In the world of early sobriety, we are often bombarded with terms like cravings and triggers and relapse. On the one hand, it seems like these things will follow us around for the rest of our lives, and on the other, we are told that they are fleeting and can be easily overcome.
So which is it? Are we going to have cravings for the rest of our lives or is it just a symptom of early recovery? The truth is, the real answer is actually a little bit of both. However, don’t get me wrong, the drug cravings that you have during addiction and early sobriety are far more intense than anything you will ever experience in your sobriety, that is, once you have worked your steps or another program of recovery to overcome your obsession to use.
This list is of 4 simple ways that you can overcome drug cravings at the moment because let’s be honest, we are addicts, so we are pretty much programmed at this point to crave drugs and alcohol. However, once we do the 12 steps, those cravings pretty much completely disappear, turning into nothing more than a memory or the very rare thought.
So, if you have not done your 12 steps, or are currently doing your 12 steps, and find that you still sometimes experience drug cravings, have no fear, it is totally normal, but it is also totally temporary. Here are some helpful tricks to overcome those strange mental blank spots, and prevent a possible relapse!
First of all, Let’s Talk about Cravings
Long story short, drug cravings can kind of pop up randomly, whether we are sitting by ourselves bored, or whether we are busting our butts at work.
They happen because we have wired our own brain chemistry to crave using drugs in times of relaxation, in times of stress, in times of happiness, sadness, celebration, or despair. It is our tried and true, go to, solution for whatever we are feeling at the time. This is why it is totally normal to experience drug cravings in early recovery.
Again, just because we have a craving, does not mean we have to relapse. It is simply our brain resorting back to old patterns of behavior. Today, in our recovery, unlike during our addiction, we have a lot of power over how we want our day and our thinking to look. So, when we have a drug craving, instead of feeding into it, we have the power to see it, accept it, and keep going with our day. Here are a few ways how.
1. Move a Muscle, Change a Thought
A lot of people get into the line of thought that because they have a drug craving, they are going to relapse. However, this is completely unrealistic! A lot of old timers in the rooms will use the phrase, “move a muscle, change a thought” and this rings true for many areas besides drug cravings.
What it really means, is that by simply doing something else we have the power to stop that craving in its tracks. Say, for example, you are sitting at work or in IOP, and suddenly, you get a drug craving. Instead of just sitting there and stewing in it, reminiscing about the old times before it destroyed your life, try instead to get up, take a walk, and maybe sing yourself a little tune.
It sounds really simple because it is. When we allow ourselves to sit and stew in our cravings, without having a proper defense of 12 steps under our belt, it is a lot easier for those thoughts to take over control of our mind. However, if you instead, choose to talk a walk, or clean your room, or even do as many push-ups as you can without stopping, the actual retraining of your brain to do something more productive will become a habit, and it works!
2. Phone a Friend
Our sponsor and old timers in meetings don’t talk about picking up the phone all the time because they are bored and want someone to talk to. They do it because when we are in early recovery and get into situations, such as drug cravings, it really truly helps us to get out of our heads by talking to someone else.
Typically, it is recommended that the person you call in times of crisis is someone who:
- Has worked their steps
- Continues to actively stay engaged in their program, as well as in meetings, the fellowship, and with sponsee’s of their own
- Someone who has experienced cravings and can help you get out of them
- Or, simply someone who will probably tell you to go out and help someone else
The reason why this program works is that we don’t do it alone. We have other people out there that we can rely on when the going gets tough, and that rely on us to call them when we are in peril.
Don’t ever think that by calling someone in the program that you are a burden, or that you can handle it on your own because by you calling them you are actually giving them the opportunity to do some service for their own program!
3. Help Someone Else
Speaking of service, the number one sure fire way to get out of our heads and get over those random drug cravings is to be of service to someone else. For the most part, in early sobriety, there isn’t all that much that we think we can do. However, it isn’t hard to think outside the box in a way that we can be helpful to someone else.
Some of the easiest ways we can be of service are by:
- Calling someone to see how they are doing
- Inviting someone to a meeting
- Helping a stranger with a task
- Volunteering time at an animal or homeless shelter
- Offering to take people in treatment to outside meetings (mentorship)
- Picking up garbage on the street
- Helping your roommate with their chore
- Etc. etc.
In the beginning, before we finish our steps, we definitely cannot offer service work through sponsorship, however, there are so many other ways for us to be good, helpful people. Being of service to others gets us out of own heads and our own selfishness. That is a dangerous place to be when drug cravings flare up.
4. Practice Being an Observer
This last one, while extremely beneficial, may not be for the faint of heart. This is a form of acceptance and almost meditation when it comes to drug cravings. How it works, is when a craving strikes, instead of judging yourself or beating yourself for having the craving, try instead to simply watch how the craving reacts to your body.
This is an exercise on mindfulness, and can be pretty intense, but also extremely empowering when we realize that we have control over our responses to our thoughts. So for example, if you notice a craving develop, try to sit very still and breathe. Notice how the craving reacts to your thoughts, what comes to mind, memories, regrets, reinforcing ideas, etc.
Then, notice where and how the thinking about craving affects your body. Do you get tingles in your feet or hands? The tightness of the stomach or rapid breathing? Do your palms get sweaty or do you feel the need to use the bathroom?
After being a separated observer of the thoughts and feelings associated with the drug craving, we are able to see exactly how temporary and fleeting it is, we can breathe through the uncomfortability that comes along with it, and we can see our addict brain at work.
Cravings do not have to be a death sentence for sobriety. They can, in fact, be seen as little moments of triumph, little lessons that show us that at any point in time, we are the ones that are now responsible for the way we respond to our cravings and our thinking.