You can do your best to minimize your exposure to those things, places and people that trigger drug cravings, but you will never eliminate cravings entirely. Learning to manage and overcome drug or alcohol craving is therefore an essential skill in any journey of recovery.
Addiction treatment programs teach those in recovery skills that when practiced and used in real world situations of temptation, can prolong recovery for yet another day; day by day.
Here is a brief overview of some of the methods taught to help manage drug or alcohol cravings, as recommended by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Getting out of a situation of craving and distracting yourself with another activity is an excellent way to avoid succumbing to temptation.
Experts recommend that you make a list of activities that can distract you from a craving should the need arise (going bowling, taking the dog for a walk, doing the groceries etc.).
Many people attempt to manage cravings for a certain drug by using another drug, for example, a cocaine addict may use marijuana to help manage cocaine cravings. This is a very poor technique and too often leads to full relapse; and so having a list of better alternatives at the ready can help to minimize drug substitution behaviors.
Remembering Why You Don’t Use
During an intense craving, people fixate on a remembrance of the pleasures of drug use, forgetting temporarily the reasons why they stopped using in the first place. Reminding yourself why you chose to stop using during a period of craving can strengthen your resolve to wait it out.
Some therapists recommend that you in fact write down a list of good reasons for staying sober on an index card and keep that card on your person at all times. Then, during a tough moment of temptation, you can review your list and remember at that moment exactly why you need to stay strong.
- Worsening liver disease
- Lose custody of my children if I use
- My wife may leave me
- I will lose my job if I test positive one more time
Talking Through the Craving
Talking through an episode of craving as it happens can help you to manage the severity of it. Telling someone you trust about what you are going through at the moment of a craving can empower you and reduce some of the anxiety associated with struggling against temptation alone. Talking through the craving as it happens can also help you to better understand what specifically led to the feelings of temptation.
Letting Go – Feeling the Craving
Letting yourself experience a drug or alcohol craving in a very abstract and detached kind of way can greatly diminish the experienced intensity of the event.
Therapists counsel you to envision the craving as a wave that is going to wash over you, starting low, gaining in intensity, peaking and then subsiding. Instead of fighting the craving, as you normally would, when letting go you try to experience the craving as fully as possible.
Get into a comfortable and secure place, sit back and let yourself feel the craving.
- What does it feel like?
- What do my feet feel like? My knees, my stomach, my neck, etc…
- How strong is the craving right now? Is it getting stronger or is it subsiding?
- Can you describe the feeling of the craving in words?
In a paradoxical way, in concentrating on experiencing the craving fully you detach yourself from its influence. Many people find that this detached experiential method greatly reduces the intensity and even frequency of experienced cravings.
Reducing the Power of the Internal Voice
In most of us, feelings of craving unleash an internal voice that convinces us of the inevitability of use.
A craving might cause internal voice statements such as:
- I need a drink
- I can’t fight this any longer
However, once we take an objective look at craving induced inner voice statements, we can see that they are not inherently true at all; and so we can learn to counter these statements with more accurate reflections of reality.
- “I need a drink” becomes, “I may want a drink, but I don’t need a drink, and all feelings of craving will pass.”
- “I can’t fight this any longer” becomes, “Cravings can be unpleasant and difficult, but they are only temporary, I will feel better in a minute, as long as I don’t drink or use.”
A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Approach
These and other techniques for managing and overcoming cravings to use drugs or alcohol are taught as an aspect of CBT as offered for addiction recovery. Myriad clinical studies prove the efficacy of CBT as a treatment for addiction.