Understanding Cravings – What You Need To Know

What you need to know is that cravings are a natural by product of giving up your substance or behavior. Cravings will come and go in the early stages of recovery but should continue to diminish the longer you are abstinent. They can be uncomfortable but there are a few things you can do to ride the wave and get through them.

Here are some ideas to help you in understanding cravings.

What You Need To Know About Cravings

  1. Cravings are normal.
  2. Cravings are time limited, they can last from a few minutes to an hour or so.
  3. They will likely intensify and then the urge will start to decrease,
  4. Cravings can be triggered by environmental factors, or an emotional response to someone or something
  5. Romanticizing past use, euphoric recall reliving the good times will intensify the urge to use.
  6. Learning to recognize triggers and cope with urges will make them less intense and lessen the frequency

Where Are Your Cravings Coming From

Preparing for cravings and understanding what triggers them is part of the Preparation Stage of Change. It will be helpful to know what might trigger them and plan ways to cope.

Make a list of known triggers. There will likely be a few that surface that were unexpected but you are probably aware of many of them already.

For instance:

  • Having the substance in your home. If it is possible rid your home of all your drug of choice, if it is a behavior limit access to it.
  • Certain environments.
  • Times of day, anniversaries, a certain day of the week (payday).
  • Emotional and physical responses, fatigue, overwhelm, anger, stress.

This is not a one and done list, you will be able to add to it as you go along in recovery. Once you are aware of the triggers, do your best to come up with a plan to avoid them, or utilize a friend to support you if it is unavoidable.

Coping With The Cravings

Use your list of triggers and come up with an alternate plan to cope with each potential situation.

  1. Get rid of all access to your drug or behavior.
  2. Prioritize and organize your day to lessen stress and overwhelm.
  3. Use rational self talk to recognize that everything will get done, everything will work out.
  4. Give yourself some time, engage in a distraction and allow the urge to pass on its own.
  5. Have some new activities and hobbies to get involved in so you aren’t reliant on past outlets for socialization and fun. Join a gym, start a new hobby, take a class, read.
  6. Talk to your cravings, identify them and let them know that you plan to pass on using this time. Talk it out with yourself and start to understand more where the cravings are coming from.
  7. Ride the wave of the craving, see yourself moving through it with ease and feeling great about your decision to say no to the urge. Use the visualization technique talked about in the post on Self Sabotage
  8. Use your resources, your support system, online meetings, or other groups you might attend, relaxation techniques, try tapping on urges, seek professional help if it is too overwhelming.
  9. Use intentions and affirmations when cravings come up. Acknowledge the craving and then say your intention. “I intend to release this urge and enjoy the good that is and the good that is becoming in my day.” Or, “I am joyfully releasing this urge to use and am feeling healthier and stronger as I do so.”  
  10. Develop and rehearse a daily plan of thoughts or behaviors that will guide you through even difficult moments of the day.

Challenge Unhelpful Thinking

I wanted to build on developing and rehearsing new thoughts and behaviors daily. This starts with recognizing and challenging some of the old thought patterns.

Recognize that you are focused on the benefits of using when an urge comes up. Remind yourself that there is a reason you are quitting. Think about the negative consequences of giving into an urge, what it will lead to if you give in. Can you really just use this one time and then quit again tomorrow, or will it lead into the same cycle you were in before?

Identify the statements that keep the cravings strong i.e……. “It isn’t fair that I can’t drink like other people”, “I just need help to relieve the stress I am dealing with right now, I’ll only use this one time”, “I’ve been sober for a month now, maybe I can have just one drink”. This kind of thinking gives power back to your drug of choice, not you.

Identify messages or self talk that are coming up before a craving hits and replace them with more supportive statements, such as;

“It’s natural to have cravings but I can get through this”,

“It feels uncomfortable to have this craving but I will survive”

“Even though it feels like I need to give into this urge to be okay, I know that is just the addiction hijacking my brain and it will pass.”

Staying On Track

Continue to remind yourself why you are quitting your substance or behavior. You choose happiness and a satisfying life on your own terms, you no longer want to be controlled by your addiction.

Move into a place of gratitude when an urge comes up. Acknowledge it and be grateful that you are having a craving that means you are successfully moving away from your addiction.

Recognize that cravings are normal, they are just a part of the process of change.

Focus on what you can do, what is right in your life, what are some of the pleasures and joys you have identified since quitting. If you aren’t experiencing a lot of joy as a result of giving up your substance or behavior yet, remember it is early in the game and you are in this for the long haul. This is why it is so important to create your long term vision. You didn’t get her overnight and you will need to be patient to see real change happen.

Help someone else. There is nothing like helping others to get you out of your own head. I’m not talking about care taking someone else or distracting yourself with helping others so you aren’t getting your needs met. I am talking about volunteer work.

Let me know your thoughts.

Peace and joy on your recovery path!


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