5 Ways to Cope with Cravings

originally published on recovery.org

Every alcoholic and addict experiences cravings sometimes, no matter how long we’ve been sober. Just this evening, a friend asked me if I ever still crave alcohol. He seemed shocked when I said that yes, sometimes I do. I’m an alcoholic. It’s only natural that I would crave the substance I was addicted to for years.

Sometimes the trigger is obvious (holidays, family, parties or family holiday parties) and other times it sneaks up, seemingly out of nowhere, during the calm of the New Year. What should you do when that happens? First of all, remember it’s just a feeling. You don’t have to drink or use just because you want to. And in my experience, the frequency and intensity of these cravings have lessened with time.

The bottom line is this: Cravings do pass. But when you’re in the midst of it, it’s important to have some solutions at hand. Here are a few tricks that help guide me through occasional rocky moments:

1. Don’t Panic

This is easier said than done but its importance can’t be understated. After feeling satiated for a period of time, the sudden appearance of a craving can be deeply unnerving. But just because you want to drink or use doesn’t mean that you’re on your way to a relapse. Relax. Meditate, if possible. Pray, if you’re into that. Or just take a deep breath and remind yourself that the craving will pass, as all cravings ultimately do.

2. Reach Out

When a craving feels painful and immobilizing, I find it helps immensely to talk to someone who knows what it feels like…

For me and many others, having a network of recovering alcoholics and addicts is crucial to maintaining sobriety. Cravings come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are a slight annoyance, like having a pebble in your shoe. Other times, it’s more like being hit by a boulder. When a craving feels painful and immobilizing, I find it helps immensely to talk to someone who knows what it feels like and has experience wriggling out from underneath that boulder.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to other people in recovery, even if you don’t know them well. Your sobriety is worth it. If 12-step meetings are a part of your recovery, make your way to one. Craving drugs or alcohol is something all addicts have in common. Share about it. There is comfort in being listened to and understood.

3. Take a Hike

Get moving! Whether you’re speed-walking through the city or traversing a mountain, a healthy dose of endorphins can alleviate the jitters that often come along with a craving. There’s nothing like exercise to reset your body’s chemistry and boost your mood. Studies have long highlighted the depression- and anxiety-relieving effects of exercise. In the case of a craving, it’s actually not bad advice to “walk it off.”

4. Go to the Movies

Settling down with a book or with your Netflix queue of favorite shows might be pleasantly distracting, but why not treat yourself to a movie at the theater? Being around people can distract you from your destructive thoughts. And buying a ticket shows commitment: I’m going to see this movie. I’m not going to drink.

There’s nothing wrong with using a pair of 3-D glasses to escape your head by entering a world in which a mutated alien-human species fights for domination over robotic sea-creatures (or whatever genre you’re into). By the time the credits roll, you’ll be so relieved that there’s no such thing as a Cycloptopus, you probably won’t be thinking about drugs or alcohol anymore.

5. Make a Gratitude List

In early sobriety, whenever someone told me to make a gratitude list, I wanted to shove a pen in my eye.

In early sobriety, whenever someone told me to make a gratitude list, I wanted to shove a pen in my eye. How cheesy can you get? But I did it anyways, because I was desperate and I really, really didn’t want to drink. And I can’t argue with the results. Taking the time to reflect on how lucky I am, and how many blessings have come into my life since getting sober, never fails to squash the desire for a drink. On the list are people I love, whom I don’t want to hurt and things (like my job) that I would certainly lose were I to pick up a drink.

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