What should you do when you experience a craving?

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What is a craving?

When you quit an addictive substance or behaviour, you will likely experience cravings: a hunger, urge, or a strong desire for the substance or behaviour. Physical sensations and strong emotions are experienced during a craving. They are often accompanied by compulsive thoughts. It may differ from person to person whether your craving is mainly a physical experience (saliva production in the mouth or a dry feeling in your throat) or emotional experience (irritation, restlessness or sadness). You may also have compulsive thoughts such as “shall I just use one?”, “I’ll quit tomorrow instead” or “I deserve it”. The strength of a craving can vary greatly and can fluctuate throughout the day.

How can you cope with cravings?

There are several ways to cope with cravings:

1. Don’t fight the craving

Acknowledge that you are experiencing a craving and do not fight it. Resistance will only increase your craving. It is very normal to have cravings. Be aware that you are currently experiencing certain physical sensations or have (compulsive) thoughts and pause for a moment. You will notice that the intensity of the craving will decrease as soon as you tolerate it.

2. Remember: you are not your thoughts

Thoughts automatically appear and go away on their own. Compulsive thoughts are (unconsciously) stored in your brain and, therefore, can arise during different situations. They are often linked to certain patterns that you have built up throughout your lifetime. You can’t do anything about them, they often present themselves automatically and it makes no sense to be angry with yourself. You are not your thoughts. This also applies to the emotions and feelings you experience during a craving. They are a part of your life and you can determine how you will cope with them.

3. Meditate

Meditation can help you cope with cravings. There are various apps and YouTube videos that can help you meditate. Do you still experience a craving after doing an exercise? Then do another meditation.

4. Play out the situation in your head

Imagine you are struggling with the thought ‘’I can have just one glass of wine”. Think about how this situation played out in the past. You open a bottle of wine, you drink a glass and think “now I’ve relapsed anyway”, which causes you to drink another glass. The bottle is empty within an hour. You sleep badly and the next day you wake up with a hangover and feelings of guilt. Do you want to prevent this from happening?

As soon as the thought “’I can have just one glass of wine” occurs, play out the situation in your head but do it differently; think back to a moment when you experienced a craving but didn’t give in to it. Reflect on that moment and remember how the craving decreased again. How did you interpret that moment? How did you feel the next day? Think about why you are motivated to live a life in recovery.

5. Reflect on your desire

If you have a craving for chocolate, a drug, or certain unhealthy behaviour, you probably feel a longing for happiness, satisfaction, or peace. Your addiction probably had a positive intention in the past: it gave you a positive feeling. Therefore, it’s not surprising that you regularly experience cravings. At such a moment, ask yourself what you desire and focus on that instead. Then you can start to really understand what you are looking for instead of relapsing.

6. Fulfill your needs

Do you know what you desire? Then fulfil this desire. Only this time, not with unhealthy and damaging behaviour like you did before. This time, teach yourself, with love, compassion, and patience, to adopt alternative healthy behaviour. It is important to map out what behaviour is desirable at the beginning of your recovery process. For example, taking a walk around the block, calling a good friend, eating something nutritious or taking a shower. This allows you to break the patterns you are stuck in and teach yourself to deal with your needs differently.

7. You don’t have to do it alone

Remember: ask for support from those close to you during difficult moments. Find a friend or family member during a difficult period. You can also call someone or send a message. Find out in advance if there are self-help groups in your area and visit them during moments that you experience a craving. If you are brave enough to share the difficult moments with others, you will feel more connected with them. Your chance of relapse is reduced as you step out of isolation, which has likely been a big part of your addiction.

8. Learn to tolerate

As annoying as a craving is, you know it will pass eventually. This also applies to thoughts and emotions. You have no influence on them and the more you struggle with them, the bigger they will get. Remind yourself that it is a matter of tolerance. Accept that it is part of a life in recovery, and that, in time, you will be able to manage your cravings in a better way. Push yourself to deal with the craving in a different way this time, so that you can break your addiction patterns.

Be patient with yourself and give yourself the time and space to learn how to deal with cravings differently. This process involves trial and error. Stay in touch with your professional and those close to you to find out what helps you during difficult moments.

 

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