Managing Your Cravings and Triggers in Addiction Recovery

Managing Your Cravings and Triggers in Addiction Recovery


What is the best way to manage your cravings and triggers in alcoholism and addiction recovery? You may be wondering how, if you were ever to get clean and sober, you would be able to make it through a day without being plagued constantly by the urge and the desire to use drugs and alcohol.

I can remember making the transition from struggling alcoholic and drug addict to “clean and sober person in recovery.” At the time, I had a great fear that I would never be truly free from the obsession to self medicate with drugs and alcohol. Wouldn’t I just always crave more drugs and booze? I thought that surely I was different from these other people at AA and NA, because if they had cravings and urges like I did, then they would still be drinking and taking drugs. I was different, I was unique, I was special. Apparently I was the only addict or alcoholic in the world who really, really liked to get high.

Turns out this was false. All of those other people in AA and NA have had just as much struggle as you do when it comes to drug or alcohol cravings, but they found out a way to get past it all.

You are not unique in your love of drugs and booze. And yes, you can overcome those cravings and urges.

Here is how you do it.

One, you have to surrender completely. That means you surrender to two things at least: One, you are completely powerless over drugs and alcohol. I am sure you understand that part. But two, you must also surrender to the fact that you do not know the solution, that you do not know how to live, that you do not know how to be happy in life.

In other words, you must make a mental agreement with yourself that you are going to try someone else’s solution, and you are going to step aside and get out of your own way. You will let go of the need for control. This is a lot harder than admitting that you have a problem–this is admitting that you need a new solution, and that you have no idea what that solution might be.

That is real surrender. In order to one day conquer your cravings, you must surrender completely.

Now you are probably wondering when all the magic is going to happen. How long do I have to wait for my cravings and urges to go away? Because here I am, you argue, with 10 days clean and sober, and I still really want to self medicate!

It takes a bit of time, usually around 3 months or so, in my experience. So during that three months you have to have a certain amount of hope and faith that things are going to get better. Because if you do not have any hope or faith during this tricky transitional time then you will simply say “screw it” and go relapse.

So during this three months of very early recovery, you ask for help and you do what you are told. This is assuming of course that you have surrendered completely.

Total surrender, check. Ask for help, check.

Start following directions.

When the therapist at the treatment center tells you to start going to 90 AA meetings in the next 90 days, you actually listen and follow through and you do it.

When the counselor suggests that you attend IOP groups after leaving the 28 day program, you follow through and you show up to IOP and you participate in it.

When your sponsor in AA tells you to read the book every night and write out a gratitude list each morning, you follow his directions.

If you refuse to follow directions and take advice while you are in early recovery then you are going to keep struggling with urges and triggers.

Now some people try to use the excuse of saying “But wait! I am going to AA and NA meetings every day, and they all talk about their addiction, and that just makes me think about my addiction, and it causes even more triggers and urges! The 12 step meetings are actually hurting me in this way, not helping me!”

What I would say to that argument is that you need to test it both ways and find the real truth. Because the truth is, when you go to lots of AA and NA meetings, you start to talk about the solution. Sure, you will hear the occasional drunkalogue, but for the most part, you are listening to people talk about their experience, their strength, and their hope. You focus on the solution and this makes you strong enough to overcome the problem.

The flip side of that is to do nothing, go to no meetings at all, make no effort for recovery, and see how that works out for you. I can assure you that this will lead to nothing but relapse and misery.

Now once you are living in early recovery and you are following directions and doing what people suggest, you are going to slowly see this change in terms of cravings and urges. At first in early recovery you definitely will still think about getting drunk and high. But at some point, somewhere in the first three months or so, you will experience a day in which you will realize when you are going to bed at night that you really did not think about drinking or taking drugs at all that day.

This is your awakening, your spiritual miracle. You will realize that the obsession to take drugs or drink has been lifted entirely. You made it through a whole day without any cravings. And you thought that this was impossible….and yet it happened. You have been set free.

Of course this doesn’t mean that you will never have another trigger or craving in your life. You must still remain vigilant in terms of personal growth.

This, then, is the solution: In order to manage your cravings and urges in the long run, you must stick to a path of personal growth and improving your own life.

The urges and the cravings will come when you are bored, listless, restless, angry, tired, or fearful.

You can avoid those emotions by taking positive action every day. What is “positive action?” It is the things that you do in order to become a better person, a healthier person. If you are not doing those things every day then you become more susceptible to relapse or triggers.

Why is this the case, and how does it work?

The “why” is difficult to explain exactly, but I can assure you that if you become completely complacent and you are not doing anything positive in your life, the cravings will come and you will be vulnerable to relapse.

Conversely, if you are pushing yourself hard every day to take positive action, then you will be much stronger in terms of preventing relapse and urges. When you push yourself towards better health and improving your life then you build a protective barrier against the threat of relapse. In other words, you have that much farther to “fall” before you are in danger of relapse, because you are actively building yourself up every day.

Thus, personal growth becomes a protective, proactive measure against relapse. Make the effort to improve yourself and your life, and you will be far less likely to experience triggers and urges.

If you need direction in terms of personal growth, there is a whole host of people in your world who are willing to help you: Therapists, sponsors, counselors, peers in AA or NA, and so on. Tap into those resources and find the advice and direction that you need to move forward.