Living with a substance use disorder can feel like a battle between the cravings you experience and what you actually want from life. Often, our clients at SagePoint IOP worry about whether they will be able to withstand their cravings, even when they are motivated to pursue recovery. Although the desire to escape and use substances can feel incredibly intense, these feelings are something you can learn to handle.
Especially once you begin intensive outpatient treatment, it is helpful to understand the nature of cravings and some tools to combat them in your recovery journey. The more you know about yourself and where these feelings come from, the more you will be able to make a different choice.
Keep reading to learn ways that intensive outpatient treatment addresses cravings in recovery.
Cravings are Normal
A common misconception is that cravings will just' go away after a certain amount of time in sobriety. Unfortunately, even intensive outpatient treatment cannot make you devoid of cravings. However, your desire for your substance of choice will likely be less frequent and less intense over time.
Since cravings are such a normal part of life, how do we deal with this? Well, we cannot cut ourselves out of every possible activity that we desire. Instead, it is helpful to learn how to manage compulsive behavior resulting from cravings. Putting this skill in action can take some practice of building awareness of your impulses and healthy ways to work through them.
Riding the Wave of Cravings
It is helpful to visualize an oncoming craving as an ocean wave. Just like a wave, your desire for substances will build strength and come to a peak. The wave does not last forever, though; it will eventually come back down. Impulses are the same—they cannot hold their strength indefinitely. Instead, they fade and take up less space in our minds.
Cravings can be tricky. They are often accompanied by the false thought, “This feeling will never go away until I do X.” This train of thought gives you very little power in managing these feelings versus the alternative, “This feeling will pass in time.” Switching your focus to the latter is one of the most important ways you can steal your power back.
In addition to this, you can also shift the intensity of your craving by caring for your emotions. One study found that treatment centered on managing cravings and lessening negative moods resulted in less heavy drinking. It is essential to remember that how you interact with yourself can change your relationship with your cravings!
5 Ways to Help Cravings
Here are some tools you can use to address cravings as they come up:
Acceptance: Recognize that cravings are a part of everyday life, and we will always crave something in one form or another. Often these feelings become problematic when paired with the thought, “If I want it, I get it.” Learn to say ‘no’ to intense emotions and know you will still be okay. Accept that difficult feelings come up in life and know that these feelings are not forever.
Journal and Reflect: When you feel a craving, note your thoughts, emotions, and actions. What led you to this desire to escape? See if you can find a trigger. When you know what cued your craving, you may find other ways to care for yourself. For example, if being around other people who are drinking causes cravings, this may be a boundary to set with friends. Or, if it was a stressful day at work that led you to the bottle, are there other ways to de-stress?
Distract: Because cravings don’t last forever, finding a distraction can greatly help you ride the wave. Switching your focus allows another thought to take the front seat in your mind for a while. Some examples of distractions could be exercise, cleaning, doing something creative, reading, watching your favorite show, being in nature, or playing with a pet. Take the time to write out some distractions that work for you so that you can pick from the list.
Call Support: This can either be a trusted friend or someone in your recovery network. AA and NA also often have phone lists to call for support. Talking it out with a recovery network can help distract and remind you why you are on this journey. You can prepare your supporters ahead of time to know what you need to hear so they can help you best.
Intensive Outpatient Treatment: Tackling the cravings associated with substance use takes time, practice, and skills. Attending intensive outpatient treatment can help you learn what you need to address addictive thoughts and behaviors in a supportive environment. This treatment allows you to bring up trouble spots and explore ways to make managing cravings a part of your daily life.
SagePoint’s intensive outpatient treatment is dedicated to helping people understand their desire to escape difficult situations and learning ways to manage these feelings. Substance abuse doesn’t need to be something to go through alone. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please reach out today to learn more about our services.