• Staff Writer

How to Handle Cravings in Recovery


Addiction recovery is a lifelong journey. It helps you grow and move forward in your substance-free life. There are a lot of struggles through the recovery process, one of which is cravings. It is not always an uphill battle but rather a winding road.

After detox, rehab, and treatment, cravings arise throughout recovery. Even someone who has been in recovery for years can experience cravings. Cravings can be so intense that individuals can relapse when not managed. A significant aspect of addiction recovery is learning to handle cravings before they become overwhelming.


What Are Cravings?


Cravings are compulsions to abuse substances. They agitate users' focus on sobriety by making substance use front and center. This is troubling for those just entering recovery. When you enter recovery, you want to move forward without thinking of using, but cravings prevent that. Without anticipation, one may believe cravings to be signs of failure or relapse when, in fact, they are normal parts of the process.

Still, the eruption of cravings may scare someone new to recovery. They may not want to reach out for guidance as they feel ashamed. Viewing these urges as new challenges to hurdle rather than omens of relapse is key. Proper addiction treatment will include normalizing the experience of cravings during recovery and using this as a part of relapse prevention.


The Cause of Cravings


Cravings are built on memories. It is impossible to remove the memory your brain and body have of using substances. Although your body is sober, your mind recalls the sensations you experienced while active addiction changed your brain function. Therefore, even when sober, the influence of those substances on the brain continues.

The brain has become accustomed to feeling pleasure after drug use. That drug use is linked to that feeling of being rewarded. Cravings come from the brain desiring that sensation from the substance. Without the substance, the brain is feeling a loss. However, you can calm the cravings with education, preparedness, and practice.


How to Handle Cravings


Cravings, although typical, will differ for each individual. Handling cravings will not be the same from person to person.

Although relapse prevention is a significant aspect of addiction treatment, recovery continues once you graduate from rehab and the cravings often continue. As you adjust to life outside the walls of rehab, cravings can feel more intense now that you're relying only on yourself to remain sober.

Research suggests that mindfulness, meditation training, and practice can enhance outcomes in substance use disorder (SUD). One's environment, stress level, and motivation can all alter the severity and frequency of cravings. Although you learn these interventions throughout treatment, actually enacting self-awareness, mindfulness, and similar techniques, in reality, can be difficult.

An ideal place to start is recognizing triggers or things that set off cravings. Knowing what is in your mind or your environment reminds you of using can help you avoid such things. Try to pinpoint places or people that feel tempting. Seeing people you used to use with or even driving by an old hangout can be triggering. Acknowledging those moments encourages you to avoid those situations or helps you establish tools for facing them.

There is no wrong way to do that. Some people may be able to come face to face with parts of their past that trigger them. They may practice mindfulness and be able to feel comfortable in that situation, while others feel the need to remove themselves entirely from the presence of anything triggering. Both of these are healthy ways of handling cravings.

Other things that trigger cravings can be internal, like emotions. When you feel stressed or sad, you may have cravings. Others may have a craving when happy and feeling celebratory. You clearly can't avoid feelings, so in those moments, it is crucial to use the coping skills you learned in rehab:


Remember Why You Got Sober


During cravings, remind yourself why you decided to seek help and get sober. The reasons will encourage you to stay on that journey and keep pushing forward. It may help to write these reasons down on your phone or a piece of paper in your wallet for easy access.


Distract Yourself


Use healthy alternatives to distract yourself. When you feel anxious and have a craving, do something productive that will leave you feeling accomplished. Go for a run, make a meal, listen to music, create something artistic, or clean. All of these can also trigger the reward part of your brain with pleasure.

Challenge the Cravings


Fight it when you have a craving or a thought that feels worrisome. Tell yourself that thought isn't beneficial. Replace it with a healthy one. If your mind is saying something like, "Just go in the bar and say hi, it can't hurt," fight back by saying, "It could hurt all the work I have done and set me back on all the progress I've made. Saying hi isn't worth my health and wellness."


Sit With It


Acknowledge that cravings happen and are temporary. Sometimes accepting those cravings is the best way to handle them.

If these methods don't feel effective enough, reach out to your support system. There is no shame in talking to a loved one or a sponsor about your fears, worries, or cravings. This is a part of recovery.


Understanding that cravings are a normal part of recovery is crucial. Cravings are not a sign of impending failure or relapse. Facing cravings and overcoming them is a sign of success and inner strength. Recognizing when you can handle something and when you need to take a step back and reanalyze or ask for help is a major step in your recovery. At California Care Detox & Treatment, we incorporate relapse prevention and handling cravings into every aspect of our treatment. When under our care, we educate you on what to expect from recovery and are always here for you no matter where your journey takes you. Don't hesitate to reach out to learn more about we can help you face cravings and get the most out of your substance-free life. Call us now at (949) 281-0632. We are here for whatever you need.

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