Learning how to deal with addiction cravings will help streamline your recovery.
Cravings come about after prolonged and habitual substance abuse. You can find cravings striking after months or even years of abstinence.
That said, there are addiction treatment programs and California rehabs that have robust aftercare programs and sober living facilities in place to help ensure that even after leaving a treatment center, clients will still have the tools and knowledge they need to stay away from substances.
Experiencing cravings will distort your thinking to the extent you become fully focused on these overwhelming thoughts and urges at the expense of longer-term goals.
Withdrawal symptoms in the absence of a drug can be so intense that the brain’s normal motivation is hijacked.
Cravings occur through changes to the structure and functioning of the brain as a result of substance abuse. Consuming addictive substances, from alcohol to prescription opioids to illicit drugs, causes the substance to bind to receptors in your brain, triggering a dopamine response. Dopamine floods the area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasurable feelings. Dopamine is released when you do something ordinary and pleasurable – eating ice cream, for instance. When you take addictive drugs, though, the brain will release up to ten times as much dopamine, and it will also release dopamine much more rapidly.
In the event of sustained substance abuse, your body will start producing less dopamine. It takes some months of recovery before natural dopamine production levels start increasing. Until that point, lower dopamine levels and the absence of the substance in question can trigger anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and depression.
How to Deal with Addiction Cravings
When cravings manifest in the aftermath of discontinuing use of drink or drugs, these cravings are typically the result of withdrawal symptoms.
When cravings occur after a long period of sobriety, though, they more likely result from triggers and cues caused by the environment or general stress.
Devising a sound relapse prevention strategy is the most effective thing for dealing with the almost inevitable cravings you will experience during detox and withdrawal.
You should consider the following when you’re creating a plan to combat relapse:
- Cues that trigger you to use substances
- Activities that trigger you to use substances
- Strategies for calming yourself in the face of stressors
By taking the time to identify the people, places, and things that trigger you to use substances, you should avoid automatically slipping back into abusive behaviors.
As you learn to more effectively manage your emotions, you will find you can more readily manage your cravings for substances, too.
One of the most powerful ways of seizing back control is to engage with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) sessions. CBT is a form of psychotherapy or talk therapy that helps you to identify negative core beliefs. These beliefs underpin a great deal of negative self-talk, largely responsible for relapse in those recovering from addiction.
CBT techniques can help you manage cravings in a variety of ways, including:
- Talking it out: Many people find that cravings dissipate when they share their feelings with others in a supportive environment. Support groups like 12-step programs and SMART recovery groups can be a vital resource, delivering support from others undergoing similar experiences. Hearing success stories from others can provide the inspiration you need to keep those cravings at bay.
- Avoiding triggers: If you find certain people or places trigger severe cravings, you may find it beneficial to avoid these during the challenging early phase of recovery.
- Relaxation: Relaxation techniques can help you to focus on the present moment. Even simple techniques like slow breathing or counting to ten can be surprisingly effective and can reduce cravings to a more manageable level.
- Distraction: It can be helpful to have something on hand to distract yourself with when you experience a craving. For example, you could download a game to your phone that you can play when cravings strike.
- Switch up your environment: It’s also important to consider your environment. In a comfortable environment free from stress and problems, you’ll find it much easier to cope with cravings then if you were surrounded by others abusing substances in an uncomfortable or stressful environment, staying strong will be much harder.
Addiction vs. Craving
Craving is one of the most studied aspects of addiction, but it’s also one of the least understood.
While upon admission into treatment those with strong cravings are more likely to relapse, craving itself is not proven to be a strong predictor of relapse. Beyond this, the same data shows that 78% of those discharged do not report noticeably diminished cravings upon completing a course of addiction treatment.
Over the past decade, there have been many studies, both animal and human, but these studies have generated more questions than answers.
The Symptoms of Cravings
Cravings can vary from person to person and can also be affected by the type of addiction. Typically craving symptoms include:
- Intrusive thoughts about using a drug or drink
- A strong will to visit using places and see old drinking or using friends
- Wanting to use or drink
Handling Cravings from Drug Addiction
If cravings occur as a result of stopping drinking or taking drugs, the cravings are more likely to be the result of withdrawal symptoms.
