5 Strategies for Managing Cravings in Recovery

Cravings are a totally normal part of recovery, but they can also be extremely difficult to manage – especially in early recovery. Cravings are intense urges to use drugs or alcohol that can creep up out of nowhere. Learning how to manage cravings will help prevent relapse and strengthen your on-going recovery with out 5 strategies for managing cravings in recovery. Here are a few strategies for dealing with cravings when they arise:

1. Accept it

The first of our 5 strategies for managing cravings in recovery is when a craving first hits, it’s important to remind yourself that experiencing cravings is a completely normal part of recovery. The probability is high that just about everyone in recovery has experienced a craving at some point in time. This means that cravings aren’t an indication that your recovery is weak, you’ve failed, or that you’re going to relapse. When a craving does arise, it’s important that you remember that it will pass. The discomfort of a craving is temporary and will be gone relatively quickly if you allow it to run its course without picking up a substance. Avoid any attempts to force yourself to stop thinking about the craving or shaming yourself for having a craving. This will only cause you to have greater focus on the craving and keep it from passing. Also, just because you have a craving does not mean you have to act on it.

2. Practice Mindfulness

Cravings will naturally lessen and eventually disappear if you do not engage the thoughts or act on the impulse.  One way to mentally disengage from the craving is to practice mindfulness. This can be as simple as fully focusing on the present moment and mindfully examining your thoughts and feelings in the moment. Some other simple mindfulness practices to try when a craving comes up are journaling, mediation, or taking a walk.

3. Find a Distraction

Generally, cravings don’t last longer than 10 to 15 minutes unless you make the decision to keep them alive longer.  Instead of ruminating on the craving, find a productive way to distract yourself.  Find an activity that will help absorb most of your attention.  Reach out to your recovery supports, exercise, read a boot, or play a video game to shift your focus.  If you feel like the craving is lasting longer than 10 to 15 minutes, there is a good chance something in your environment may be contributing to it.  If that’s the case, you may want to leave the situation or switch up your environment. 

4. Examine your Thoughts

Our thoughts can make cravings more intense than they need to be. They also have the power to cause the cravings to last longer or result in a preventable relapse. When a craving comes up, people generally react by either giving in to it or by trying to push it away.  The responses typically add to the stress and make the craving more powerful.  Instead, accept the thought, remind yourself that it will pass if you allow it, and let it go when it starts to ease.  Just like any other thought you have throughout the day, you can choose whether or not to pay attention to it.  You may also like to try disputing your thoughts surrounding the craving by reminding yourself of other times you’ve gotten through discomfort without picking up a substance.

5. Play the Tape Through

Another one of our 5 strategies for managing cravings in recovery is to combat a craving is to play the tape through.  Sometimes, when we’re in the midst of a craving, our brain can tell us all kinds of lies about your substance use. You may start to remember all the ‘good times’ or thinking things like “I can probably just use once.”  Counteract the craving by playing the tape all the way through.  Take a moment to envision your situation beyond the initial satisfaction of using a substance.  What comes next?  You’ll most likely feeling disappointed in yourself, letting your family down, and having to start over in recovery.  Ask yourself if it’s worth it.  The answer is no. Remind yourself why you began your recovery journey in the first place and of how far you’ve already come.

If you or someone you love are struggling with a substance use disorder, help is available. Greenbriar Treatment Center offers a full continuum of care to help you achieve your recovery goals. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation.