Today's post is by Bill Weiss, owner of UnitingRecovery.com — a website and blog that sheds light on drug and alcohol addiction, where people are offered the resources to learn more about the disease of addiction. Bill is personally in recovery and has multiple family members who were affected, which is why he takes such an interest in this. He's an advocate of long-term sobriety, and as a member of the recovery community, feels it is important to spread awareness of alcohol and drug misuse in America. Being personally affected and having family members struggling, it is a personal quest of his to get the facts about substance misuse to light, ultimately enlightening America on this epidemic.
Anyone who has struggled with addiction knows that cravings are a real challenge to overcome. Even though we rationally know that drinking and using have caused upheaval and harm in our lives, we can still be physiologically and psychologically drawn to those same harmful substances, try as we might to have strong willpower. It's the nature of addiction and the wiring of the human brain! So, how is one supposed to manage the cravings? With determination and some healthy habits. Here are 8 ways to effectively deal with your cravings each day:
1 | Exercise
Exercise makes you fit and improves your heart health, but it does a lot more than that. Studies show that exercise changes your brain in such powerful ways that it is comparable to some prescription anti-depressant drugs. Most people know that exercise releases endorphins, but it also stimulates dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine production. Each of these neurotransmitters plays a critical role in mood regulation. When coming off of an addiction your brain is a bit sluggish in producing a healthy amount of neurotransmitters. Exercise gives you a little boost. Check out this post about how to make exercise a consistent part of your self-care routine.
2 | Social Support
Doing anything challenging on your own can be — well — challenging! Having social support throughout any of life’s major endeavors makes it a whole lot easier to handle. Surround yourself with a good support network. Choose people that can help you in areas where you are weak. Positive and loving friends and family are great for keeping you engaged in healthy activities, helping you avoid unhealthy habits/environments and for injecting laughter and comfort into your life. Surround yourself with healthy people can show you what a sober life looks like. Coworkers, neighbors, and even new friends can help you build a social network beyond the addiction. Best of all, though, is having support within the recovery community. It is incredibly valuable to have people at your side who know what addiction and recovery are like. Surround yourself and utilize these relationships like your own personal body armour against addiction. For tips about how to make new friends as an adult, see this post.
3 | Meditation
Many recovery programs are heavy on religion — some recovery centers even argue that spirituality is a key component to recovery. Having a connection to a higher power can allow one to place a lot of the heavy stuff onto another Being, as opposed to feeling like you're carrying the world on your shoulders. It also provides insight into yourself as you work to connect with your own God (Spirit/Source/Universe, what have you.) In many ways, a spiritual practice can help you rebuild yourself after being broken down by addiction.
But if spirituality isn’t your thing, then what should you do? Meditate. Meditation is not just the stuff of hippies anymore. In fact, meditation has thousands of studies behind it, proving its efficacy in a wide range of things from reducing depression, to increasing happiness, and even to increasing concentration and memory. Meditation does this by building neural pathways in the brain that help improve all of these areas of the brain. Not only does it improves these positive areas of the brain, but it also reduces impulsivity and ‘monkey brain’. In a way, meditation provides an all natural antidote to addiction. For a round-up of the best free online meditation resources, read this post.
4 | New Routine
Cravings seem to sneak up when you’re astutely aware of your sobriety. If in your addiction, every morning you popped a pill at the kitchen counter, you’re might feel the absence in your morning routine when you stop. The same goes for every other time you would normally use but now you’re not. Instead of struggling through these individual battles all throughout the day, create a new routine. Mix up your habits and daily schedule so that you can create new memories in your brain. It doesn’t have to be too drastic, but small changes can be very effective.
5 | Anticipate Temptation
You know that hanging out with your friend that you used to use with is a trigger, so you will likely avoid it, right? Of course! It’s not always that obvious, though. Temptation lurks in virtually anything about your day that reminds you of your addiction or stresses you to the maddening point of desire. Staying sober around the holidays, for example, may be a difficult task. That doesn’t mean that you need to avoid all of these things forever, though. Instead, just be aware of them and prepare yourself so that you can remain sober. For more information about reducing stress around the holidays, check out this post.
6 | Start a New Hobby
Keeping yourself engaged in healthy activities is the simplest yet most powerful trick to beating a craving. Many people recovering from addiction aren’t quite sure how to keep themselves engaged, though, since all their spare time in the past was consumed by their addiction. Starting a new hobby can help address this sudden boost in free time. Running clubs, art classes, yoga studios, or cooking are all great, healthy hobbies to add to your new life. For more ideas, read this post about outings that don't involve drinking.
7 | Keep a Journal
Journaling is a powerful way to process emotions as they emerge. There are dozens of studies that show journaling as an effective tool when treating mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Your recovery process can often times feel a bit depressive and anxiety-provoking, so why not equip yourself with yet another tool in the process? As the intense cravings start to come up, grab a journal and write out the experience. Keeping a gratitude list can also help you keep your positive feelings elevated for months to come.
8 | Stop Negative Automatic Thoughts And Feelings
The cycle of a craving can lead you into obsessive thinking that is hard to stop. When these negative thoughts start swirling in your brain, stop them immediately. By being aware of negative thoughts and feelings, we are better able to combat them. Instead, replace the thoughts and feelings with positive facts. For example, I may hear in my head, “You’re just going to end up doing it again.” Instead of letting this negative thought echo in your head, talk back to it with the facts. The facts may be that you have been sober for 40 days and that you’re committed to sobriety. So, it is in fact not likely that you will do it again. For more on this technique called "positive self-talk," watch this video.
I hope this post was informative and inspiring to you readers! For more information about what Bill is doing over at UnitingRecovery.com, please click through the link and see what's going on over at his site. I can personally tell that Bill is quite passionate about his company's mission and I'm sure there's a lot to learn from his blog posts and personal insights. To learn more about drug and alcohol recovery, please read my entire 4-part Addiction & Recovery Series. If you have any questions for Bill or myself, or thoughts you'd like to share, please leave them in the comments below. Thanks for reading and be well!