But, cravings that occur after a long period of sobriety are more likely to be caused by triggers and cues caused by the environment or stress.
Every person who stops drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or engaging in an addictive behavior needs to devise a relapse prevention plan.
A relapse prevention plan is a set of strategies a person can turn to if they experience triggers. To do this we first need to identify our triggers and cues. We can do this with a pen and a piece of paper by drawing three columns each titled:
- Cues that trigger us
- Activities that trigger us
- Strategies to calm ourselves
Identifying our triggers in advance allows us to prepare ourselves so that we don’t automatically slip back into the addictive behavior. We can also plan and prepare for those unexpected cravings that spring up out of the blue.
Calming strategies. The main strategy to use in those difficult moments of discomfort is to promote feelings of calm. By acknowledging our feelings as they arise, allowing ourselves to experience them, we can gently let them fade instead of giving energy to the addictive thoughts.
Strategies For Calm when the cravings occur
In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a well-known strategy called HALT which teaches people in recovery to never get too “hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.”
When a person is experiencing negative emotions their prefrontal cortex becomes tired and we are less able to judge a situation, regulate our emotions, and concentrate. We are more vulnerable to our cravings when the homeostasis of our brains and bodies is out of whack.
As a person in recovery, it’s vital to maintain a balance of physical and mental health through a healthy lifestyle. When a person is hungry, cravings are more likely to strike. Eating a little protein in a nutritious meal can help to boost a person’s mood.
Support Networks for Cravings and Drug Addiction
If cravings get a little out of hand, then it’s time to turn to support from others. It’s vital for every person in recovery to develop and nurture a network of like-minded individuals for emotional support. That’s where twelve-step programs come in as they are available regularly.
Sometimes life can get too much, particularly when there is a global pandemic. Even if a person is unable to access a meeting in person, they can access support online or phone a friend.
It’s great to have those people you can call on when you suffer from unbearable cravings.
Relaxation to curb Cravings and Drug Addiction
Relaxation techniques can help you to bring your mind to the present moment. Slow breathing techniques and counting slowly from one to ten can help to distract your mind from a craving.
It can be helpful to have something on hand to distract yourself with when you experience a craving. For example, you could download a game to your phone that you can play when you get a craving.
Remember Cravings Are Short-lived
The problem with cravings is that they feel like they will last forever and that life will never be the same again. That’s what addiction does to the brain, it convinces the person that they will feel unpleasant forever. An important skill in fighting cravings involves taking a step back from one’s thoughts to think about what they are thinking about.
If you can master this skill, you are in a strong position to maintain a successful recovery as the ability to withstand difficult feelings without giving in to the addiction is the key.
Change The Environment
It’s also important to consider your environment. When a person has a comfortable environment free from stress and problems it is much easier to cope with cravings as they arise. But, when a person is surrounded by other addicted people in an uncomfortable and stressful environment it is more difficult to avoid cravings.
How to Stop Addiction Cravings
Stopping the use of any addictive substance is intrinsically challenging, and cravings are an inherent part of the process.
Perhaps the most effective method of dealing with cravings is to formulate a simple relapse prevention plan. This will help you more confidently navigate the almost inevitable temptation you’ll feel to use drink or drugs.
The other factor to keep uppermost in mind is that experiencing cravings shows that your body is healing from addiction. The longer you remain abstinent, the more your dopamine production levels will normalize.
Eventually, cravings will become less and less frequent. All you need is patience, planning, and time.
Fighting Addiction and Cravings at The District
Here at The District Recovery Community, we have a variety of personalized outpatient treatment programs to help you beat any addiction while minimizing cravings.
In addition to regular outpatient programs, we also offer IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs). These more intensive treatment programs offer you similar services to those you would find in residential rehab, but without the cost or the restrictions.
Our addiction treatment involves both MAT (medication-assisted treatment) and psychotherapy.
The FDA-approved medications used in MAT will help tamp down the intensity of the cravings you experience. With psychotherapy like CBT, you’ll learn to better manage your triggers for addiction.
You’ll also have access to a range of holistic therapies and vocational development here at TDRC. To kickstart your recovery, reach out to admissions today on 844.287.8506.