Dealing with cravings is one of the biggest challenges you face when trying to stay sober. Even if you’re careful about minimizing stress, staying away from people who still drink or use, and avoiding other triggers, you will sometimes get cravings anyway. Eventually, cravings get less frequent and less intense, but they never stop completely.
Here are 5 coping skills to develop to help keep cravings from ruining your recovery:
Skill #1: Practice Mindfulness.
When you experience a craving or any challenging emotion, the natural reflex is to try to push it away or make it stop. Often, that just makes it more intense. A better way to respond is first to acknowledge what you’re feeling and then to explore it a bit. What does it feel like physically? Where do you feel it in your body? Acknowledging a craving and knowing it’s only a collection of sensations and not an imperative gives the craving less power over you.
Skill #2: Distract Yourself Until the Cravings Go.
Cravings come and go. They don’t keep ramping up in intensity. Once you have acknowledged your craving and accepted that it’s just going to be there for a little while, turn your attention to something else. It could be a hobby, reading, video games, or a walk in the park. It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it requires enough attention to distract your from the craving.
Skill #3: Exercise.
Exercise is an excellent distraction from cravings. Not only does it change your focus, but it also changes the sensations in your body. Your breathing and heart rate increase, you get warmer, your muscles get loose, and instead of sitting on your couch feeling tense, you’re doing something good for you. Even better, exercise increases serotonin and endorphins, which naturally improve your mood and concentration. By the end of your workout, the craving won’t seem like a big deal.
Skill #4: Reach Out to Others.
You don’t have to deal with cravings alone. If you feel like it’s just too much, reach out to someone you trust. It could be a friend, a family member, someone from your 12-step group, a sponsor, or a therapist. In most areas, you can probably find a meeting happening soon. If none of those works for you, consider online options. There are some good forums such as r/redditorsinrecovery or r/stopdrinking on Reddit where people are supportive and respond relatively quickly. There are also apps such as Sober Grid, which help you find sober people in your area.
Skill #5: Play the Tape.
Cravings are insidious because they’re a want disguised as a need. Your brain starts playing tricks on you to accommodate your intense desire to use again. One way to keep this in check is to remember as vividly as possible why you quit in the first place. Remember the pain and despair that finally led you to get help. Picture how angry you would be with yourself how disappointed your loved ones would be if you did relapse. Use those feelings to help you channel your energy into something more productive.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, The Raleigh House of Hope can help.