Ask the Experts: How to Stop Cravings

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By Edward Martinez

Throughout my time working at Mountainside, the most frequent question I hear prior to someone leaving residential is, “how can I deal with drug cravings in recovery?” Before we jump into ways to cope with cravings let’s define what cravings are. Cravings are an intense desire to use your primary substance of choice.

When cravings occur, there are usually a variety of different triggers that are behind these urges. It may be an environmental trigger, such as a place you used to hang out with your old friends. Other times, it may be an emotional or mental trigger that could lead to cravings, like dealing with a stressful or overwhelming experience.

Especially during early recovery, we could experience fleeting feelings of cravings. These can last for about 15 minutes and the more time that we try to combat and challenge the thoughts associated with cravings, the frequency of these urges will only increase. I see it as putting out an oil fire. If we try putting that fire out with water (which we feel is instinctually the right thing to do), it will only enhance the fire and worsen the situation.

The more we avoid those thoughts and feelings by telling ourselves, “Don’t think about it. I have worked so hard. I can’t feel these feelings,” the more those cravings amplify. So what should we do?

First, it is important to remember that the cravings that you are feeling are okay and are completely natural to the process of recovery. Next, make sure you are in a safe environment, a place where we can really give ourselves the ability to check-in. Ask yourself where the cravings are coming from and why. In the recovery field, we like to call this “ride the wave.”

Riding the craving wave gives us the opportunity to visualize that we are on a wave crashing into the ocean. Although these waves seem large and unmanageable, they will indeed pass. You can also use this check-in time to ground yourself and think about the mantra of “Just like a wave, this craving will settle and will pass.” You can also practice box breathing (4 seconds inhale, 4 second hold, 4 second exhale) and, most importantly, treat yourself with compassion. Continue to repeat this exercise 4 times.

Lastly, it’s crucial to create and have a support network through AA/NA/Refuge Recovery/Dharma/ SMART Recovery as well as utilizing and implementing a recovery coach. Being able to speak with someone who may have experienced something such as cravings can go a long way in knowing you aren’t alone.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
Click here or call (888) 833-4676 to speak with one of our addiction treatment experts.