Dealing with Triggers and Cravings
A Trigger is defined as: a social, environmental or emotional situation (people, places, emotions) which can remind an individual of past experiences, and increase the likelihood of drug use by causing cravings.
A Craving is defined as: an overwhelming feeling or desire to use substances.
Of course to avoid all triggers would be an impossible task, since they generally occur based on memories of our substance use, the people that we have used substances with, as well as where we have used substances in the past. Also if you have used substances to escape difficult emotions, you will feel triggered to continue to use once you experience these emotions again.
There are however, some actions you can take to reduce the amount of triggers you may experience. This entails reminding yourself of the impact that substance use has caused in your life, avoiding contact with those that you have used substances with, as well as finding support to help you manage any difficult feelings you may have.
If you used substances mostly in your own home, then it may also be time to change around your environment so that you are not reminded about any past experience of substance use. This is also a good way of marking the new path of non substance use you have takem.
Dealing with Cravings
Cravings are normal
It’s an unfortunate fact but any one who’s had problematic substance use will experience uncomfortable cravings that can lead to an overwhelming urge to use substances again. It’s important then to remember that cravings are normal and they will always pass with time. In the early weeks of non substance use they can feel intense, will subside once you decide not to act on them. Both cravings and urges will decrease in strength and frequency over time. You can make this happen by adopting some coping strategies that work best for you.
Adapting your behaviour and choosing a different response can be a challenge for some, nut is not impossible. Below are some strategies to help you cope when you have a sudden desire to use substances again.
It will be harder to manage and deal with cravings on your own. Connecting with others to help you move through your cravings is not only a part of recovery in coming out of isolation, but will help you develop personal skills and relationships. Connection might come in the form of support groups such as Aftercare, 12 Step and SMART recovery, therapy groups, community groups, creative and social groups – or anywhere where you can identify and share your experience with others. Connection is the opposite to addiction!
Particularly important if the craving feels physical. Any type of physical activity can help such as, cleaning the kitchen floor, jogging around the block, going to the gym, running on the spot, doing press ups etc.
More important if the cravings are psychological. You need to distract your attention and fill your mind with other thoughts. Reading a book may prove too difficult if you’re craving although it could be a possible option. Generate a list of activities that are brief, fun and distracting such as doing a crossword, counting backwards in 7’s, flicking through a magazine, games on your mobile phone, peeling an orange mindfully, anything that will take your mind off the craving. Be prepared to move onto another distraction if one isn’t holding your attention.
Self-soothing is about comforting, nurturing and being kind to yourself. A way to remember these skills is to think of soothing each of the five senses:
- Vision – Looking at a picture, watching nature or a sunset
- Touch – Soaking in a hot bath with some nice oils, having a massage
- Taste – Eating foods you love or exploring new ones
- Hearing – Listening to music that relaxes you or has a positive association or listening to the rain
- Smell – Flowers, nice aftershave, incense or oils, fresh cut grass
Improving the Moment
This is about replacing immediate negative experiences with more positive ones
Using imagery or visualisation you can create a situation that is very different from the real life situation that you are in. You can be sure that the place you go is a safe & secure one. For this to be effective it is best to practice regularly. Useful visualisations are based on simple ideas like a walk on the beach or in the countryside on a warm summers day.
If your body is tense your mind will be as well, try the body scan technique that you have been practicing or maybe the breathing exercise.
One thing in the moment
Sometimes it is helpful to realise that cravings or negative feelings are made worse by letting your mind repeatedly focus on these experiences. Just getting through right this moment is all you have to focus on. Dwelling on the past or projecting into the future can just make you feel worse, just focus on the here & now & you will find that it is bearable.
Give yourself encouragement, talk to yourself as you would talk to someone you care about who is in a crisis (think about the self-esteem exercises we did)
This is about putting off using for a little while. Ask yourself how long you can commit for with 100% confidence. Is it half hour or 2 minutes? It doesn’t matter how long it is just as long as you are 100% confident you can stick to the time that you have set. At the end of that time ask yourself again, how long can I commit to not using for with 100% confidence. Just keep doing this every time the time is up, eventually you’ll get through the craving.
Visualise the urge to use as a rising ocean wave that you can learn to “surf” without getting “wiped out” by the craving. Imagine experiencing a craving and then learn to “ride the urge” as a surfer would by keeping your balance as the wave passes beneath the surf board. Your “surfboard” is you paying attention to breat as it passes in & out as the wave passes through you body & mind. This will provide a sense of steadiness as the craving wave crests & subsides on the other side.
Think of Pros & Cons
Sometimes when you experience craving or have a negative feeling it can be helpful to have a reminder of why choosing to do something about your use. Have the pros & cons of using, or any other helpful prompt written down on flashcard or have it on your mobile phone & tablet
Making positive self-statements can be a simple way to help maintain your sense of control over cravings. You should say these statements out loud to yourself (no matter how silly it might feel!) It is helpful to have a statement prepared so that you can call upon it when the cravings are strong
Examples of some positive self-statements
“I can cope with this, it will pass soon”
“I am stronger than any craving, I’m going to prove it by riding this one out”
There is no craving that is more important to me than all my hard work, I’ll beat this”