You’re trying to escape addiction.
That could be food, drugs, alcohol, gambling, smoking, or something else. One of the biggest challenges you’re dealing with, especially at the beginning of your recovery, are the urges to “feed” the addiction. You’re bound to have cravings. It happens to all recovering addicts, and it isn’t easy. But remember, while the urges can be intense, they diminish with time. Each minute you resist giving into the addiction, each time you decide not to use, the closer you get to long-term recovery.
Many people cope with their urges by gritting their teeth and “white-knuckling it,” but it doesn’t have to be done that way. You’ll find four urge-busting strategies below.
(Note: links lead to articles from Dr. Rosenthal’s other website.)
Method # 1. Get rid of those triggers.
Triggers jumpstart cravings. Some triggers are obvious, like watching people use drugs, having access to money, or seeing a beer commercial on TV. Others aren’t so obvious. Perhaps it’s something you’re hardly aware of, like a vague scent, song on the radio, or a stressful thought that inadvertently makes you want to relapse.
Whatever the case, identify the trigger and fix it. How? Here are some specific tips:
⇒ If possible, avoid triggers. Stay away from places that push you in the wrong direction. Stay clear of addiction-friendly people, or those who make you emotional and more likely to relapse.
⇒ If you know an upcoming event or encounter is a trigger for you, plan ahead to minimize relapse. How will you deal with the situation or person? Consider having a support person accompany you, planning an early get away, and preparing catch phrases to use when necessary, even something ludicrous: “No, my shrink said I’d become aggressive and hurt people if I keep using, and I don’t want to hurt you.”
⇒ Sometimes you’ll run across a trigger unexpectedly. If you find yourself in an unsettling place, leave. If it’s something on the TV, change the channel. If you can’t leave, reach out to a support person, distract, or run some sort of safety mantra in your head, like “this ain’t gonna happen” or “I’m a recovered alcoholic now.”
⇒ Guard your conversations. Sharing old drinking tales and other drug war-stories can quickly get you into trouble.
⇒ Guard your thoughts. Practice mindfulness and meditate to enhance control over your thinking and decrease sensitivity to problem cognitions. Learn to rewrite negative thoughts or change your perspective.
⇒ Are your cravings running you over like a herd of angry elephants? Take three breaths and move onto one of the strategies below.
Method #2. The pause and distract method.
The good news: cravings have a tendency to come and go. Distract yourself for a while, let the world turn just a bit, and the craving usually pass by on its own. Over time the urge to use becomes less frequent and less intense. It gets easier.
Let’s call this the “pause and distract method.”
(a) Set a timer for 60 minutes, and decide NOT to use for that hour.
(b) During that time, distract yourself. Do something that has nothing to do with the addiction. Not sure what to do? Here’s a list ideas.
- Go for a walk or jog
- Talk about movies, physics, the weather, etc. To yourself or others!
- Listen to music
- Listen to music and dance
- Call someone who’s clean and sober or who’s never used
- Chew on a toothpick or gum
- Take a bath or shower
- Watch a movie
- Go to a café or bookstore
- Write a letter or email
- Burn candles and incense
- Write in a journal
- Knit or crochet
- Color in a coloring book
- Play with a pet
- Do puzzles
- Do origami
- Surf on the net (about non-addict related topics)
- Exercise or work-out
- Write a blog
(c) After one hour, the craving might have resolved. If not, set the timer for another hour and distract again.
(d) As possible, slowly increase the time interval and work towards 24 hour increments.
Method #3. The “good things about not using” method
Next time you have cravings, remind yourself why you quit. Read the following questions and jot down your answers.
- What are the bad things about using or drinking?
- How would you feel if you gave in?
- What are the consequences of relapse?
- What are the good things about quitting?
- How does staying clean and sober get you closer to your dreams?
If you can’t come up with answers, think about what you’d tell a friend dealing with the same issue. Still can’t think of anything? No worries. Here’s a list of common answers below.
“What are the bad things about using or drinking? What would you feel if you gave in? What are the consequences of relapse?”
- “I could end up in jail again.”
- “I could get medically sick. It could make my liver disease worse.”
- “Drugs make me do criminal things I regret.”
- “My addiction puts me in dangerous situations (violence, rape)”
- “I get suicidal or homicidal when using or drinking. I could die or hurt someone.”
- “I do shameful things when high or drunk.”
- “Drugs alienate and hurt everyone I care about”
- “I start using too much then get sick when I try to stop.”
- “I’d lose my job again, and my health insurance.”
- “I don’t want my kids to use drugs or drink like me.”
“What are the good things about quitting? How does staying clean get you closer to your dreams?”
- “I can do amazing things if I stay quit.”
- “My bipolar disorder will be more stable.”
- “The court will look on my sobriety favorably and be less punitive in the outcome.”
- “I won’t violate my probation.”
- “I’m a better partner when I’m clean and sober.”
- “If I stop using, I’m less likely to lose custody of my kids.”
- “I’m able to hold down a job.”
- “My parents are willing to have a relationship with me if I don’t use.”
- “If I stay off drugs, I can go back to school and have a chance at getting a career.”
Method 4. The “Accept” Method.
Also called urge surfing, the “Accept Method” involves staying with your craving until it passes.
According to the theory of “urge surfing,” you can overpower your opponent by going with the force of the attack. You reduce the intensity of the craving by becoming “one” with it.
(a) Notice when the urge arises
(b) As it kicks in, relax your shoulders and examine the experience objectively, without judgment or opinion.
(c) Take mental notes of each sensation as it arises. Where do you feel the urge? Take note of bodily sensations, like burning, sweats, chills, pain, or dizziness. What kinds of thoughts are you having? How do you feel? For example:
- “The craving is in my chest and belly, my mouth is really dry, and I feel lightheaded”
- “There it is again, I’m thinking about using. The thought isn’t as urgent as it was before.”
- “There’s joy in the anticipation but frustration that I have to feel this way.”
Acknowledge these experiences objectively, without judgment, and each time a sensation surfaces, say to yourself “there’s a sensation;” then relax your shoulders and let it slip away.
As you do this exercise, notice how the urge comes and goes. Over time your relationship with the urge changes. You gain power. It ceases to be threatening and slowly goes away.
That’s four urge-busting maneuvers to get you through the day. Next time you have a difficult craving moment, keep this post in mind.