What To Do When Cravings Resurface

What To Do When Cravings Resurface

If you’ve been going along in recovery for quite some time, you probably feel secure in how well you’re able to handle whatever life throws at you. That’s a good thing, and a sense of self-confidence that all addicts in recovery strive for. Then, let’s say, out of the blue, you’re hit with an urge that’s so overwhelming, so powerful, that you feel like you’ve been slammed in the gut. You don’t know what hit you. Worst of all, you feel powerless to stop it. Here’s what to do when cravings resurface.

Don’t Panic

First and foremost, don’t panic. While it’s natural to feel upset – since you’ve been doing so well for so long – you can’t let it get to you. Cravings are insidious. Just when you think these urges are long past and no more a threat to you than being struck by lightning, they rear up and shatter your composure. The key to dealing with cravings that come out of the blue is to recognize that it’s happening, but that you’re not going to let it cause you to do something to undermine your recovery. Instead of panic, replace those feelings with self-confidence. You’ve come a long way. You’ve dealt with cravings before. You’ll do it again.

Assess the Situation

Take a look at what immediately preceded the onset of the cravings. Were you involved in an activity or around people who may have served as triggers? Did you see something on TV, or pass billboard advertising, or hear sounds that jumpstarted the urge? Was there an argument at home with your spouse or family member? Have you been stressed at work, suffering from medical problems, or overwhelmed by financial or other burdens? Have you recently experienced an emotional setback, physical trauma? Did you recently lose a loved one or become estranged from a relationship?

While a single one of these may not cause a resurfacing of cravings, a combination of them may, indeed, bring them on. You never really know for sure, but by analyzing what transpired just before the cravings occurred, you’ll get a better handle on what to do about them.

Look at Your Strategies

Remember, way back in the past, how you used to deal with urges and cravings? You probably still have some of the strategies written down or in a handbook somewhere. Drag it out and go over your list. See what worked the best for you then. Maybe you can utilize some of them now. Coping mechanisms that worked right after treatment may need to be beefed up or altered to take into account your circumstances now. Or, conversely, simple coping mechanisms that once worked may work just as well now.
Perhaps you allowed yourself to get a little lazy. You may have put yourself in the position of being around drinkers or users, thinking that you could handle it, since it had been so long since you used. Now you know that was a mistake. It’s time to get back on the self-discipline track in order to stay on the clean and sober path.

Enlist the Support of Your Network

This is what your 12-step support group is all about. Your sponsor and fellow group members have all pledged to help each other and themselves in time of need. Call on your sponsor as the most appropriate person to counsel you – or listen to your story – and talk with other group members as you feel appropriate. They’ve all been in this situation before. Some of them have been through cravings and urges on many occasions. Certainly, there’s strength in numbers. The group support and encouragement may be all you need to weather this unexpected return of cravings.

While you’re getting yourself back into your comfort zone of being able to deal with cravings, you may want to attend a few more meetings than you normally would. If you’ve been in recovery for several years, you may have stepped down your participation. Maybe consider going back once or twice a week for the time being.

Get Out of the House

Alone time isn’t the best way to deal with cravings and urges. Don’t sit at home and stew about what’s going on in your head. Get out and be with friends (sober ones). Do something physical that gets your adrenalin going naturally, such as competitive sports, a workout, running, or a recreational activity that you do with a group, like whitewater rafting.
You can also involve yourself in purely social activities. Take a friend out to dinner or go to see a movie, play, or sporting event with one or more friends.

Stimulate Your Mind

Another suggestion is to stimulate your mind with intellectual or artistic pursuits. Work on problem-solving, or do cross-word puzzles. Take a class or learn a hobby. Go to the art museum. Read or do some creative writing.

While you are immersing yourself in something that engages your mind, you won’t have room for thinking about cravings and urges. You could call it distraction, but the fact of the matter is that it works for many in recovery who are dealing with the resurgence of cravings.

Review Your Recovery Goals and Progress

For some in recovery, a review of recovery goals and progress is enough to quell the cravings. Looking at the overarching goal of sobriety – and the reasons why you want to remain clean and sober – may be sufficient to get your mind off the cravings long enough so that you don’t give into them.

How far have you come in reaching your short- and long-term goals? Look at each of them that you have achieved, and recall the pride you felt when you reached those goals. These were likely very personal and, therefore, very valuable goals to you. They involved a lot of effort and time. Some were hard-won, and some of those you may have felt were nearly impossible to achieve. But you did it. You can overcome these Johnny-come-lately cravings. They don’t matter in the scheme of things. You’ve conquered many difficulties getting to your current state of recovery. You will be successful in overcoming these cravings as well.

