In this article
When attempting to quit drugs, cravings can be a major obstacle and challenge in the recovery process. Due to the profound changes that occur at a physical, biological, and psychological level as a result of drug use, many individuals find that cravings are very difficult to resist and control when they stop using a certain drug.
Cravings also have the potential to cause a relapse into old addictive habits and behaviours, and they can significantly lower someone’s motivation to carry on quitting a drug.
Throughout this article, you will find more information on various tools and techniques that help individuals resist the powerful urges and cravings that may arise along their recovery journey.
Top tips for resisting cravings
Having a routine in place and a well-defined treatment plan that focuses on relapse prevention can help individuals better cope with their cravings and increase their chances of coming off drugs.
Finding distractions in case of urges
When someone is overwhelmed with an intense urge to start using the drug again, they can resist the temptation to relapse by finding alternative activities that keep them focused away from the drug or source of their addiction.
A distraction can be anything that makes the person focus their attention on a different activity or stimuli, such as seeing someone for coffee, going for a walk, playing some music, or speaking to a loved one. It does not matter whether that activity is productive or not; it just has to be safe in keeping the individual away from misusing the drug again.
It might be relieving for many individuals to find out that there are always other activity options that can trigger a good mood outside of drug use. For example, going for a run or to a dance class can trigger feelings of happiness and relaxation.
Practising mindful thinking
It is common for many individuals struggling with a substance use disorder to act compulsively and have a hard time making decisions from a calm and grounded state of mind.
This is because drugs increase impulsivity and irritability and affect cognitive skills, thus impairing judgement and capacity for decision-making.
A skill that can help those who are in recovery better cope with their cravings is being able to observe one’s thoughts before making a decision. For example, when one finds themselves experiencing intense urges and cravings for a drug, they can practise mindful thinking by observing their cravings but not surrendering to them.
This exercise allows people to strengthen their self-control abilities and to improve their impulsivity, attention, and decision-making skills.
Finding exciting hobbies to cope with feelings of boredom
Another reason why many people start using drugs is a desire to experience thrill and excitement and to replace their feelings of boredom. Although drugs can help individuals experience a transient state of euphoria and “high”, they have dangerous side effects that lead to the worsened moods in the long term.
Finding other sources of joy and excitement can be an important tool to use in someone’s recovery. Individuals who are in recovery have to learn how to achieve stable emotional states without misusing substances. Although this can be challenging at the beginning of their recovery, they might soon find out that some other activities and hobbies can alleviate uncomfortable feelings of boredom.
These hobbies can involve practising one’s favourite form of art, such as drawing, singing, dancing, trying out a new sport, joining a social club, or simply exploring one’s surroundings.
Sometimes, some people might find that there is nothing they can do about cravings apart from simply accepting them and allowing them to pass.
Surely, this comes with practice and dedication, but those in recovery need to know that cravings will happen and sometimes they need to learn to “ride the wave”.
Learning to manage one’s emotions is an essential aspect of resisting the inevitable urges that will occur. Accepting one’s feelings and emotions and adopting a non-judgemental perspective on them can help an individual respond positively to drug cravings and perhaps even reduce their intensity.
By shifting away from the tendency to judge their cravings and emotional states, many individuals might find that they become more resilient in their recovery process.
Another useful tool that supports individuals in their recovery from substance misuse and dependency is detoxification.
Detoxification, or detox, is the process of removing any chemicals and substances associated with a drug from one’s body. A detox process helps individuals safely manage their withdrawal symptoms when they stop consuming alcohol or drugs.
Everyone can have a different experience with detox. This process depends on the type of drugs which has been used and on the longevity of the dependency.
Healthcare practitioners might also prescribe individuals with certain medications that support them while the drug is leaving their body. However, it can take days or even months to manage the withdrawal symptoms and to reach a stage where cravings are totally under the individual’s control.
The length of the withdrawal stage can depend on factors such as:
- The type of substance one is addicted to.
- The duration of the addiction.
- Its severity.
- Method of substance misuse (injecting, smoking, swallowing, etc).
- The amount of substance that has been consumed.
- Genetic history.
- Underlying mental health conditions.
Another useful phase of addiction recovery involves rehabilitation. This a type of extensive therapy which addresses all aspects of addiction: physical, mental, chemical, and psychological.
During rehabilitation, individuals who struggle with drug addiction learn better coping mechanisms and important relapse prevention skills. They are supported throughout their recovery process by qualified healthcare professionals who provide long-term care and tailored interventions.
Quitting drug dependency can be a confusing and difficult process, and many individuals might be tempted to fall back into their previous addictive behaviours. The rehabilitation environment and the interventions carried out here aim to prevent individuals from relapsing and support their commitment to recovery and sobriety. This is why professional treatment is extremely important when quitting drug dependency.
However, rehab programmes can also cause individuals anxiety and confusion. Many people do not know what to expect from the programmes included in the recovery and are afraid to engage in recovery due to the large number of uncertain aspects that are involved in it.
The addiction rehabilitation process
During rehabilitation, clients undergo rehab therapy that allows effective withdrawal management and facilitates the detoxification of the chemicals in the body. A large part of rehabilitation focuses on therapy which represents the foundation of long-term interventions.
Through counselling and individual therapy, clients have the chance to work through personal issues that triggered their addictive behaviours. These interventions offer them the chance to get to the core issues underlying their addictions so they can effectively cope with the challenges in their lives without resorting to drugs and alcohol.
