Cravings don’t cause relapse. If cravings were all it took for recovering alcoholics/addicts to relapse, no one would ever acquire any long term sobriety. Cravings are however, a common and typical experience in the recovery process. In an addiction context, a “craving” or an “urge” is a strong yearning for something to alter one’s mood. Although cravings are very common in the early days of abstinence and are usually experienced more intensively and frequently during the detox process, they can persist over the long haul, or stop then return periodically. Cravings can involve physical and psychological/emotional symptoms.
Physical symptoms, like “shakes”, racing heart, rapid breathing, might be accompanied by obsessive thoughts about needing the chemical to not feel the physical symptoms. Defense mechanisms serve the purpose of making it “ok” in the newly recovering addict’s mind to use. “Denial”, an example of a defense mechanism, is seen as an integral part of addiction and serves the purpose of distorting reality to the addict so that s/he can continue to use in the comfort of not fully recognizing the extent of their problem.
Common examples of defense mechanisms (including denial), paired up with ambivalent feelings about quitting could sound something like these examples: “I don’t have to do this; I can quit tomorrow”, “I’ll just drink/use a little and not get drunk/loaded”, “It’s nobody’s business but my own”, “I don’t really have a problem”, “Just a little to take the edge off”, or, “Nobody will know”. Obsessive thoughts about the chemical, along with psychological defense mechanisms and ambivalence about quitting could be a deadly combination.
Perceptual and psychological cues can trigger cravings. Perceptual cues could involve intentionally or unintentionally being around old using friends, places, or things. They could involve smells or music that has been associated with your using. Cravings could be cued by accidentally finding a long lost stash in a pocket of an old housecoat.
Psychological cues generally involve uncomfortable emotional states. Cues that could trigger cravings might involve feeling angry and frustrated and remembering that you used to use alcohol and/or other drugs (AOD) to chill out. Psychological cues could involve being restless, bored, and lonely, and remembering that drinking at the bar seemed to fix that-at least temporarily.
Cravings don’t cause relapse. You can have cravings and still not use. Cravings are not intolerable. Cravings don’t last forever. If you don’t use, they will go away. Cravings usually hit their peak after a few minutes then begin to subside and go away. Cravings are usually pretty strong in early abstinence, but as you practice using abstinence skills in fighting the cravings, they continue to decrease in intensity and frequency. If you act on them by using, you keep putting yourself back in the early abstinence stage, where cravings are most frequent and most intense.
There are several important reasons to develop your conscious awareness of triggers for cravings. If you are aware of your own particular cues, you can minimize the probability that you will experience cravings, by avoiding those cues (e.g., bars, drinking/using friends, drug houses). When you cannot avoid cues, you can practice new skills for dealing with those cues, like stress management for anxiety, or assertiveness for relationship conflicts. Awareness of your cravings and the cues that may set them up can help you develop the skills you need to meet life’s daily challenges. Accomplish this, and you will reduce the probability that you will experience cravings after initial detox. If you do have cravings, they can be successfully handled if you can break them down into small manageable pieces.
To successfully manage cravings, you must deal with each craving as it occurs, doing whatever is necessary to keep from acting on this urge to drink/use. Do that one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, one craving at a time. Make yourself a list of craving management tools and keep it close by.
Although cravings, defense mechanisms, and ambivalence, can be a deadly combination, especially in early recovery, relapse is preventable. Most recovering persons have ambivalence about abstinence in early recovery. Ambivalence and defenses, unfortunately, can last well into established recovery. Even the combination of cravings, defenses, and ambivalence does not have to lead to relapse.
Wanting to stay clean and sober is necessary but insufficient to prevent relapse. Learn and practice the skills you need to accomplish your recovery goals.
Source by Peggy Ferguson