List the Pros and Cons

If you still need more ammunition for dealing with these recalcitrant cravings, make a list of the pros and cons of giving into them. What would happen if you take that drink, shoot that line, pop those pills, go to the casino, pick up the stranger for sex? Will you suffer physically, emotionally, lose family or friends, court financial or legal ruin, lose your job? The more graphic and vivid and catastrophic the potential consequences that you can imagine and write down, the better the deterrent to actually saying yes to the cravings.

What will you gain if you say yes to the cravings? Will it be a few hours of nirvana, a semi-fleeting state of floating, a feeling of being back in the action? Will it be worth it? Will you fall back into your hard-core addiction? Will you be able to stop? How much more difficult will it be to come back this time? Do you really want to take that chance?

Usually, looking at the pros and cons will pretty quickly convince you that giving into the cravings is a decidedly unwise move. Still, you may need to utilize some of the previously-mentioned strategies to help get you past the moment.

Imagine Someone Else Voicing the Same Cravings

Another technique that may work is to imagine someone else – someone very close to you – voicing the same desire to give in to the cravings. What would you say or do to help that person overcome the urge to give in? Marshal your arguments and talk to yourself in the same way that you would to that individual.

Allow Time to Pass

Recovery counselors say that most cravings will pass within about 20 minutes. If you can make it through this period, you should be okay. The trick is to devise and utilize all your aforementioned successful coping mechanisms or strategies to allow you to successfully navigate this admittedly confounding sense of compulsion and come out on the other side feeling whole again and craving-free.

Some people find counting exercises helpful. Or, try reciting the alphabet forwards and backwards. Read a mystery novel aloud. Rearrange the garage, kitchen, scrub toilets or paint the walls. Do whatever it takes to work through that 20 minutes to half-hour. While your mind and body are otherwise occupied, the cravings will tend to dissipate.

Keep Boredom at Bay

You may remember the saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” This could easily be applied to the circumstance where you are bored and cravings pop into your head. When you’re bored, your mind becomes restless. You seek stimulation, action, something to get out of this state of inactivity.

The solution may very well be to plunge into a new activity. You already know that when you’re actively involved in pursuing something you enjoy, your mind will be fully engaged – and not prone to giving into craving temptations.

Keeping boredom at bay may mean scheduling your days and nights so that there are plenty of activities to occupy your time. Of course, you need to rest. But put in a full day’s worth of activities – some physical, some mental – so that you never need to worry about boredom setting in.

Learn How to Relax

Anger, stress, frustration, anxiety, depression – these are powerful triggers that may cause cravings to resurface. How do you deal with these emotions so that you can curtail cravings? One way is to learn how to relax. Relaxation techniques are many and varied and include meditation, yoga, Pilates, massage, prayer, biofeedback, and deep breathing exercises, among others.
Learning how to relax also gives you the opportunity to take a class and get involved with a new set of acquaintances – who may become friends. You may need training in order to become familiar with the poses or techniques or breathing patterns of the particular form of relaxation. This is a great way to utilize several of your coping strategies: get out of the house, be with people, be active, and learn how to relax.

Consider Medication

If all else fails, you may want to talk with your doctor about a prescription to help with factors that may be contributing to your emotional state and the subsequent cravings. You may be prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. If necessary, and prescribed by your physician, perhaps an anti-craving medication or, in the case of nicotine addiction, a nicotine vaccine (NicVAX), when it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Currently, NicVAX, from Nabi Pharmaceuticals, is in Phase III FDA clinical testing as an aid to smoking cessation and long-term abstinence.

Additional Behavior Modification Therapy

You may consider brush-up or additional cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to help re-structure your behavior to ensure healthier behavior. CBT has been proven to help addicts in recovery to strengthen their coping mechanisms and learn better ways to address cravings and urges.

Combo Strategies or Finding Something Different

Reading through the strategies mentioned above may cause you to wonder if any of them will really work for you. It’s quite possible, for example, that relaxing paves the way for cravings to become even stronger. You may need a combination of strategies in order to stave off cravings. Or, you may need to find something entirely different. Not every coping strategy is listed here. And, not every strategy or coping mechanism works for everyone. If it were that easy, cravings would be completely

Also, give yourself the credit you deserve. As you may have heard many times in your 12-step meetings, it isn’t the fact that cravings occur – it’s what you choose to do about them. You’ve been successful in the past, and you will be again. Do what works for you and keep at it. Who knows? You may create a new method of working through cravings that you can teach others. How great is that?

This Too, Will Pass

If you believe in a higher power, or are convinced of the power of the self, you know that you will not be given more burdens than you can handle. If time heals all wounds, time also allows current cravings and urges to pass. Make it through this time of temporary uncertainty and temptation, knowing that you will emerge stronger on the other side. You will also be more self-confident about dealing with such issues should they arise again in the future.

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