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Cravings in Recovery
Cravings for drugs or alcohol are a normal part of the recovery process. These intense urges are usually strongest during the early part of acute withdrawal. However, they can occur weeks, months, or years after attaining sobriety. Cravings are both psychological and physical in nature, and at times seem to come from nowhere.
Just as addiction and recovery are different from one person to another, people also experience cravings differently. Cravings are like waves. They ebb and flow. They can build up rapidly or slowly, reach their crest, and then subside. Cravings usually last from 25 to 40 minutes.
Below are different strategies to help you cope with and manage cravings and protect your sobriety.
According to VeryWellMind, exercise is a very effective and easy way to reduce cravings. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, reducing anxiety and improving your mood. The endorphins also change how your body perceives sensations, making it easier to concentrate on your exercise while taking your focus off of the physical cues of the craving. Exercise also helps strengthen willpower and improve emotional control. Exercise does not have to be a strenuous workout; even a walk can help you eliminate cravings.
When you feel a craving, get involved in an activity that requires your focused attention. The distracting activity can be anything you enjoy doing. Visit a friend, watch a movie, listen to your favorite music, read, play a musical instrument, draw a picture, or work in your garden. Do whatever interests you and absorbs your full attention.
Get a Hobby
Whether you take up a new hobby or rekindle your passion for a former one, hobbies are an excellent way to reduce boredom and find enjoyment during recovery. They also provide a great distraction when a craving hits. Boredom often gives rise to cravings as the mind tries to fill the empty time once devoted to drugs or alcohol. Having a hobby fills the void with something you enjoy.
When you practice mindfulness, you make a deliberate effort to keep your attention focused on the present moment. When you experience a craving, you can examine it mindfully. Feel each aspect of the craving. Ask yourself questions about it, such as:
- What does it actually feel like?
- Where exactly do you feel it? In your stomach? Your chest?
- Does the craving change?
- Does it move?
As you mindfully examine your craving, it will begin to subside. Relax and let it go. The best way to use mindfulness as a management technique for cravings is by practicing daily mindfulness meditation.
Practice Deep Breathing
Taking slow, deep breaths activates the parasympathetic nervous system, oxygenates your blood, and calms you down. It also helps reduce the strength of cravings.
One popular deep breathing exercise explained is called the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, making sure your posture is aligned.
- Exhale completely through the mouth, making a whooshing sound.
- Close the mouth and silently inhale through the nose as you slowly count to four (four seconds) in your head.
- Hold the breath for seven seconds.
- Exhale through the mouth for eight seconds, making the whooshing sound.
- Repeat the breathing cycle four times.
Another way to reduce cravings is to sit down and look at the stopwatch on your smartphone or a clock or watch with a second hand. Take six breaths per minute. Repeat this breathing technique for at least 2-3 minutes.
Riding the Wave or Urge Surfing
Urge surfing requires you to acknowledge the emotional and physical sensations of the craving rather than repress or avoid them. While remaining mindful in the moment, you simply accept the urge without any guilt, shame, or self-admonishment. As you surf the urge and it passes, it helps reinforce that cravings are temporary and you are in control.
Talk About Your Cravings
When a craving occurs, talk about it to your family and friends or with a 12-step sponsor. Talking about it often helps to reduce the intensity of the feeling and helps you discover its source. For some people, talking about cravings helps restore honesty and trust in relationships.
Do You Need Help?
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, help is available. At Canyon Vista Recovery Center, located in Mesa, Arizona, you will receive the care you need to regain your sobriety. Using a combination of clinical, medical, psychiatric, and holistic approaches, our professional staff will provide you with the tools you need to live a sober life. Now is the time to take the first step.