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How to Prevent Urges from Sabotaging Your Recovery


urgesOne of the threats to your ability to remain sober is the urge to relapse. This desire to return to alcohol or drugs can arise out of nowhere and, if you are not prepared, it could land you in trouble. The good news is that it will be possible for you to learn how to effectively manage these urges, and they should become less frequent the longer you remain sober.

Addiction Urges Explained

An urge can be defined as a strong desire or impulse to do something. The words ‘urge’ and ‘craving’ tend to be used interchangeably, but it is helpful to differentiate between the two. A craving is something that just arises in your thoughts for no apparent reason – you just find yourself suddenly desiring alcohol or drugs. An urge differs because it is usually triggered by something in your environment – for example, you walk past a pub and you develop the urge to go inside and have a drink.

If you have been abusing alcohol or drugs for a long time, it will have caused changes to your body and mind. The reason why you can begin to experience urges to drink is that your internal reward system has been altered; this is an unconscious part of your mind that helps to direct your behaviour. Your mind now associates using alcohol or drugs with reward, using cravings and urges to get you to continue this behaviour.

All humans will have certain urges and these inner drives to do certain things can actually be good. It is just your mind’s way of reminding you to do certain things. The problem is that once you become addicted to a substance, your urges become hijacked. This means that when you try to quit the drug, you not only feel physical symptoms but also mental ones as well, in the form of urges and cravings.

Urge Control and Relapse Triggers

A relapse trigger can refer to any event that leads to you experiencing an urge or craving to drink or take drugs again. The trigger is not really the cause of the relapse because there is typically a process that leads to this point; the reality is that the relapse trigger gives those who are on the verge of relapse to go all the way.

If a person has a weak sobriety, it means they would be in real danger from relapse triggers – although it is important to be cautious around these triggers even if you have a solid sobriety. The problem is that these events can cause strong urges to relapse to arise, making it hard to ignore them. If you are not fully committed to recovery, you probably will not have sufficient determination to deal with strong urges.

There are many different types of relapse trigger. The four most common can be easily memorised using the acronym HALT – hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. Some of the other relapse triggers that may cause you to develop strong urges to return to alcohol or drugs include:

  • overconfidence about recovery
  • pink cloud syndrome – those who are too ‘high on recovery’ can be at risk of relapse when the pink could ends
  • using other addiction substances – your ability to fight off urges is significantly reduced when you use any intoxicant
  • feelings of frustration
  • arguments with friends, family, or even strangers
  • an episode of failure in recovery
  • depression
  • insomnia
  • disappointments  – for example, being turned down for a job
  • if you have unrealistic expectations for recovery, this can also act as a relapse trigger
  • spending time in pubs or around people drinking or using drugs
  • movies or TV shows where people are drinking
  • music you associate with alcohol or drug use
  • reminiscing with friends about your drinking or drug using days
  • feeling sorry for yourself
  • unethical behaviour such as lying or cheating can trigger a relapse
  • boredom.

It is important that you be always on the lookout for relapse triggers. These threats put your sobriety at risk and you need to be prepared to deal with them.

The Importance of Being Able to Mange Urges in Recovery

If you are unable to deal with addiction urges after you stop drinking or using drugs then it is unlikely you are going to be able to stay sober for very long. Even those who have a very strong sobriety are still likely to experience urges now and again. These sudden desires to relapse do tend to become less and less over time, but they never go away complete. Plenty of examples of people exist who have been sober for twenty or thirty years yet still end up a victim of these urges.

If you relapse, there is no guarantee that you are ever going to be able to stop drinking again. This means that these urges have the potential to destroy your life. It only takes giving in to these urges one time, and you will end back in the downward spiral of addiction.

How to Manage Addiction Urges in Recovery

A number of techniques are available that can increase your ability to deal with urges. One option is to begin practicing mindfulness meditation. This technique improves your ability to be objective about your thoughts. It teaches you to remain focused on the present. As you practice mindfulness you get to clearly see how urges arise in the mind briefly and then pass away by their own violation; they only hang around when you try to fight against them. Once you see how urges are like clouds passing through your brain, you feel less intimidated by them and better able to manage them.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is another effective technique that can improve your ability to manage urges. This therapy teaches you to be more aware of your thoughts, allowing you to be better able to manage them. CBT is used as part of the treatment in many rehab programmes, and you can arrange to see a CBT therapist as an outpatient, also.

One of the benefits of joining a fellowship such as the 12-step programmes is that you get to profit from the support and experience of others. All those who have achieved long-term sobriety will have become skilled at managing urges. You will be able to learn from the experience of these people by spending time with them. These meetings can also be a great place to go and talk about any urges you are experiencing. You can expect to be offered plenty of support and practical tips on how to deal with them. Just going to a fellowship meeting is often enough to help you get on top of these urges.

Occasionally, just going for a walk or engaging in some other type of exercise is enough to help you overcome the urge to drink. The worst thing you can do is to just sit at home and allow these thoughts to fester. Moving your body is likely to improve your mood and a change of scenery can change your thought pattern so you are no longer experiencing urges.

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