We’ve all experienced cravings for one thing or another—a cup of coffee, a piece of chocolate, even a cigarette.
With these substances, our bodies go through physiological changes when we regularly consume them. Each prompts a chemical reaction in the brain: take it away, and our systems begin to wonder where it went. Caffeine is common in coffee and chocolate, and withdrawal from it after frequent use may include headaches, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating, so we seek out products with a little caffeine to ease symptoms. Nicotine and other additives in cigarettes make quitting complicated, because our systems are laced with these chemicals.
Cravings for drugs and alcohol are greatly magnified. The intensity of brain and body dependence on illicit substances is why many people must go through a medical detox at the beginning of rehabilitation treatment. This process often helps someone recover from the physiological effects of addiction.
However, changing behavior for good can be a little more complicated. At any stage during recovery, it’s common for someone to endure cravings for drugs or alcohol, or re-experience the threat of compulsory attachments regarding shopping, online pornography, gambling, and other non-consumable addictive behaviors. To stay on the right track, you must learn to acknowledge and process cravings without succumbing to them.
Stay on Course with a Healthy Diet
Good nutrition is the bedrock of sobriety. Beneficial minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants found in whole foods feed your body and keep it running smoothly. You’ll also think more clearly, feel healthier, and maintain a more positive outlook. These factors help you recognize when a craving suddenly appears, and why. Then you can use other coping techniques to move through it.
Make sure to “eat the rainbow”: plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables each day. Also include lean protein options, complex carbohydrates like brown rice, healthy fats such as olive oil and avocado, and plenty of water. Make a dietary plan so you can map out what your meals will be each day.
Also make a deliberate choice to reduce your intake of sugar and caffeine. Some studies report that excessive sugar is as addictive as cocaine. And as we pointed out above, caffeine, a known stimulant, becomes another substance your mind and body rely on to function.
Step Up Your Exercise
Preliminary research indicates exercise decreases the risk for cravings and relapse. You don’t need to be an Ironman triathlete to reap the benefits of regular movement. A 10-minute walk three times a day—especially if you step outside when a craving creeps up out of nowhere—may be all you need to maintain good health.
If you choose to be a little more physically engaged, activities such as biking, running, lifting weights, and practicing yoga can help you experience a natural high. This is a result of a boost of endorphins—neurotransmitters that help reduce stress and pain. If something triggers your stress response and this prompts a craving, it might be helpful to take a brisk walk or choose one of the other more uplifting exercise options to alleviate it.
Acknowledging the present moment through mindfulness can help you resist cravings. Too often, anxiety and stress threaten sobriety. In these instances, it’s easy to believe you don’t have any other ways of coping without reverting to substance use. However, a non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment coupled with slow, easy breaths may be all you need to let the feeling pass.
By practicing mindfulness, you become more secure as you realize that uncomfortable emotions are only temporary. You can use this single moment to make a different choice: one that allows you to accept the craving exists, then watch it float away as you remain unaffected by it.
Reach Out to Your Support Network
The average craving lasts less than 30 minutes. Yes, it may feel all-consuming at first, but at the start of it, you have time to make a phone call to a friend, family member, sponsor, or if more severe, your counselor. Your support network is an essential component for long-term sobriety. You know there are people looking out for your best interests, so if you have to make a call to someone, they’re ready to help.
This phone call serves not only as a distraction, but also a vital connection. The other individual may be the one who tells you bad jokes, prompting a positive shift in your mood that helps the craving pass. This person may pray with you, or quote affirmations you find helpful for maintaining a sober path. A member of your support team may be the one who reminds you of all you’ve accomplished, and the reasons why caving to the craving would diminish your hard work.
If you feel your cravings are happening with greater frequency, attending some type of group meeting, such as a 12-Step or online recovery program, might help. Or maybe you need to schedule an extra visit or two with your inpatient treatment recovery counselor and review your continuum of care plan to make adjustments.
There’s no need to feel ashamed about having cravings. They happen, and often more so in the early stages of recovery. Recognizing your plan for sobriety must include strong relapse prevention techniques will help you persevere.
Turn to Willingway for Additional Assistance
From continuing care community groups to resources such as The Recovery Book by Al J. Mooney, the son of Willingway’s founders, our treatment center offers numerous options to help you maintain your chosen life of sobriety.