Drug cravings are a major obstacle to recovery. They are often so intense that they drive people back to substance abuse, no matter how much they want to quit.

You can learn to handle drug cravings in therapy. Some medications can help you manage them as well.

What Are Cravings?

Drug cravings are a major obstacle in the process of overcoming drug abuse. It may seem odd that there is no agreed-upon definition or metric for testing cravings in the world of addiction treatment and research.

Generally speaking, a drug craving is a conscious desire to abuse a particular drug, even if various groups debate about the exact nuance of the definition.

These cravings can make it tough to overcome abuse once they are present. Even once a person has gone through withdrawal, they often feel drawn to abuse the drug for months or even years to come. For some people, dealing with these cravings is a lifelong battle.

However long these cravings last, their presence does not mean you have no hope of avoiding drug abuse. Cravings will usually lessen as you make positive changes to your life and learn coping mechanisms to deal with them when they are present.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy generally is a big part of any substance abuse treatment program. In therapy, you’ll learn the tools that can strengthen your resolve and ability to avoid relapse. Time is dedicated to identifying when cravings strike and how to best deal with them.

Therapy will educate you on how to build a positive support network in your life that can help you in times of need. A good support network can have an invaluable impact on both your ability to resist drug abuse and your general mental health.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a form of addiction treatment wherein you are administered or prescribed a drug meant to curb your addiction in some way. The exact nature of this treatment will vary, but it is relatively common when treating opioid and alcohol addiction.

Some of the drugs noted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that can be used to address opioid addiction include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. Meanwhile, alcohol addiction is sometimes treated with disulfiram, acamprosate, and (again) naltrexone.

Generally, MAT lessens the severity of withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings. Having cravings under control allows people to fully focus on the underlying issues related to substance abuse. This means they can make more significant progress in therapy without being distracted by cravings and potential relapses.

Lifestyle Changes To Combat Cravings

Both medication and therapy are the core parts of addiction treatment, and they are the primary ways to address cravings. There are other methods you can employ to handle cravings in the short term, and over time, these can become a core part of your plan to ultimately overcome cravings.

Eliminating or reducing stress in life is a huge part of helping to control unhealthy behaviors. Stress can drive you to make unwise decisions and fall back on habits that are familiar and calming, even if they are destructive. For this same reason, less stress can mean fewer triggers to use drugs.

A Neuroscience & Biobehavioral article, “Exercise as a Novel Treatment for Drug Addiction: A Neurobiological and Stage-Dependent Hypothesis,” emphasizes the potential for exercise to help in this capacity. While the authors admit the subject needs more study, they also note it has been shown that exercise can help individuals struggling with drug addiction. Try the following lifestyle changes to reduce stress in your life:

  • Meditate daily.
  • Breathe deeply.
  • Reach out to positive social connections.
  • Listen to music.
  • Move around throughout the day. In addition to daily exercise, just moving more (particularly outside) can help to ease stress and brighten your mood.
  • Mentally acknowledge what is good in your life and actively seek to be thankful for these things.

Negativity Breeds Negativity

Depression and anxiety are real, and they are common among people who abuse drugs.

Unfortunately, negative feelings can push you to seek refuge in unhealthy but readily available outlets. If you have struggled with drugs, you will feel their pull most strongly in situations like this. While you cannot always make depression and anxiety just go away, there are ways to manage these feelings.

Try These Methods to Boost Your Mood and Reduce Cravings:

  • Avoid isolation. Sometimes being around people can be enough to quell cravings.
  • Get adequate sleep. When you are tired, cravings are more likely to feel more powerful.
  • Eat a balanced diet. As with fatigue, cravings will feel stronger if you are hungry or malnourished.
  • Engage in self-care. Soak in a hot tub. Read a book you love. Watch some funny movies. Participate in activities that nurture your physical and emotional self.

Get Back on Track

Cravings can be incredibly powerful, and addiction is a chronic disease that is signified by relapse. If you succumb to cravings and relapse, it’s not a failure. It might just be part of your recovery journey.

The key is to get back on track as soon as possible. Contact your therapist, and talk about the relapse. Attend a support group meeting. Re-enroll in treatment. Do whatever you need to get back on track.

Drug cravings can be intense, but they do not need to control you. There are many ways to effectively handle and ultimately overcome drug cravings. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support when you need it.

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