It would be truly wonderful if getting treatment for a substance use disorder worked like a vaccination against cravings. Imagine being able to leave your treatment facility secure in the knowledge that you would never again experience an intense desire to use drugs or alcohol.

Unfortunately, as most every person in recovery from a substance use disorder knows, it does not work quite like that. Cravings frequently arise—and each time they do, they put your hard-won sobriety at risk. 

That is why it is absolutely essential to have a plan for dealing with cravings when they pop up. Knowing in advance what you will do when you suddenly feel the desire to return to drugs or alcohol is the best way to ensure you are able to get to the other side of those feelings with your sobriety intact.

We have some suggestions that can be helpful when you are facing down a craving.

Dive Into a Distraction

Sometimes a craving can be handled by turning your attention in a different direction. For example, your plan for battling cravings might include getting some exercise. Physical activity can counteract the craving (and is, of course, good for you in all kinds of other ways, too).

Other options for distracting yourself from the craving might include watching a favorite movie or show, listening to music that you enjoy, reading an engrossing book, or playing a video game. The more you can get your mind focused on a world outside of the craving you are experiencing, the better you will be able to weather that desire for drugs or alcohol.

You might also find that jumping into a project—maybe one you have been putting off—can help you get to the other side of temptation. Sort a pile you have let accumulate. Go look at paint samples to help you choose a new color for a room that needs a refresh. Weed your garden or trim your hedges. Any task that takes up your attention is a good option.

Activate Your Support System

Ideally, you have shored up your recovery by taking advantage of a number of different support systems. For example, you may have joined a 12-Step or other recovery program, built a relationship with a sponsor or mentor, gone to therapy regularly, and fostered strong connections with supportive family and friends.

Activating that support system is a wonderful way to combat a craving. It might mean going to an additional meeting, calling your sponsor or a close friend, or checking whether you can get in to see your therapist sooner rather than later. 

When you are in the grip of a craving, you might feel reluctant to do any of those things because you do not want to admit you are struggling. But that support system is, of course, there to support you in tough times—not just in good times. So take advantage of those systems and relationships to see you through a difficult moment.

Turn Your Mind Toward Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation encourages us to stay present in the moment, which might seem like a bad idea when you are dealing with a craving. But a specific kind of mindfulness known as “urge surfing” can help you become more aware of the ways in which cravings show up in your body. By bringing your attention to your body and describing to yourself how the cravings make your body feel, you can gain a feeling of control over the situation. That, in turn, can help you resist the craving.

You can learn more about urge surfing here, and you can try out guided urge surfing meditations here and here.

Find What Works for You

Tackling cravings can be difficult, but making a personal plan for dealing with them can really help when they arise. Your plan will, of course, be personal to you. It might include some or all of the strategies we have mentioned above—or you might put your own spin on the project of protecting yourself from cravings. As long as you have a plan that makes it less likely you will experience a relapse, you are headed in the right direction.

And speaking of heading in the right direction…

Head to The Aviary Recovery Center for Help with a Substance Use Disorder

Located near St. Louis, Missouri, The Aviary Recovery Center offers personalized, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or trauma-based challenges. We are committed to our mission to improve the lives we touch, and we do that with a powerful combination of expertise, experience, and empathy. From medically supervised detox and a robust rehabilitation program to ongoing support for alums of our program, we are dedicated to helping you get sober and stay sober. When you are ready to make a change in your life, head our way. We can help.