When it comes to addiction and cravings, there’s no easy way to overcome them. In short, anyone who develops an addiction will inevitably experience cravings at some point in the recovery process and likely even in more advanced stages of long-term recovery. However, even though cravings are an unavoidable, it’s often the case that those who are in the process of overcoming their addictions aren’t prepared for these cravings. For this reason, it’s extremely valuable to be knowledgeable about what drug cravings actually are and, most importantly, how to deal with them.
What are drug cravings?
Drug cravings are actually rather straightforward and are a product of the neurological changes that the brain undergoes due to long-term substance abuse. From various studies on the neuroscience of addiction, we’ve learned that the brain becomes permanently altered from continual substance abuse. The brain gets used to the neurochemical imbalance that alcohol and drugs cause, meaning that regular “balanced” neurochemical levels become uncomfortable, resulting in withdrawal symptoms. As well, a person begins to feel cravings as neurochemical levels decrease and stabilize, causing him or her to crave the substances that will cause neurochemical spikes and, therefore, feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Of course, cravings are a daily part of life when you’re in active addiction, but they still happen occasionally in recovery.
What’s more, drug cravings can actually be broken into a series of steps, the first of which is the trigger. As you can probably infer, the trigger is the person, place, thing, or sensory cue that incites a drug craving. Typically, the trigger is something that a person has come to strongly associate with substance abuse over the course of active addiction. After the trigger, the individual begins to experience obsessive thinking; in other words, he or she is essentially having uncontrollable thoughts about substance abuse. From the point of obsessive thinking, the individual progresses into a full-blown craving, which is both an emotional and physical urge to use alcohol or drugs. The entire process tends to happen quickly with individuals in recovery usually experiencing cravings for only a matter of minutes; however, the danger is that these emotional and physical urges are so intense that a person must have strategies in place for resisting and overcoming them, otherwise a craving could quickly result in a relapse.
Resisting cravings, preventing relapse
Although a successful recovery has a number of different components, relapse prevention is arguably the most important, particularly when it comes to the longevity of a person’s sobriety. If an individual is not prepared to deal with cravings, there is a strong chance for relapse, which is why relapse prevention is often a focal point in many drug rehabs’ programs. While the likelihood of a craving leading to a relapse may be discouraging, the good news is that there are a number of ways to safeguard oneself from relapse by being prepared and knowing what to do when experiencing a craving.
One of the most basic — albeit useful — strategies for controlling and overcoming cravings is through artful distraction. While we usually want to increase our focus rather than decrease, a craving can only put an individual in danger of relapsing if it progresses to the point of a full-blown craving, which requires obsessive thinking. Rather than allowing oneself to experience obsessive thoughts about drug use, finding ways of distracting from thoughts of drug abuse will effectively stop the craving in its tracks. In fact, individuals in recovery are sometimes encouraged to find new hobbies, particular ones that are tactile and involve their hands, because these new hobbies can be a great resource for pulling focus from thoughts of drug use when experiencing a craving.
Another great strategy is to do something physical at the start of a craving. As you’re probably aware, physical activity — even activity that’s not particularly strenuous such as going on a walk — not only distracts from obsessive thoughts, but it raises a person’s endorphins. There are many benefits to raising endorphin levels at any point in time and it’s especially beneficial as a means of overcoming drug cravings because endorphins improve a person’s energy and overall mood. Plus, endorphins have been found to alleviate stress and anxiety, which are known to commonly be catalysts for relapse.
There are other ways to cope with cravings, too. While there are many reasons twelve-step programs are popular, one of the most compelling is the concept of the sponsor; in short, a sponsor is an individual who becomes an on-demand resource and a source of inspiration, motivation, encouragement, and information as a person advances in recovery. Similarly, reaching out to a family member or close friend can help to distract from obsessive thoughts and offer a source of reinforcement for one’s sobriety.
Luke Pool is a grateful member of the Recovery community. He has found his purpose in life by helping those who suffer from the diseases of addiction. He uses blogging and social media to raise awareness about this epidemic, affecting every part of this country. Now working for Stodzy internet marketing, he is able to pursue his passion by informing as many people as possible about addiction. Originally from Austin, Texas he now lives in South Florida.