You’re trying to escape an addiction.
That could be food, drugs, alcohol, gambling, or smoking. One of the biggest challenges you’re dealing with, especially at the beginning of your recovery, could be those urges to “feed” the addiction. You’re bound to have cravings. It happens to all recovering addicts, and it isn’t easy. But remember, while the urges can be intense, they diminish as you get further along. Each time you resist “feeding” the addiction, each time you decide not to use, the closer you are to long-term recovery.
This post is devoted to all who deal with cravings. Many people cope with their urges by gritting their teeth and “white-knuckling it” until it passes, but it doesn’t have to be done that way. The good news is there are many urge-busting strategies out there. You’ll find four of those methods below.
Urge Management 101
The four strategies below are approaches people use to deal with cravings. If you can, read through all four during good moments, giving you time to prepare.
Method # 1. Get rid of those triggers.
Triggers jumpstart cravings. Some triggers are obvious, like watching people use drugs, having access to money, or seeing a beer commercial on TV. Others aren’t so obvious. Perhaps it’s something you’re hardly aware of, like a vague scent, song on the radio, or a stressful thought that inadvertently makes you want to relapse.
Whatever the case, identify the trigger and deal with it. If you’re in a place filled with temptation, get out of there. If it’s something on TV, change the channel. If it’s a thought, acknowledge the thought and put it aside.
If possible, plan ahead to avoid triggers. Stay away from places that are likely to push you in the wrong direction. Stay clear of people who are addiction-friendly, or those who make you emotional and more likely to relapse.
Be careful what you talk about. Old drinking tales and drug war-stories can quickly get you into trouble. Guard your thoughts, too. Practice mindfulness and meditate to deal with tempting or problem cognitions.
Dealing with unpredictable or unavoidable triggers? Is there no exit strategy? Is there no one to call? Take three breaths and move onto one of the strategies below.
Method #2. The pause and distract method.
The good news: cravings have a tendency to come and go, and they get better with time. Many recovering addicts and alcoholics find it helpful to distract themselves until the craving passes. They substitute using with something else. Let’s call this the “pause and distract method.”
(1) Set a timer for 60 minutes, and decide NOT to use for that hour.
(2) During that time, do something that has nothing to do with the addiction. Ideally, this activity would be passionate and fun, but any healthy activity is doable. What can you do to distract yourself? See the list below for ideas.
- Go for a walk or jog
- Talk about movies, physics, the weather, etc
- Listen to music
- Call someone who’s clean and sober or who’s never used
- Chew on a toothpick or gum
- Take a bath or shower
- Watch a movie
- Go to a café or bookstore
- Write a letter or email
- Burn candles and incense
- Write in a journal
- Knit or crochet
- Color in a coloring book
- Play with a pet
- Do puzzles
- Do origami
- Surf on the net (about non-addict related topics)
- Exercise or work-out
- Write a blog
(3) After one hour, you’ll probably find the craving has resolved. If not, set the timer for another hour and distract again.
(4) As able, slowly increasing the time periods, working towards 24 hour increments.
Method #3. The “good things about not using” method
Consider the reasons you’re quitting. Read the following questions and jot down your answers. Next time you have cravings, pull out the list and read carefully.
- What are the bad things about using or drinking? How would you feel if you gave in? What are the consequences of relapse?
- What are the good things about quitting? How does staying clean and sober get you closer to your dreams?
If you can’t come up with answers, think about what you’d tell a friend dealing with the same issue. Still can’t think of any answers? Just to help you out, you’ll find other people’s answers below. Some of the answers might not apply to you—but others might.
“What are the bad things about using or drinking? What would you feel if you gave in? What are the consequences of relapse?”
- “I could end up in jail again”
- “I could get a debilitating medical problem.”
- “I could make my liver disease worse.”
- “Drugs make me lie.”
- “Drugs make me do criminal things I regret.”
- “My addiction puts me in dangerous situations (violence, rape)”
- “I get suicidal or homicidal when using or drinking.”
- “I do shameful things when high or drunk.”
