What to Do When Cravings Hit?
Recovery is a lifelong process – a concept that every addict or substance abuser learns early on in treatment. It is important to understand this concept and know that the work to stay off of alcohol and drugs of abuse never ends. Even those with decades of sobriety can relapse despite their best efforts. Cravings are, unfortunately, part of the recovery process and often hit at times when they are hardest to manage. However, during treatment, you will have developed skills and coping mechanisms to keep them at bay and avoid relapse.
Contact and Communication
The first way to fight cravings and avoid relapse is to contact the support team that you created during the early recovery process while you were in treatment and shortly thereafter. This may include a sponsor, friends, family and even the facility and therapist that got you clean. Hopefully, you have also joined support groups such as AA and/or NA and have a community of helpful, empathetic and compassionate people to rely on for help. This support group will be key to warding off relapse.
In addition, you want to be sure that those closest to you understand the triggers that may make you crave your former substance of abuse. This means having a very frank, open and honest discussion, giving them the tools to identify destructive behavior before you even realize you’re doing it.
A note for friends and loved ones. The immediate postoperative period is a very fragile and scary time for most people in recovery. Adapting to a life they have not experienced in years, or maybe even decades, is extremely difficult. Further, open and honest communication will be a work in progress and will not always progress smoothly. The important thing is to support your loved one during this time as they are at their most vulnerable. And don’t hesitate in seeking help from professionals around you to make sure that recovery is on track.
Even in the best of times, stress can make us act and think irrationally. As a result, stress represents one of the leading causes of relapse. Unfortunately, stress is a fact of life, but how we react to it is our choice. Accepting our situation and thinking clearly can go a long way to avoiding giving in to our cravings.
Implementing the stress reduction techniques you learned in treatment is critical. From meditation to mindfulness, having these tactics in your back pocket ready to deploy is very helpful.
There are many forms of treatment known as “levels of care.” If you are well-established in your recovery, you may be able to join an outpatient treatment program to reinforce the principles learned during your prior inpatient therapy. Depending on the particular circumstance, the admissions staff at your facility of choice may suggest a different level of care. Whether you seek care from an individual practitioner or a treatment center, seeking treatment means that you understand there is a problem and you are ready to move past it. There’s no shame in asking for help, especially when it involves dangerous substances of abuse and addiction.
Prioritize Mental Health
Unfortunately, mental illness has been stigmatized in society. While we are getting better at both addressing and treating mental illness, it continues to represent a true societal medical emergency. But mental illness does not necessarily mean you are “nuts.” These flippant and derogatory terms are used too often and trivialize the effects of mental illness and the deep difficulties that those with mental illness suffer from. Instead, understand that substance abuse can be a cause of or caused by mental illness. Even something you might consider minimal or unimportant can have a profound effect on your long-term sobriety. So, do not avoid the topic of mental health.
Usually, there is a trigger that starts the cravings that ultimately cause relapse. The brain is a very powerful tool that stores the feelings, surroundings and emotions that were present during the time you abused substances. During treatment, it will be important to identify those triggers and make sure that your life after treatment is free of them. The triggers may even be related to people that you knew in your “former” life. As a result, you’ll find that many addicts move out of the area where they abused substances and try to start a new life elsewhere – this is especially true if the former friends and neighborhood haven’t changed.
The good news is that cravings are a normal part of the recovery process and no, you have not failed. Rather it is how you respond to those cravings that shows true success. In the short term, these cravings will be strongest and most difficult to fight. This will be the time where you need the most intense level of support from your outpatient facility, friends, family, sponsor and anyone else you have for a support team. Cravings do dissipate over time and become easier to manage.
The bottom line is that good preparation during and after treatment, honest communication with those around you and a support system ready and willing to help at any time, day or night, are the keys to ensuring that temptation does not turn into relapse and a return to the darkness of addiction.