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10 Strategies for Managing Alcohol or Drug Cravings


soberIf you are recovering from an addiction, you are likely to experience cravings. These urges to drink or use drugs again can become overwhelming unless you have an effective way of dealing with them. It is often the inability to deal with urges that is the reason behind relapse. This pattern of thinking can appear out of nowhere and, if it catches the person at a moment of weakness, can cause the person to be at risk of giving into it.

There are strategies that individuals can use for dealing with cravings; it is vital that you are familiar with at least some of them so that you can choose the ones you think will work for you. Below are the 10 most popular strategies you can turn to when the urge to drink or use again arises.

1. Distraction

Distraction can be a good short-term strategy for dealing with cravings, and it is probably the most commonly used. This can be a good option if suddenly feeling overwhelmed. It just means you find something to do that will keep your mind off drinking or using drugs – this could include going to the gym or spending time with some sober friends. The only problem with distraction is that you can still feel powerless around these urges because your coping strategy is set to try to run away from them.

2. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a much better long-term strategy for dealing with cravings, but it requires that you develop a regular mindfulness practice. This type of meditation boosts your ability to see what is happening in your mind in a more objective way – the more mindful you become, the better you will be able to deal with cravings. You start to see these urges as clouds passing through your mind, and you understand that you do not need to resist them or judge them. This may be superior to distraction as it means you are facing what is happening in your mind. By looking at these cravings mindfully, they lose most of their power and it means they arise far less frequently as well.

3. Urge Surfing

Urge surfing is probably most powerful when it is done in combination with mindfulness. This technique was developed by psychologists and is based on the understanding that these cravings usually only last for about half an hour or so. Resisting cravings is a skill you develop; you begin to see them as large waves coming towards you but instead of just drowning, you learn to surf them. In order to increase your ability to urge surf you can practice by doing things such as ignoring itches or experiencing hunger for a few minutes before you eat. If you become skilled at urge surfing, it will improve your life in many ways, not just dealing with alcohol or drug cravings.

4. The Delay Tactic

The delay tactic is also very popular; it is a short-term measure that you can use to buy yourself some time. If you really feel like drinking or using, you make the promise to yourself to wait for one hour. You will usually find that the craving disappears by the time the end of the hour has come, but if it has not then you just delay for another hour – you keep on doing this until the urge to drink or use disappears. The delay tactic is similar to urge surfing but it something you can do even if you have not developed your abilities to deal with these cravings.

5. Focus on Your Breathing

Focusing on your breathing can be a particularly good form of distraction as it relaxes your body and slows down your thinking. One of the dangers with cravings is that it leads to racing thoughts, which means you are not able to think rationally. By focusing on your breathing, you slow everything down so that you are less likely to do something you regret later on.

6. Get Away from Temptation

Most of the time, your cravings are only going to last a few minutes. The exception to this is when you are somewhere tempting such as a bar or in a room in which drugs are available. If there is no opportunity to relapse, it will be much easier to deal with your cravings – this explains why rehab and detox are so effective. If cravings arise when you are close to temptation, it is vital that you remove yourself from this situation right away – do not delay. By doing this, you should find that your cravings start to ease.

7. Talk to Somebody

There is no shame in experiencing cravings. It does not mean that you have done something wrong, or that you have a weak sobriety. By telling somebody else about how you are feeling, you can get some support. It is important that you choose somebody to share this information with who supports your sobriety – ideally somebody who is also in recovery. What you do not want to do is talk about your cravings with somebody who does not fully support your sobriety because this person may actually encourage you to relapse.

8. Question Your Craving

Questioning your cravings means thinking about the negative consequences that will happen if you relapse. These urges can be powerful and it can make it seem as if relapsing as a good idea, but you can use your rational mind to question the wisdom of drinking or drug using again. You need to remember why you quit in the first place, and recall how bad things were for you at the end. It is a good idea to write down your reasons for staying sober on a piece of paper and carry this with you everywhere. When you are in the midst of craving, it can be hard to think rationally, but you can use this piece of paper to remind you of what you want to achieve. Just make sure the reasons you write down are clear and that they are things that actually mean something to you.

9. Choose an Alternative

Your brain has been trained to associate reward with using alcohol or drugs. This means that when you are feeling discomfort or you have done something that you feel deserves a reward, the urge to drink or use again is likely to arise. Instead of giving your brain what it thinks it needs, you can offer yourself an alternative. This could include things you enjoy such as going to a movie or buying some new music. This is not a strategy you want to use too much because it could lead to other activities and becoming an addiction substitute, but it can be an excellent short-term strategy.

10. Go to a Fellowship Meeting

Any time when you feel as if your sobriety is on shaky ground, it makes sense to get to a fellowship meeting as soon as possible. Here you will find people who understand what you are going through, and they will be able to offer you support and advice. Even if your cravings are intense, you are likely to find they have disappeared by the time the fellowship meeting is over.

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