How to Fight Addiction Urges

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For some, cravings can feel like one of the most challenging parts of recovery. Cravings are intense, seemingly irresistible urges for drugs or alcohol that seem to materialize from nowhere. Learning how to resist addiction urges is vital in recovery.

Although every individual will experience substance cravings in their own way, some common characteristics associated with cravings include:

  • Powerful desire – feeling that you absolutely “need” the substance and cannot go on without it
  • Agitation and restlessness – feeling unsettled and nervous, making it hard to focus on anything but substance use
  • Anxiety and irritability – feeling anxious, snappish, and frustrated for no reason
  • Physical sensations – physical feelings like chest tension, increased heart rate, sweating, and stomach tightening
  • Obsessive thoughts – unavoidable, intrusive thoughts that make it hard to think of anything else

Wondering what to do when craving alcohol? Desperate to know how to stop craving drugs? Looking for the secret in how to overcome urges and resist addiction? Join Avenues Recovery, leaders in addiction rehabilitation, as we share top tips on fighting addiction urges. 

Are Cravings Normal?

Some people feel that cravings are a sign that they’ve failed in their recovery. But it’s important to remember that cravings are a completely normal and expected part of every recovery process, and are not a sign that you’re doing anything wrong! Cravings are a natural reaction as your body adjusts to a complete lack of drugs/ alcohol after a period of continuous use.

Regardless of whether your sobriety date is last week or last year, if you’re in recovery, you’re very likely to experience a strong urge to use or drink at some point. Although strong cravings can potentially lead to relapse when handled properly, you will overcome those urges – and it will leave you stronger in the long run.

Let’s explore a few coping methods that will help us learn how to fight addiction urges.

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Ways of Coping With Cravings in Recovery

1. Accept It.

The first step to resisting addiction is accepting that cravings are an inevitable and completely normal occurrence in recovery – not a sign that you’ve done something wrong, or failed! Trying to squash or push away the urge will only make it stronger, so accept what you’re experiencing without guilt and seek a productive way to deal with it.

2. Use CBT Techniques.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) offers a variety of helpful techniques – such as redirection, visualization, and distraction – that can help you cope with cravings when they arise. These techniques let you redirect your attention, relax your body, and most importantly, identify flawed thought patterns that you might have (like “I’ll never make it through this” or “this craving will never subside unless I surrender to it”). CBT can help you view things more objectively, and stop catastrophizing your situation in your mind.

3. Distract Yourself.

It’s hard to remember in the heat of the moment, but cravings don’t last forever! They usually pass within 10 to 15 minutes, unless you sustain them by paying them continuous attention. So find a way to distract yourself until the urge passes – it could be by cooking or baking, watching a movie, reading, talking to friends, playing a video game, or going for a walk. Any healthy activity that requires a significant amount of your attention should work to resist addiction. Consciously trying not to think about something only makes you focus on it more, so do something to redirect your thoughts.

4. Exercise.

Exercising when you feel a craving coming on is a wonderful idea for many reasons. First of all, exercise is a great distraction (as mentioned before), especially when playing a team sport that involves social interaction. Secondly, exercise causes the body to release neurotransmitters like endorphins and serotonin [1], which play important roles in improving mood, regulating emotions, reducing anxiety, and strengthening willpower. It’s a win-win!

5. Practice Mindfulness and Meditation.

Practicing meditation and mindfulness techniques can reduce cravings as well. Instead of getting swept up into a whirlpool of emotions, stand back and examine your craving objectively.  What does the craving feel like physically? Where do you feel it most – your chest? Your stomach? Does the sensation move, or does it always stay in the same place? Focus on how you feel instead of trying to run away from it. Once the craving begins to release its hold, let it subside.

6. Surf the Urge.

Similar to mindfulness and meditation techniques is an approach known as “urge surfing”. Urge surfing incorporates many aspects of mindfulness and requires you to focus on and accept your craving rather than resist it. When you feel a craving coming, instead of running away or hyperventilating, stop and acknowledge it fully. Sit down, close your eyes, and focus on how each part of your body feels. Examine your thoughts. Speaking out what you are feeling can be helpful as well – like “Right now I feel like I very badly need to drink alcohol.” Or “My chest is tight, my palms feel very sweaty, and my heart is beating fast.” Accept and focus on your craving, and continue describing its sensations until the wave passes.

