and telling them how you are feeling can have immediate relief. You can be assured that your feelings are normal and will not be permanent. Sober people can give you advice or sometimes even immediately come hang out with you to help you get your mind off things. Never be scared to call for help. Many 12-step meetings hand out phone lists of people who are willing to be called any time of day or night. These people understand what you are going through and are often more than willing to help because it often helps their recovery as well.
4 – Imagery
This is a technique sometimes taught in rehab centers. The idea is to think of the absolute worst experiences of your drug using career and replace them with all of the gifts and good memories that sobriety has given you. This can help renew your perspective on how far you have come and what sobriety has done to change your life. It can be easy to lose sight of all that we have gained from sobriety. Another great habit is to occasionally journal and makes gratitude lists. Simply just writing down every single thing you are grateful for can help you gain more strength to continue recovery and work your hardest to become a better person every day.
5 – Meditation
It is a proven way to reduce stress, depression, anxiety, and insomnia, all of which can be triggers for drug cravings. Even meditating when you are having a drug craving can help stop it in its tracks. There is a simple technique called hyper-awareness, which can be very useful drug cravings. When a craving arises, stare at an object or a part of your body. Focus all of your attention on this object and try to notice every single detail possible. Look at the colors, the textures, the shape, the way light shines on it, what the object is used for, other things that you could possibly use the object for, and so on. The idea is to become completely hyper-aware of one object, which helps clear the mind and bring you into the present moment. For many people, this technique is very useful for drug cravings.