Stopping a Thought Before It Becomes a Craving: The Basics

1 of series of 3 posts on cravings

Time for a few posts on the basics. Some practical, useful information that you may already know, but is always good to be reminded. So, here goes…

To begin with, the process usually works like this: Trigger – Thought – Craving – Using.

Let’s break this down for closer examination. First, some person, place or thing triggers you. Maybe it’s a song you used to listen to while high, or an exit on the freeway that leads to your dealer’s house. These are external triggers. There are also internal triggers, like feelings: of anger, of loneliness, or boredom. For some of us, feeling happy is a trigger in itself; when we feel happy we want to feel it MORE and the way to do that is use.

Whatever the trigger, almost immediately a thought blooms in your mind: “I can use again if I do so and so, with so and so,” or whatever. It may be very intricate and detailed, or just generalized. But you would be surprised how quickly, almost immediately, a feasible, executable plan of action to use can be thought thoroughly through. Mere seconds.

This is where you need to interrupt the process immediately—before the thought becomes an obsession and transforms into an emotional or physical craving.

In recovery there’s a strategy called “stopping the thought.” It’s what you consciously do, once you have a using thought, in order to keep that thought from becoming a full-fledged craving.

There are many ways to do “stop the thought” and I encourage you to find those that work best for you.

Here are three ideas:

Snap that rubber band on your wrist. Some rehab centers advise you to wear a rubber band around your wrist so that, whenever you catch yourself thinking about meth, you can snap the rubber band. This jogs your thinking process and stops the forward momentum toward craving and use. The sting of the rubber band on your wrist brings your thoughts back to the present moment. The ouch. And the thought is interrupted.

Visualize the “thought” as a TV screen image, then change the channel. Picture the image of that using thought on a TV screen inside your mind. Then visualize yourself changing the channel of that inner TV. Pick a positive, happy image for the new channel—say, the image of someone you love dearly, hugging you. Or your favorite view of the ocean. Something powerful that instantly elicits happy feelings. So, you visualize this channel switch in your mind, and the new positive image appears on that inner TV screen.

Think of something that evokes a powerful emotion, like anger—but has no associations with using. One recovering addict told me he “stops the thought” by immediately visualizing a certain politician who makes him furious. Just rekindling his anger toward this politician (or political party) is almost guaranteed to get his mind completely off using for the moment. Who knew politics could be put to such good use? (And, obviously, if anger is one of your triggers, you shouldn’t try this.)

Remember, the goal is to stop the thought dead in its tracks before it becomes a feeling or craving.

In the next blog entry, we’ll look at what you can do to stop a craving, once it’s begun. But, again, the best strategy is to: stop that thought beforehand. A craving is more difficult to control, but only more difficult, not impossible.

More to come…