In individual behavioural therapy, clients are encouraged to do reflective self-analysis by identifying the triggers of their substance misuse addiction. Then they receive strategies and tools on how they can redirect their attention from those triggers to focus on their recovery.
Clients are also supported through situations that increase their risk of relapses, such as stressful events or family problems, and are taught effective coping strategies to navigate through those issues.
Signs of relapse
When someone has been struggling with a substance misuse disorder for a long time, maintaining sobriety, especially in difficult or stressful situations, can be a real challenge.
The potential of falling back into old addictive behaviours always exists when the individual is vulnerable to substance misuse. However, there are visible warning signs that someone might be close to relapsing into addiction again. Friends and families must learn to recognise these signs to look out for potential triggers for relapse. It is equally important that those who are in recovery learn to monitor their moods and symptoms as well.
Relapse is a process that builds over consecutive events. It occurs in three aspects of someone’s life: emotional, mental, and physical.
Emotional relapse is thought to be the first stage of relapse, and it happens when the individuals experience negative emotions, such as anger, moodiness, and anxiety. The physical signs are changes in eating and sleeping patterns, which are then followed by a decreased desire to pursue the recovery process.
Recognising the warning signs that occur before relapse takes place is an effective way to prevent one from materialising. One of the first signs that someone is about to fall back into the old habits of misusing is reminiscing and romanticising drug use.
Someone who is in the process of recovery might have moments when they look back at their episodes of drugs abuse in a positive way and might feel nostalgic about these moments.
Perceiving previous episodes of drug misuse positively can plant the idea of trying drugs once again.
Other signs of relapse
Individuals might miss the excitement that they got from drug use or might feel that their current life situation is rather dull without drugs. This can be a great start for a mental relapse, which is a stage that quickly leads to physical and then full relapse.
Another warning sign is when someone believes that they can use one time without getting addicted again. However, this is a false belief, since addiction is a chronic condition that does not fully go away.
Furthermore, behavioural signs might happen when someone shows increased isolation and avoidant behaviours. They might also lose interest in the hobbies they have developed during the recovery process.
Receiving a diagnosis of substance misuse disorder
The diagnosis criteria for substance misuse disorder is based on decades of research and clinical knowledge. The DSM-5 states that not all people are equally vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder following drug consumption.
Personal factors such as self-control and emotional regulation abilities can determine whether someone becomes addicted to a drug or not.
There are two different categories of disorders that relate to substance misuse:
- Substance use disorders that result from the effect of a substance that someone continues to take.
- Substance-induced disorders, such as intoxication, withdrawal, substance-induced mental disorder, or symptoms that occur as a result of drug abuse.
Criteria for substance use diagnosis
The DSM-5 criteria that are used in the diagnosis of substance use disorders are:
- Using a substance in larger amounts than intended.
- Intending to stop using a substance but not being able to.
- Spending a significant amount of time planning on getting, using, or recovering from the effects of a substance.
- Experiencing intense cravings.
- The use of a substance interferes with the other aspects of someone’s life, such as job, relationships, home.
- Needing more of the same substance to get the desired effect.
- Continuing to use despite the harmful physical and psychological effects one experiences.
- Giving up some aspects of one’s life to use the substance.
Developing a treatment plan
A good treatment plan for substance use disorders is a comprehensive set of interventions and measures that take into account the patient’s symptoms, medical health history, needs, and strengths. It is also an approach that guides resources and activities and tracks progress.
A treatment plan is designed after the patient has been screened, and their medical checks and blood tests have been collected. According to the patient’s severity of symptoms and needs for recovery, they will then be placed in specialised treatment centres or matched for the most convenient services.
Assessing the severity of substance use disorders
For a treatment plan to de designed and established, the severity of other substance abuse-related problems must be determined. This ensures that underlying causes of substance abuse, such as mental health conditions, are also fully addressed.
Another factor that might be considered while assessing the treatment needs is the patient’s motivation to change their behaviour and lifestyle.
Some factors that affect the severity of substance use disorders are:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Severe mental disorders.
- Borderline personality disorder.
Assessing the severity of co-occurring disorders
Another crucial aspect to take into account when designing a treatment plan is the presence of psychological problems that make an individual vulnerable to a substance misuse disorder.
It is very common for users of substances to have a high rate of affective disorders such as anxiety or personality disorders, such as bipolar disorder. These mental health conditions can contribute to the development of substance use problems – another hypothesis argued by the medical community is that emotional and affective disorders develop as a consequence of prolonged drug abuse.
However, some individuals have mental health issues before drug intake; therefore, the directionality of the relationship between drug use and co-occurring mental disorder is not entirely known.
Criminality and psychopathy
Another aspect that is taken into account when designing a treatment plan is whether criminal attitudes and behaviours may instigate psychopathy.
These aspects might constitute potential barriers to treatment; therefore, a good assessment needs to be carried out to determine the severity of criminality and psychopathy.
Many offenders begin their criminal acts before the onset of their substance use disorders; therefore, drug use is always predictive of criminal behaviours.
At the core of this type of behaviour is usually pro-criminal values, pro-criminal associates, and psychopathy.
When someone decides to change their habits and to engage in a recovery process, motivation is one of the most important factors.
Some individuals might find motivation in the fact that they can lead a more stable life and be more in control of their actions.
Motivation can also arise from having more energy and functioning better at work and in one’s relationships.
Individuals who are in recovery can also find motivation in therapeutic interventions or counselling approaches.