Have you wondered why you still experience cravings from time to time, even though you've achieved long-term recovery? Perhaps it has been years since you last engaged with substances, but you are experiencing new triggers and cravings.
Unfortunately, addiction is a chronic, lifelong illness. That means you will experience cravings long after attaining recovery. Though this thought may be discouraging, there are many ways to handle cravings after long-term sobriety. Whether you focus on strengthening your relapse prevention plan or commit to weekly therapy or support group meetings, find what works best and stick to it.
Sometimes recovery requires you to switch things up a bit to keep recovery fresh. Renewing your relapse prevention plan can also help you manage cravings. If you're severely struggling to handle cravings in long-term recovery, consider seeking further help. NorthStar Transitions is happy to help anyone who needs additional treatment or support.
Substance Use and Your Brain
Individuals struggling with addiction or substance use disorder (SUD) experience cravings and triggers. Even people who are not diagnosed with SUD can struggle with cravings. In active addiction, your body becomes so accustomed to alcohol or drugs that when you abstain from substance use, your body craves more.
Additionally, excessive substance use changes the brain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), "Drugs interfere with the way neurons send, receive, and process signals via neurotransmitters." Substances activate neurons unnaturally, leading to abnormal messages that compel you to continue or return to substance use.
If you compare the brain scans of an individual who struggles with excessive substance use and of someone who does not, there is a noticeable difference. This is because the more someone uses, their body "needs" that substance. Luckily, the brain can heal itself over time. But, of course, healing requires individuals to abstain from drugs or alcohol.
Understanding Your Cravings
Your cravings are a natural part of your long-term recovery journey, even though they're difficult. For example, you may recall experiencing intense cravings during detox. Cravings are your body's way of getting you to return to the use of a substance. Your body recognizes that the substance feels good and motivates you to use them again by making you feel bad without it. During detox, these cravings may have caused you to want to use even more than usual or give up on treatment altogether.
Fortunately, time in treatment usually helps you cope with these intense cravings. Recall some treatments that may have helped you manage your intense drug or alcohol cravings. These may have included:
- Behavioral counseling
- Certain medications
- Medical devices and applications used to treat withdrawal symptoms or deliver skills training.
- Treatment for co-occurring mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
- Long-term follow-up and relapse prevention programs
When cravings become challenging to manage, remember these treatment options. Upon first getting sober, they gave you the tools necessary for handling cravings. You can use what you learned or reengage with these options to help you manage cravings now in long-term recovery.
How Relapse Prevention Helps Manage Cravings
Relapse prevention programs are excellent ways to prevent the risk of relapse post-treatment by helping you handle cravings during long-term sobriety. Some effective strategies for relapse prevention include:
Moving your body is an excellent relapse-prevention strategy because it relieves mental stress, releases dopamine, and transforms your body. It can boost your self-esteem and serve as a good distraction when you start to feel cravings.
Nutrition is crucial for individuals in treatment. When in active addiction, the body often does not get proper nutrients. A well-balanced diet helps your body function effectively, reduces stress, improves sleep, and helps reduce cravings.
Get Adequate Sleep
Speaking of sleep, sleep is essential to a successful recovery. Without it, it's difficult to function or perform other relapse prevention methods.
We mentioned before that exercise serves as a distraction. The risk of relapse can increase when you feel hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Filling your free time with hobbies, meditation, exercises, or other enjoyable activities helps prevent these feelings and reduce cravings.
Gather Your Support System
A sober support network is essential to an effective relapse prevention plan. Having a friend, family member, or sober companion to call when cravings are intense is vital. It may even help to have weekly gatherings with members of your sober network. Whether it is a movie night, a game night, or a night out to dinner, spending time with others is a great way to combat some intense cravings you may experience.
Modify Your Relapse Prevention Plan for Long-Term Sobriety
You may feel bored or stagnant with your relapse prevention plan in your recovery journey. That is okay. Some simple modifications can strengthen it so you can continue handling cravings. Consider creating new goals for yourself, such as going back to school or running a marathon. Discuss your improvements with your sober network.
Lastly, never forget that if you feel intense cravings and fear you may relapse, reach out to a professional immediately. Everyone needs support when handling cravings, even after long-term sobriety. Recovery is an ongoing process, and there is no shame in needing extra help.
It is common for individuals in recovery to struggle with intense cravings. Treatment can offer you the tools needed to handle these cravings long-term. However, needing a little extra help is nothing to be ashamed of. Relapse prevention techniques like exercise, nutrition, quality sleep, and a strong support network are all effective when learning to manage cravings. However, after spending some time sober, you may need to modify your prevention plan. Setting new goals, seeking further professional help, and discussing your concerns with support networks are great ways to ensure you can handle any cravings that come your way. If you require additional support, call NorthStar Transitions at (303) 558-6400 for help managing cravings after long-term sobriety.