When you’re recovering from a drug addiction, one of the most challenging aspects of life after rehab is learning how to combat addiction triggers and cravings. At Alpine Recovery Lodge, we work with our patients to give them the tools they need to do that.
Every recovering addict is unique, but they all share similar struggles. The key to long-term recovery and sobriety is not trying to avoid all potential triggers. That would be impossible. Some triggers – such as locational triggers and contact with drug-using associates – certainly should be avoided. However, a better course of action is to have tools in your arsenal to help you overcome triggers and cravings as they arise.
Method #1: Practice Mindfulness
is the practice of learning how to keep your thoughts in the present moment. More specifically, it involves training your brain to involve two things that can be triggering.
- Regret about past behavior; and
- Worry about the future
Once you learn to pay attention to your brain’s activities, you may be surprised to notice how often you do these two things. It’s very common for us to get off track and lose sight of where we are and what we’re doing.
A simple technique to use to ground yourself in the present moment and stop worrying is mindful breathing. Here are two things to try.
- First, do what’s called the box breath; this is a simple mindful breathing technique that requires you to focus on your breathing. To do it, empty your lungs by exhaling through your mouth. Then breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, exhale through your mouth for a count of four, and hold your breath for a final count of four.
- Second, in moments of extreme stress and anxiety, try the 4-7-8 breath. Begin by exhaling noisily through your mouth. Then, breathe in through your nose to a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven, and end by exhaling through your mouth to a count of eight; this is a profoundly relaxing breathing technique that can help alleviate anxiety.
Method #2: Avoid Panic
For many addicts, triggers and cravings can make them feel panicked and helpless. For that reason, it’s important to learn methods to help you get a wave of panic under control if you feel one.
The mindful breathing techniques outlined above can be very helpful, but there’s another method to try too. This one comes from book Self-Compassion.
If you feel a sense of panic, make your right hand into a fist. Place it firmly over your heart, and then use your left hand to hold it there, applying gentle but consistent pressure.
This technique is very calming. The sense of pressure against your chest helps you be aware of your body and your heart, and in some cases, it may even be enough to bring you out of a panic attack. Hold your fist there as long as you like, and do your best to breathe evenly.
Method #3: Get Moving
When a drug craving strikes, one of the worst things you can do is to dwell on it. If all you think about is the craving itself, it may be virtually impossible to ignore the desire to satisfy it. For that reason, sitting alone with your thoughts isn’t the best idea. Instead, get up and get moving. You don’t have to hit the gym – although you can if you want. The main objective here is to get your body moving and your blood flowing.
The easiest way to accomplish those things is to go for a walk. Walking is great exercise, and it’s also naturally meditative. As you walk, pay attention to the way your feet feel when they strike the pavement or grass. Look around and notice your surroundings. What do you hear, see, smell, and feel?
As well as providing a distraction from the craving you’re experiencing, exercise also releases feel-good hormones called endorphins. Their presence in your body can help curb the craving and make you feel optimistic.
Method #4: Plan Ahead
Some triggers and cravings strike without warning. However, sometimes you go into a situation knowing that the potential to be triggered is there. When that happens, a little bit of planning can help you get through it.
For example, say a family member invites you to a wedding where they will serve alcohol. That’s a dangerous situation for any alcoholic, but there are some things you can do to keep your cravings under control.
One thing to do is to enlist the help of a buddy – a date or a family member who promises to be there for you and help you if you need it.
Another option is to attend the event armed with a recipe for a non-alcoholic drink that you really love. You can go to the bartender, explain your situation, and share the recipe if it’s not a drink they’re familiar with. That way, you’ll have something delicious to drink, and you won’t have to worry about making those decisions on the spot.
Method #5: Ask Questions
One of the trickiest things about being in recovery is learning how to control your self-talk – the things you say to yourself in your thoughts. We all have an inner critic, and in times of weakness, we’re very susceptible to that critic’s voice.
If you want to fight back against the desire to give into cravings, try asking yourself a question about it. You might really want a drink or a pill, but if you frame your question the right way you can put that decision in perspective. For example:
- Do I really want to wake up hung over and angry at myself?
- Do I want to break the promises I made to myself?
- Is it worth trading the progress I’ve made for one night of drinking?
Pick a question that resonates with you and have it on hand so you can ask it if you need to.
Method #6: Create a Response to the Trigger
It’s very common for people who quit smoking to suck on hard candy or chew gum to give them something to do with their mouths. You can use the same technique to overcome triggers associated with addiction.
Do you feel a craving to use drugs because you’re lonely or sad? Go see a comedy or watch one on Netflix to lift your spirits.
Do you want a drink because you’re out with friends and you’re used to drinking with them? Try getting up and dancing or playing darts instead.
Are you bored? Call a friend, go out for a walk, wander through your local bookstore, or take up a new hobby to fill the time.
You get the idea. If you know that certain things trigger you, you can train yourself to respond with an alternative to relapsing. Over time, you’ll get used to these new activities, and they’ll be second nature to you.
It’s not possible to avoid everything that might trigger you or make you crave drugs or alcohol, but that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to a relapse. The six methods described here can help you learn to cope with them and develop healthy alternatives.
To learn more about how our programs help addicts learn to resist relapses, click here.