“Cravings and urges only last a few minutes. If you can distract those, chances are you will get past it.” – Susan Gibbons
One of the most nerve-wracking and dismaying issues the newly-sober individual has to face is how to deal with cravings and urges to use. Having gotten clean and sober – quite the difficult experience itself – we want everything to be smooth sailing from here on out. Unfortunately, recovery doesn’t work that way.
While we may not have too much trouble fending off these nagging and insistent (and wholly unwanted) urges to go back to our drug of choice, sometimes we just can’t help what our mind and body are telling us – and in no uncertain terms.
The good news, however – and this is important – is that cravings and urges don’t last forever. They’re also time-limited, meaning that they usually dissipate within about 15 to 20 minutes. The key is to employ some sort of effective coping behavior during that time period. What specific behavior that is will vary from person to person and from one experience to another. Putting it a slightly different way, what works on certain occasions may not always work the same way, or work at all. That’s why it’s important to keep a number of coping strategies at the ready.
What are some of the common and rather effective ways to get past cravings and urges? Here are a few:
- Get busy doing something that completely occupies your mind. Whether this is counting, doing the budget, searching for solutions to problems, writing, composing, or some other complex mental exercise, when you focus on a mental activity, you’re distracting yourself from thinking about and possibly giving into cravings and urges.
- Perform a physical action that requires concentration. Since distraction is the name of the game in countering cravings and urges, when you engage in physical activity that requires concentration, you’re putting your attention squarely where it matters: on the task at hand. This will likely prove effective to allow you to get past the quarter hour or so that such urges generally last.
- Expect cravings and urges to occur and be prepared to deal with them. Instead of wishing and hoping for the best, have a plan in place and a number of different coping mechanisms that you can use when the cravings and urges suddenly rear their ugly head. Knowing that you have techniques you can employ will take the sting out of the experience and allow you to be more proactive in your approach.
- Recognize the peak and ebb – it helps you get through. Since cravings may come on with a vengeance and then reach a peak before gradually dissipating, knowing this is how they operate will help you better weather the incident.
- Talk about what’s going on with your sponsor or trusted ally. Another method that may very well work is talking about your cravings and urges with someone whose opinion and advice you trust. This may be your 12-step sponsor, therapist or counselor, loved one or family member or close friend who supports your recovery efforts.
- Understand that this is a normal part of the healing process. It’s nothing to feel bad about. You’re not a failure and you didn’t do anything to prompt the cravings and urges to appear. Recognize that these cravings and urges, while unpleasant disruptions, will likely fade over time, although they may resurface at some future point. Just be diligent and always have your coping mechanisms firmly in place to use at a moment’s notice.