If you have been using drugs or alcohol for an extended period of time – and you make the brave decision to get sober – you should expect to experience frequent (and random) cravings for awhile. This is completely normal.
Many people make the mistake of believing that once they leave an addiction treatment program, they have been cured. They view cravings as a sign of weakness. They believe there must be something wrong if they are having them. This is simply not true.
Cravings are part of the recovery process. Everybody has them at first. There is no way around them. They are going to happen. And when they do, you need to remain firm in your commitment to stay sober.
Drugs and alcohol have a very profound effect on neurobiology. Cravings are the brain’s physiological response to the absence of the addictive substances it once relied on to function. In simple terms, they are the brain’s way of protesting loudly to early sobriety.
It takes several months for the brain’s reward circuitry to return to a place of normalcy after heavy, prolonged drug or alcohol use. In the meantime, the brain will send signals that it wants the chemically induced high it was dependent on for so long – the one you are no longer giving it.
Cravings are kind of like the brain throwing a temper tantrum and saying, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” You might experience very uncomfortable physical manifestations of this temper tantrum; including sweats, chills, anxiety, depression, or other symptoms. You will also experience obsessive and compulsive thoughts about your drug of choice. Your mind will try to manufacture reasons why it will be a good idea to drink alcohol or take drugs.
Although they can be quite intense and downright uncomfortable, you can successfully navigate cravings without giving in. You have to be stronger than the lies your brain tells you about getting high or drunk. You CAN do it. It is a skill that can be developed with commitment and action.
Having a relapse prevention plan in place greatly increases your chances of ongoing sobriety. This should include activities you can engage in when you are experiencing cravings.
Here are five suggestions to get you started:
#1 Go For a Walk
Taking a brisk 20-minute walk is a great way to cope with cravings when they hit. Moderate exercise releases feel-good chemicals (like Serotonin and Dopamine) in the brain, which help to calm feelings of anxiety and elevate mood. Walking is also a great distraction.
You don’t have to go to a park or wear fancy workout gear to experience the immediate benefits of walking. You can just walk out your front door and head in any direction. Walk for ten minutes and turn around and come home. Chances are, the craving will pass by the time you get back to the house.
#2 Call a Friend in Recovery
You don’t have to cope with cravings alone. Recovery is a “we thing,” not a “me thing!” Call someone who is living a sober lifestyle. Be open and talk with them about what is going on with you. It definitely helps ease uncomfortable feelings when you connect with someone who can relate to what you are going through.
If you are feeling particularly triggered, ask your recovery friend if they can meet you somewhere for coffee or a bite to eat. It will get you out of the house and in the company of someone who can help you stay sober until the craving passes.
#3 Attend a 12-Step Meeting
If you are working a 12-Step recovery program, going to a meeting is an awesome idea when it comes to dealing with cravings. Be sure and share openly in the meeting about what you are experiencing and ask others for solutions.
Everyone who enjoys a life of recovery once battled (and overcame) cravings for drugs or alcohol. They can share their experience, strength and hope with you to teach you how to can stay sober in the face of uncomfortable cravings.
Meditation is another effective way to overcome cravings. Many people are intimidated by meditation because they don’t like the idea of sitting alone quietly with the chattering of their own mind. Not to worry.
There are hundreds of guided meditations on YouTube that allow you to listen to someone else’s voice. This will distract you from the craving and allow you to transcend it. Plus, you will feel grounded, calm, and spiritually connected once the guided meditation is over.
Cravings and withdrawal symptoms are at their peak during detox. Generally, they get much less intense as time passes.
Before long, most sober people report that they no longer experience cravings at all – only fleeting thoughts about drug and alcohol use. However; in early recovery, cravings can strike at any time. You should be prepared for their occurrence.
The most important thing to remember about cravings is that they do pass – and usually relatively quickly. Sure, they are going to feel intense and uncomfortable. In fact, it may even feel like you are going to die if you don’t have the alcohol or drugs your body is craving. But, we promise you this: you WILL NOT die!
Cravings are temporary. But, getting high or drunk can have permanent consequences. You could overdose, end up in jail, or experience any number of negative outcomes if you decide to give in. Make the commitment now to stay sober NO MATTER WHAT! You will be glad you did.
If you or a loved one needs help getting sober, Experience Recovery can help. Our admissions line is open 24/7.