Irrespective of the fact that you’re clean and sober now, once you have engaged in the addictive behavior, the addictive cravings are not entirely uncommon. Thinking that you want to pour yourself a drink badly represents an automatic response to your settings, unpleasant feelings or a PAWS symptom. The cravings are subconscious, automated, and extremely intense at the onset of the recovery process.
I remember the first days after I got out of rehab were a nightmare. I was torn apart by the thought that I wanted to have a glass of neat whiskey and the fact that if I do it, then all my efforts would have been in vain. Those days were extremely exhausting as alcohol cravings dominated my thinking and interfered with my daily routine.
Cravings go hand in hand with habits
For addicts, drinking is not about pleasure or facilitating social interactions. As many recovering alcoholics can attest, sometimes they simply pour a glass because they feel a relentless hankering for their favorite drink. Things get weird after you decide to stop drinking.
Granted, one of the roles of rehab is to teach you a few tricks on how to change a bad habit. Even though the habit of drinking is gone, you’re left face to face with the craving. Because I was keen on kicking the drinking habit completely out of my life, I did my best and managed to avoid the places and people with whom I used to drink. On the other hand, I was scared of what the future held for me, and the perspectives made me anxious and depressed. Through therapy, I found out that my cravings were the result of escaping from unpleasant feelings.
The DEADS approach to coping with cravings
While everyone from the physician to my therapist told me that cravings are normal and will pass with time, I felt that mine only got more intense and frequent. When my stress levels, anxiety and fear of relapse started getting the best of me, my therapist recommended the DEADS approach.
The technique is part of the SMART Recovery 2-Point Program and it can teach you dozens of ways to cope with cravings. While numerous, they can be easily summarized with the acronyms DEADS (delay, escape, accept, dispute and substitute). Here is how I put these principles into practice.
Delaying – whenever I feel I’m craving alcohol, I try to think about something else and it will pass in less than 15 minutes.
Escape – if I catch myself staring at the beautifully arranged whiskey bottles at the supermarket too long, I simply leave that place.
Accept – once I managed to deny a craving, I have the power to do it again and again; regardless of how terrible they feel, they will pass.
Dispute – to offset the cravings I rely on a Destructive Imagery and Self-Talk Awareness and Refusal Method (DISARM) exercise. I tell myself that although I don’t enjoy resisting my urge, I can keep on resisting because it won’t kill me.
Substitute – when thinking of something else doesn’t work, I engage in a new woodworking project to take my mind off the desire to drink.
A final thought
The key to controlling the overwhelming longing resides in learning how to say “no”. Because the subconscious works on the principle “I want alcohol, I get alcohol”, resisting cravings constitutes one of the biggest challenges in any recovery program. Nonetheless, with some effort, you can understand them and learn how to overcome them. If you want to start with asking questions among us, feel free to visit our forum where help is abundant.