Cravings are a completely normal part of the addiction recovery process. However, the effects can be overwhelming at times, and you may find yourself coming up with all kinds of excuses as to why you should start using again. This is why it is important that you develop healthy coping skills to assist you in combating these cravings and avoiding relapse. 

What are cravings?

A craving is a strong desire for something. You most commonly hear people talking about craving a certain kind of food, but cravings for drugs or alcohol or even gambling, porn, etc., also exist. Commonly accepted definitions are:

  • A state where an individual is focused on acquiring a substance.
  • The desire to use a substance given the opportunity.
  • The psychological desire for the positive effects of a drug.

Cravings have also been described as strong memories linked to the effect of the drugs on the brain’s neurochemistry. Imagine studies have actually demonstrated that intense brain activation occurs when a current or former addict is shown pictures that are linked to drug use (a pipe, white powdery substance, etc.).

Tip #1: Learn to identify your triggers

How cravings differ from ‘triggers’

The words ‘craving’ and ‘trigger’ are often used in the same vein, though they carry different meanings. A craving, to summarize above, is the actual urges or physical compulsions that occur to make a person strongly desire something. A trigger, on the other hand, is anything that an addicted person’s brain associated with getting “high” that may cause cravings or lead to relapse. Triggers can pop up anytime, and often arise without warning. They could be stress related to work, family and even depression and anxiety. In some cases, a trigger could be a location, event, etc. Really, a trigger could be just about anything that the person associated with using the drug or performing the activity that is the subject of their addiction. 

Learn your triggers… then avoid them at all costs

Unfortunately, there are many triggers that you won’t really know are triggers until you experience them firsthand. But when you do notice that you are experiencing a trigger, take time to step back and process it. Identify what it is, and either write it down or make a mental note of it and assess how strong your cravings became as a result of the experience. With this knowledge, you can begin making a list of all of your triggers and coming up with a reasonable plan on how you can avoid them. It’s okay if it’s not possible to completely avoid ALL of your triggers because there are coping skills you can develop to combat them. 

Tip #2: Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) encourages patients to reframe their negative thinking patterns and transform them into positive ones. They are encouraged to discuss what is going on in their minds in order to cope with negative thoughts and feelings, which in turn will help change actions and behaviors. By focusing on understanding and improving the way a person thinks, feels, and perceives themselves and the world around them, the individual can more easily work through their cravings. 

CBT can be used to fight any sort of addiction: drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food addictions, or any sort of excessive behavioral pattern that proves to be harmful. 

The CBT process can be summed up into 4 simple steps:

  1. Identifying the sources of negativity.
  2. Becoming mindful of the emotions and beliefs associated with the sources of negativity.
  3. Recognizing and reframing negative thinking patterns.
  4. Practicing positive thinking and personalized coping mechanisms in real-world situations.

CBT also teaches addicted individuals to use these three techniques in order to avoid any possible relapse from their triggers:

  1. Recognize. The first step in recovery is to recognize and understand that there is an addiction. This is the first step in managing triggers.
  2. Avoid: Once triggers are identified, next is finding out how to avoid or remove them.
  3. Cope: Lastly, once you figure out how to avoid triggers, it’s essential that you find ways to cope with any negative emotions triggers may bring out. These negative emotions can cause relapse and it’s important to know how to cope with them in order to stay sober during your addiction recovery. 

Tip #3: Build a strong support group

Having a support system to lean on is one of the biggest contributing factors to success in recovery (Boisvert, et. al). A strong support system greatly reduces your chances of giving in to triggers and relapsing. While the choice to get and remain sober starts and ends with you, if you’ve only got yourself to answer to when it comes to staying sober, it’s going to be very difficult to stay on the path towards your goals. It really helps to have at least one person who you know is in your corner, rooting for you and depending on you to stay on track. Anyone from your family to your friends to your significant other to your peer support group can hold you accountable — the more the merrier. Through recovery, it’s important to become aware of the fact that your addiction doesn’t just affect you, it has a negative impact on everyone who loves and cares about you. 

A strong group of supporters will always provide you with an extra boost of confidence or a pep talk when you need it most. When battling addiction, it’s easy to get caught in a dark thought spiral, so having people to help bring you back to reality is invaluable. Knowing that there is even one person other than yourself who you can lean on in times of trouble could be the difference between relapse and sobriety. Plus, fellow former addicts truly understand the struggles that come along with experiencing cravings, and can offer their advice and support to help you work through it.

Tip #4: Replace your unhealthy cravings with healthy ones

During active addiction, your entire life revolves around acquiring more of the substance or finding more time to engage in harmful activities. Because of this, when you get clean, you are probably going to be left with a big gaping hole in your life. You’re going to want to fill this hole with activities and passions that bring you joy and distract you from your cravings. And hopefully, in time, you will begin to crave the positive effects of your newfound hobbies and activities more than you crave any substance!

Developing a passion for something can help you fight away persistent cravings. The more healthy, happy relationships you form and the list of things you are excited about grows, the less you will think about your desire to fall back into old, unhealthy habits. This is a great fallback for when things get rough. Just knowing that you have healthy, fun activities to immerse yourself in when you’re in a bad mental space can really help pull you out of it and prevent you from turning back to your prior addiction. This can also help you make new friends to replace those who may have enabled your addiction in the past. 

Also, try to incorporate more positivity and gratefulness into your daily thought process. Journaling can help you keep track of this, but simply addressing all of the positive things life has to offer you on a daily basis can help you truly see the positive impact of sobriety. Think about what your life was like when you weren’t sober, and compare it to the life you are living now. If you are like most people who have suffered from addiction, life before sobriety probably looked pretty grim. Write down all of the wonderful things you have been blessed with as a direct result of your sobriety. You may be surprised how many things come to mind when you are actively thinking in a positive way!

Tip #5: Attend an addiction recovery program

Finally, the best way to truly get and stay sober and crush those pesky cravings for good is to attend a licensed addiction recovery treatment program.

When you enter into a rehabilitation program at a treatment center, you are making a commitment to an entire lifestyle change. In the outside world, you are still going to be surrounded by the same triggers and distractions that you were when you were battling addiction. This kind of environment is not ideal for recovery, as it is much easier to slip back into old habits. When you arrive at a treatment center, you can feel confident in completely dedicating your body and mind to recovery. The day-to-day responsibilities that were keeping you from breaking free from your addiction are no longer weighing on you. Family members and friends who may have fed into your habits, whether intentionally or unintentionally, cannot get to you in this space. You are shielded from harsh words and criticisms, and will only hear positive affirmations and receive unconditional support from those around you. 

While the decision and motivation to recover comes from within, that doesn’t mean that having a strong, reliable support system of professionals around you isn’t necessary. If you are truly committed to the idea of getting clean, then entering a recovery program is what will give you the best fighting chance. You owe it to yourself to give yourself all of the tools you need to achieve life-long sobriety.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.