Cravings are an unfortunate inevitability throughout addiction recovery, and while their presence creates many stressful hurdles for those working hard to maintain their sobriety, they can be overcome with the right skills and preparation. The overwhelming feelings they create can be incredibly difficult to navigate. They can even threaten one's sobriety and mental health while navigating their intricacies.
Staying in control of one's actions during a craving is essential to sustained sobriety.
Learning to navigate these difficult and persistent feelings is a necessary skill to develop early in one's journey, and refine throughout one's continued progress.
What Are Cravings?
Cravings are a feeling that almost all will experience on their journey to sobriety, regardless of if one is overcoming a substance use disorder or is coping with behavioral addictions such as gambling or sex. Cravings are the sudden onset of a desire to engage with one's addiction again as the brain may have hardwired itself to expect or need a certain substance or behavior.
These feelings can engulf body and mind, making it difficult to think about or focus on anything except one's previous addiction. While there can be stressors that bring about these cravings, they can also seem to come from thin air without any prompting, making them a ubiquitous and difficult aspect of each individual's recovery journey.
This compulsive need to engage with one's addiction can come at a great cost, compelling an individual to act against their better judgment or make deals with themselves as one's mind attempts to justify the use of these substances again. However, as quickly as cravings can set in, they can also pass.
While the amount of time needed for a craving to subside can vary from person to person and instance to instance, an individual will most often have to keep themselves focused, distracted, and clear-thinking for just a few minutes – up to half an hour in most cases. Cravings may last much longer, and finding the strategies to identify and cope with cravings while one employs other coping skills is essential in navigating this time.
Accept Their Inevitability
Cravings are going to be a part of the recovery process, but experiencing a craving on its own is no cause for extreme alarm. They are common, and feeling the urge to reengage with addictive substances is completely normal. It does not indicate that an individual is in any way “failing” in their journey to sobriety or is beyond the potential for a sober future.
However, even if they are not indicative of failure, they still demand a dedicated strategy. Preparing for them as early as possible in one's recovery journey can create the best strategies for retaining sobriety.
Identifying Cravings With Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a useful practice throughout all stages of recovery. Being cognizant of one's body, mind, and physiological responses can help an individual better identify when a craving may be influencing one's thoughts and actions. This compulsive feeling to compromise one's sobriety can often be felt alongside a feeling of anxiety. Depending on the individual, they may also be accompanied by an increased heart rate, a tingling sensation, breathing irregularities, or other symptoms. Using mindfulness to identify these symptoms can inform one's thinking, helping an individual further ground themselves in a stable state of mind.
Navigating cravings is difficult, but it can be best addressed with practices that involve both the body and mind. Going on a jog, bike ride, or even a walk with one's pet can all occupy one's entire being while cravings pass. Getting moving and exercising can give the body direction and focus while providing time for the mind to process and release these stresses. This also creates a buffer of time for cravings to pass naturally, further helping each individual maintain their sobriety.
Remind Yourself of Why You Pursue Sobriety
Cravings can often present themselves by glorifying one's past of engaging with addictive substances or behaviors. This can create an illusion that is not reflective of one's reality, presenting one's addiction in a less harmful, or even positive, light.
However, these notions omit the more disastrous side of one's use. If one has identified a craving and is feeling its pulls and temptations, it is important to breathe and let the tape play out in one's mind. Positive memories may turn to more honest recollections of the destructive nature of addiction, helping contextualize and process these cravings with one's sobriety in mind.
Analyze Your Surroundings
Cravings are intense, but short-lived. However, it is also possible that one's cravings may feel more frequent or unrelenting, lasting for much longer than usual. In these situations, there may be a stressor that is keeping the craving energized in one's environment. Removing oneself from these locations or talking with supports about the home environment can help identify stressors to create an effective solution.
While not all cravings will be tied to stressors, constantly analyzing one's environment and adjusting one's surroundings accordingly can only be beneficial. Removing trinkets of one's past with addiction, songs from a playlist that evoke a certain time, or photos from one's bedroom can all help to distance oneself from their past use while placating unnecessary cravings from manifesting.