Here is something almost everyone in recovery can agree about: the cravings can be tough, right?
Unfortunately, those cravings—the strong desire to use drugs or alcohol even though you have gone through the hard work of getting sober—are unavoidable. Because substance use disorders are incurable, the body and the brain are likely to continue to crave drugs or alcohol even after you have successfully completed treatment. Even when you have maintained your sobriety over a long period of time, a craving may suddenly assert itself—tempting you to return to old behaviors you have worked diligently to leave behind.
Happily, experiencing a craving and giving into a craving are two very different things. If you have a plan for coping when cravings inevitably arise, you are much more likely to be able to keep your sobriety intact.
Here are some ideas that might be part of your plan to keep cravings at bay.
Keep the Lessons from Treatment Firmly in Mind
One of the key goals of treatment for a substance use disorder—in addition to getting the drugs or alcohol out of your system so you can make a fresh start—is to arm you with strategies and resources that can help you deal with cravings.
For example, your treatment may have included sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy which seeks to help you identify problematic patterns of thought and behavior and then replace them with more positive approaches. Remembering what you learned in therapy can help you weather cravings when they arise. Continuing to participate in therapy after you have left treatment can be an effective way to keep those strategies fresh in your mind.
Keep Yourself Busy and Connected
Cravings often arise when a person is bored or lonely. Make sure you are engaged in a range of activities that bring you pleasure and fulfillment—and that you maintain a strong network of supportive people in your life.
Your activities could take the form of an engaging hobby, service to your community, or a rewarding project at work. Moderation is key: you do not want any of these activities to become what is known as a substitute addiction. Nevertheless, having consistent, meaningful activities on your schedule can be an excellent way to keep the cravings at bay.
So, too, can your social network. Supportive family and friends who know you are in recovery can be careful not to put you into tempting situations. Equally importantly, the good feelings that come with spending time with others can lessen the likelihood that you will experience cravings.
And, of course, your support network will be strengthened by your participation in a 12-Step or other recovery program as well as by a relationship with a sponsor or recovery mentor. Having the support of other people who have been through similar difficulties can help you find the strength to maintain your sobriety.
Keep Mindfulness Meditation—and Urge Surfing—in Mind
Sometimes you may have to just sit with your cravings and wait them out. In those cases, the practice of mindfulness mediation—which encourages experiencing our thoughts and feelings with curiosity but without judgment—can be a helpful technique. Specifically, urge surfing, which calls for a particular kind of mindfulness grounded in awareness of how cravings are felt in the body, can be quite useful for preventing those cravings from becoming overwhelming.
Keep Calling a Craving What it is: a Temptation, not a Failure
You might catch yourself thinking that your recovery is a failure if you keep experiencing cravings. But having cravings is not a failure at all. It is just part of the ongoing recovery journey. Cravings are temptations—and how you are able to deal with those temptations has everything to do with how prepared you are. If you keep the suggestions above at the forefront of your mind, you will be well positioned to tackle cravings with confidence.
Keep The Aviary Recovery Center in Mind
If a substance use disorder has upended your life, all of us at The Aviary Recovery Center want you to know that you can get back on the right track—and we are here to help that happen. Our evidence-based, compassionate approach to treatment can help you get started on the road to recovery. And our commitment to a continuum of care ensures that you will have access to resources and support when the going gets tough and cravings pop up to threaten your sobriety. We won’t sugarcoat the challenges, but we will make sure you can face those challenges confidently. You might even say that we crave the chance to help.