By the time you’ve reached long-term sobriety, perhaps your fear and thoughts of relapse have become infrequent. What do you do when one day, some familiar craving suddenly pops into your head? You might think to yourself, “How could this be happening?” Does long-term sobriety mean no cravings at all? Actually, it is not uncommon for people who have achieved long-term recovery to still experience occasional cravings.
On the one hand, it shows how engrained substance use is in the body and mind. On the other hand, it is normal to feel old cravings make a comeback because of environmental triggers, and the craving may suddenly reassert itself. You shouldn’t ignore these cravings or blame yourself for having them. It may take some work to get them back under control, but remember, you have done it before! Understanding how to manage cravings in long-term sobriety is vital in avoiding relapse.
Why Do Cravings Show Up?
Oftentimes, cravings come up because of external triggers. This is especially prevalent when some parts of your life have slid back to overwork, stress, and anxiety. Maybe some traumatic events occurred in your life, and that familiar urge to use something quick to ease the pain comes back. It could also be that you have been bored lately, which can lead to the resurgence of cravings. Perhaps cravings have come back because you’ve visited places with social triggers or made friends with people with unhealthy substance use. Sometimes feelings cause cravings to arise, like anger, loneliness, and exhaustion.
Remember, all these old triggers don’t simply go away. Since you’ve used treatment to achieve long-term sobriety, you should have the knowledge and wisdom to detect and mitigate these risk factors. Though your addiction might have gone away, triggers may always stick with you.
Some of the things mentioned above are within your control, while others aren’t. They are known as relapse triggers because they were once the key causes for your addictive behaviors. You might also develop new cravings that feel different from before. Some people might start craving sugar, which is found in your everyday diet, or caffeine: the brain knows how to get its desired dopamine. Now, with the usual pleasure-seeking channels of drugs and alcohol gone, your brain naturally seeks other ways to do so. Managing new cravings is critical, so you don’t enter into a phase of “transfer addiction” by replacing one substance with another.
Apart from these factors, maybe cravings are showing up again because you have been complacent for too long. When was the last time you checked in with a 12-step group or got support from peers? Complacency is the enemy to those who have achieved long-term sobriety. Remember that you are not invincible, and do not underestimate what these cravings can do if you fail to manage them.
What Should You Do with Cravings?
Try revisiting the lessons you’ve learned at your treatment center. You have been given these skills so they can be useful for the future. If you took cognitive-behavioral therapy sessions, which coached you in identifying patterns of thought, use what you learned to take positive measures. Recall what your group counseling taught you about how to weather cravings effectively when they arise. Are you still practicing those relaxation techniques or creative hobbies? Maybe you need to find your old toolbox, dust it off, and start using the things you’ve put in it again.
Be alert about re-emerging cravings, but don’t be alarmed. Sometimes you may just have to sit with them and wait them out. Make sure to remove the triggers that are within your control. Do a mindful body scan and check if there’s any stress accumulated in your body. Another good way to make peace with your body is to ensure you get enough sleep. Start a new cycle of regulating your body, mind, and behaviors. The good thing is, you have the experience and the track record to succeed.
Pick up and refresh those healthy rhythms that keep you relaxed and energetic, such as hobbies and community service. Use these as distractions from your newly emerging cravings. Do things with moderation; you don’t want any of these hobbies to become a substitute either. Engaging in meaningful activities and relationships is the key to staying grounded. Never deny the harsh reality if cravings come back. As you learned from earlier experiences, honesty and humility go a long way. If necessary, seek medical help again.
It is important to keep your cravings at bay during recovery, even after you have achieved long-term sobriety. You will always have another chance to get back on the right track. Remember, you have done it before, and we are here to help that happen again. At Laguna Shores Recovery, we are committed to a lifetime of care. You can count on us to help you manage post-recovery cravings. In our inpatient and outpatient programs, we offer proactive interventions and a holistic approach to sustainable recovery. Our cognitive and behavioral therapies, family relationship programs, 12-step groups, and outpatient offices are designed to keep you motivated and balanced. Our staff and experienced health professionals have helped many people manage post-recovery cravings. We know how to help you succeed. We won’t sugarcoat challenges, but we will support you to face them with confidence. You might even say that we crave the chance to support you. Call us at (866) 229-9923.