Trigger… Thought… Craving… Use… (Part 2)

(If you missed it, you can read Part 1 here.)

But, say, you’ve moved past the thinking/glamorizing stage and are feeling a full-fledged craving. Here are some ways to counteract that craving once it’s begun…

In Part 1 of this blogpost, we learned the sequence of Trigger-Thought-Craving. It goes like this: First, something triggers you to remember a time when you used. Next, you have more thoughts about using, perhaps glamorizing the party. This leads directly to the craving, that intense feeling where you want or feel the need to use now.

One successful strategy is to “stop the thought” dead in its tracks before you arrive at the craving. You interrupt the sequence before the thought of using can turn into a full-fledged craving. There are many ways to do this and I encourage you to refer to the previous blogpost or find other ways that work best for you.

How do I counteract a craving, if the trigger has already advanced this far? That’s the big question.

The good news first: the actual push of the craving will last only 30-90 seconds unless you start moving toward drug use. If you can wait it out, or counteract the craving, it will pass soon enough.

Say, you are triggered or have a pleasurable flashback, here are several ways to counteract the craving that follows:

Tell someone about it, now. Don’t wait till later. Pick up the phone and call your “besty” or sponsor now. Get a phone list from a CMA or NA meeting and start calling until someone answers. They will be happy to be of service.

Play the memory forward to the bitter end. Don’t just think about the euphoria of initially getting high. Jump ahead and play the memory forward to the bitter end. Remember how you felt at the end of your run. Remember those unsavory people with whom you were partying by the final days. Remember the desperation and loneliness. One recovering addict told me, whenever she had a using fantasy or craving, she immediately remembered that last week of using before she quit. Instead of having euphoric recall, she had “horrific recall.” Remembering and re-feeling the horror of that last week of using was enough to bring her mind back into right thinking.

Go to a CMA or AA/NA Meeting ASAP. Don’t wait till later. Go to the very next meeting. Just sit there quietly in the safety, or share. The main thing is to surround yourself with sobriety, as soon as possible. If there isn’t a CMA meeting near, try NA. Also, in most cities, there is an AA meeting happening somewhere within the next two hours.

Surf the Urge. Cravings are a lot like wave swells in the ocean. They get bigger as they approach the shoreline, eventually reach a peak, then slide back into calm water. Another good technique to counteract a craving is to imagine yourself riding atop it like a surfer on a wave. You don’t get down into the craving, but stay on the surface and ride the wave beneath you. Other thoughts will soon take over and, in 60 to 90 seconds, you’ll be onto another thought. Imagine yourself surfing atop the urge until the wave dissipates and slides back into the calm.

Keep Your Feet Moving. If you can get through the moment, the desire to use will pass. Don’t sit there stewing in the feeling/craving. Get up and get your feet moving. Move physically and you will move emotionally. Here’s a short list of things you can do to take your mind off a craving: go to the gym, go to a coffee shop, force yourself to talk to a stranger, see a movie, play a highly-interactive video game, go dancing with a friend, take a brisk walk. The point is to get up, get moving, and distract your mind with a new behavior—those moving feet—instead of allowing that feeling/craving to turn into the old behavior of using.

These are just a few ways to counteract a craving. The main goal is always to truncate the craving—interrupt it with some learned, new behavior—before the desire to use becomes overwhelming.