- “Drugs alienate and hurt everyone I care about”
- “I have withdrawal symptoms when I stop using.”
- “The addiction interferes with every part of my life.”
- “I could potentially hurt someone driving high or drunk.”
- “I get bad dental problems.”
- “I’d be really disappointed in myself if I gave into drugs after all this time clean.”
- “I’d lose my job again, and my health insurance.”
- “I don’t want my kids to use drugs or drink like me.”
- “I could die.”
“What are the good things about quitting? How does staying clean get you closer to your dreams?”
- “I feel proud when I stay clean.”
- “I could do amazing things if I just stopped using or drinking.”
- “If I were abstinent, I’d have money to spend on stuff other than drugs/alcohol.”
- “I can get into better shape.”
- “My bipolar disorder will be more stable.”
- “The court will look on my sobriety favorably and be less punitive in the outcome.”
- “I won’t violate my probation.”
- “I would live longer and have a better quality of life.”
- “I’m a better spouse/parent/friend when I’m clean and sober.”
- “If I stop using, I’m less likely to lose custody of my kids.”
- “I’m able to hold down a job.”
- “My parents are willing to have a relationship with me if I don’t use.”
- “I admire people who’ve kicked the habit, and I could admire myself too.”
- “If i stay off drugs, I can go back to school and have a chance at getting a career.”
- “I want to be a good role model for my nieces and nephews.”
Method 4. The “Accept” Method.
Also called urge surfing, the “Accept Method” involves staying with your craving until it passes.
According to the theory of “urge surfing,” you can overpower your opponent by going with the force of the attack. Moving with your opponent conserves energy and lets you use that energy to overcome the urge. You reduce the intensity of the craving by becoming “one” with it.
To “urge surf,” start by sitting in a comfortable position, closing your eyes, and looking inward.
Examine the sensation of the craving. As you study each section of your body, take mental notes. For example: “My craving is in my chest and belly, my mouth is really dry, and I feel lightheaded. I can imagine a [your drug of choice] in my hand.”
Where do you feel the urge? What’s it like? What’s going on in your head, chest, arms, and the rest of you?
Take note of bodily sensations, like burning, sweats, chills, pain, or dizziness. Pay attention to your muscles. Are they tight, painful, or relaxed?
What kinds of thoughts are you having? Acknowledge them objectively and put them aside.
Is there anything that’s changing from moment to moment? Is there pain? Is there joy?
Remember to continue taking mental notes. “I’m thinking about [your drug of choice] again, but the thought isn’t as urgent as it was before. The tightness in my stomach is lessening too.”
As you do this exercise, notice how the urge comes and goes. Often, as you pay attention to the urge, you change your relationship with it and might find it goes away. The urge isn’t as threatening.
That’s four urge-busting maneuvers to get you through the day. Next time you have a difficult craving moment, keep this post in mind.
A few more final words:
Remember to put cravings in context.
Urges aren’t all or nothing. You might feel like the urge is all-encompassing, but if you stop to think about it, there are a thousand levels of desire between zero and 100. Put the craving into context. Do you feel it come in waves? There will be good days and bad days. Sometimes it’s just a matter of surviving the moment. If you’ve been clean a while, are the cravings better and less frequent than they were earlier in your recovery? You’ll likely find the answer is “yes.” Maybe the craving oscillate between 100% and 40%, and 40% is more tolerable. Knowing that will get you through the 100% days. Hold onto that. Recognizing that cravings aren’t black and white make them easier to deal with.
Relapse isn’t the end of the world.
So you gave into the urge? It’s frustrating, and the aftermath can be life-shattering. You feel like you’ve taken a step backwards. The trick is to stand up and try again. This next bout of sobriety might be the one. Hang in there, and don’t give up! Reach out for help if you feel you need it. Contact a local 12-step program, primary care doctor, psychiatrist, substance abuse counselor, rehab or residential program, or hospital for more information.
“No one is ever too broken, too scarred, or too far-gone to create change. Never stop fighting. Never lose faith.” —www.weighingthefacts.blogspot.com