7. Walk Out.

If you’re practicing helpful techniques but your craving doesn’t seem to be dissipating, there may be something in your environment that is keeping it alive. Certain people and situations can serve as powerful triggers, making it difficult to resist addiction by re-awakening your old urge to drink or use. It could be a place that serves alcohol, passing the neighborhood of your old drug dealer, hanging with your old drinking/ using buddies, or even just being with someone who stresses you out. If the craving isn’t going away, try walking away. Simply changing your environment may be the key.

8. Know Your Triggers.

On a similar note, it’s critical to identify and know your triggers. This helps you to avoid challenging situations, or recognize them and be prepared to deal with the resulting cravings when they appear. Sit down and compile a list of people/ places/ things/ situations that trigger you, and consider which ones you can realistically avoid. Remember that some triggers will simply be unavoidable, so come up with a coping strategy in the event that you begin experiencing cravings. “Forewarned is forearmed” - awareness is half the battle!

9. Analyze Your Thoughts.

Somewhat like CBT, analyzing our thoughts and identifying cognitive distortions can make cravings much easier to deal with. Catastrophizing situations in our minds just adds stress, and amplifies ordinary cravings into something unmanageable. When an urge arises, instead of tensing up and thinking “Oh, help! A craving! I’ll never be able to hold out! I can’t do this anymore!”, accept it and pay attention to your thoughts. Remind yourself that cravings don’t last, and this one will be gone in a few minutes. Think rationally – what triggered this urge? Could it be something unrelated, like a work overload or a sticky situation with a friend? Refraining from blowing up cravings in your mind makes them a lot easier to deal with, and lets you effectively identify and address the trigger.

10. Reach Out.

Reaching out to your support system (think family, friends, therapist, sponsor, mentor, etc.) and talking about how you are feeling is another effective way to ride out an urge. Speaking about your struggles during a group meeting is a great idea as well – and a great place to gather practical tips and nuggets of wisdom. Human connection is a fundamental source of warmth and courage, and may very well give you the inner strength to keep up the fight. 

11. Practice Self – Care.

It’s always important to take care of yourself. But especially when in recovery, proper self-care – both in body and mind – is important for maintaining physical as well as emotional well-being. Proper self–care will not only reduce your urges to use drugs or alcohol but will equip you with the stamina to resist when addiction cravings strike. So when the cravings begin, eat a healthy meal, take a hot shower, nap for an hour, or go get a massage!

12. Think Long-Term.

When a craving feels absolutely irresistible, and you can already envision the gratification you’ll experience if you give in, force your mind to stop and “play the tape”.  Think beyond the initial satisfaction of that first drink/ drug use and vividly visualize what comes next – the hangover, the crash, feeling horrible about yourself, hurting your family and friends, destroying relationships, falling back into the abyss of addiction, and having to begin your recovery all over again… Remind yourself of what prompted you to become sober in the first place. Once you analyze the repercussions honestly, you’ll quickly realize that giving in is Just. Not. Worth. It.

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Cravings – the Growing Pains of Recovery

In conclusion, when learning how to deal with drug cravings, always remember that cravings are a normal and expected part of the recovery process – think of them as “growing pains”. They are never a sign of weakness, failure, or that you’re doing something wrong; they are only a sign that you’re beautifully human! As you learn to identify your triggers, avoid sticky situations, and develop coping mechanisms for fighting addiction urges when they strike, the battle will ease and your cravings will lessen. And you’ll only come out stronger in the end.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder or with strong substance cravings, know that hope, help, and healing are always available. Join the growing number of those learning how to fight addiction urges. Reach out to Avenues Recovery to speak with a friendly and knowledgeable treatment specialist who can explain your different options and answer any questions you may have. Begin your journey home today!

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