Addiction is known as a “relapsing illness” – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Studies have shown that addicts tend to have impulsive personalities and are more prone to risk-taking. However, you can make it easier to avoid relapse by training yourself to have more control over your urges and impulses.
The following strategies cannot only be invaluable in the moment if cravings have caught you off guard, but can also be used as a way of training your brain to look for better alternatives than using drugs or alcohol in the future.
Move Your Body
All forms of physical movement will give you a hit of feel-good chemicals that can help you ride out cravings. Go for a jog or walk around the block or practice yoga.
You can release the chemicals you need in a positive way without having to resort to taking toxic substances. Movement also makes your brain more creative, so it can even help you problem-solve what your next positive steps might be, rather than using your old ways of behaving.
Think Back to Your Last Session of Using
Addicts cannot stop a session of drinking or drugging once they’ve started. Once you start feeding your body a substance you’re addicted to, you’ve effectively pulled the trigger. Recall your last session of using. More than likely, you found yourself in chaos and unable to stop, and then felt shame, confusion, self-pity, and guilt afterward. Do you want to feel that again? Remembering some of your past negative drunk or drugged memories could be enough to quell your cravings in the future.
Accept the Craving
It sounds impossible just to accept an unpleasant feeling, but cravings are something that addicts can encounter from time to time, no matter how long they have been clean and sober. Your brain has learned to associate alcohol or drug paraphernalia with the reward of using – even if it’s not a pleasurable reward but just a chemical reward from the brain’s point of view. Walking past a syringe or a crushed beer can in the gutter can have the power to set off pre-wired reactions in your brain that tell you to use substances.
The more you push away from feelings or pretend they aren’t there, the more often they tend to overwhelm you. So don’t push away the craving. After all, it’s just a little feeling that can’t do anything to you unless you give it power. Instead, acknowledge it. Notice where it is in your body and what it looks like. You can even say to it, “Oh, there you are. No, it’s OK. We don’t have to use today. We’re OK.” It may sound silly, but that type of awareness and reassurance often works remarkably well on the brain and calms cravings.
Ask Yourself What You Really Want
When addicts crave a drink or drug without any obvious trigger, they’re not really after a bottle, pipe or syringe. They want to kill pain or boredom, or increase pleasure. Whichever it is for you, write out a list of how else you could do that in a healthy way. Volunteering to help someone else can do all of those things, whether that’s applying to work in a soup kitchen or a conservation project. Giving an understanding friend a call can also really help – you never know when they might need cheering up as well.
Perhaps you could add all the things you’d like to do in future with your addiction-free life to that list, and then use a craving-filled day to take the first small step toward doing one or two of those healthy activities. Always wanted to study? Search the internet for local colleges and order brochures. Do one thing today that will take you toward the future you want tomorrow. Soon the craving won’t even matter because you’ll be so excited about the positive steps you’re taking in life.
Be More Mindful
People don’t tend to become aware that their stress levels have reached a peak until it’s almost too late. Practice becoming aware (mindful) of your body and its reaction states. Are your shoulders tight or relaxed after a particular conversation? Is there some dissatisfaction lurking in your belly? You’ll usually notice emotions as a physical feeling. Learn to identify your personal signals of stress creeping up on you (and therefore cravings starting to appear). Once you do notice them, you can either address what is causing them or use one of the strategies above.
The best strategy is always dealing with problems and friction right away, before they have the chance to grow overwhelming and cause painful cravings. But use whatever tools you have at your disposal while you’re learning to be a whole, happy, clean and sober person who knows just the right way to deal with cravings. And remember, even though cravings do pop up for all recovering addicts, they lessen over time if you practice being more self-aware and positive.
Written by Beth Burgess