Addiction is about compulsion, and about hiding from reality. A craving is a feeling that we want to get high — to forget who we are, what’s happening, what happened in the past, things that worry us, family problems and so forth. There are times when we’re unable to think about anything else, and others when the cravings are fleeting and easy to ignore. All of us had to learn to handle desires to use when we were newcomers.
Three Typical Forms of Cravings
Cravings are a normal part of recovery. They tend to take three forms:
- Physical sensations, like an empty feeling in our gut, or tension in our shoulders;
- Thinking about wanting to use;
- Thinking about how we can make it happen.
Distancing Ourselves from Cravings
The first thing we can do when we realize we want to get high is leave the situation, or do something to change it. The second thing we can do is stop and think about what we’re feeling. What triggered the feeling? What can I do to change the way I feel without using? We also want to remember that cravings are normal, that they don’t last forever, and that they won’t hurt us even though they’re uncomfortable. Neither do they mean that we’re working a lousy program of recovery. We can remind ourselves of how hard we’ve worked on our sobriety, and how we don’t want to waste it, and that we’ve done okay so far, and we can beat this the same as the millions of other recovering people have beaten it.
Then we want to retreat and call for reinforcements: call another addict. Simply the act of making the call will help. If there’s no answer, we leave a message and call someone else. Talking about the temptation always dampens the urge to use, and the phone is absolutely the best weapon against relapse.
We can have something to eat. Remember H.A.L.T.? We can review a list of reasons for not wanting to use, or accomplishments we’re making in recovery. Some folks like to wear a rubber band on their wrist, to “snap out the thoughts” when they feel tempted. Look at pictures of loved ones to build strength and hope. We can breathe, relax, meditate, read some program literature, distract ourselves with something that’s fun or interesting, listen to some music, write in our journal — anything but think about using.
Developing a Plan to Handle Cravings
Cravings are easier to handle if we have a plan. We can write down an action list to carry in our wallet or purse, keeping it with our list of program phone numbers so that we can use it to organize our thoughts when we need to.
Finally we can let it go: “Yes, I want to use but I don’t have to, and I choose not to. Now here’s what I’m going to do for myself instead….” Cravings are not a sign of relapse — unless we choose to dwell on and feed them. Relapse is a process, not an event that happens at a particular time. By choosing to do the “next right thing,” we can learn to put the discomfort behind us, and move on to a life of sobriety, recovery and happiness.