Research tells us that drug and alcohol cravings are the result of our association with the psychological and physical effects of the substance. Each time we use, it changes how our brain functions. Eventually, our brains become conditioned to link substance use with the highest sense of reward and pleasure – to the point where it becomes an automatic response. In recovery, our brains go through a rewiring process, but cravings for drugs and alcohol can still persist.
People, events, places, things, and even smells are triggers that can cause even the most seasoned person in recovery to want to use again. The good news – you have the power to change how you react to triggers and cravings. Use this list of actionable tips to help ward off your cravings and stay strong during your addiction recovery.
Outdoor fitness such as running and hiking can be an essential part of staying sober and healthy. However, “going outside” can also mean simply taking a walk in any green space you can find to clear your heart and head. Did you come across an email from an ex that triggered feelings of sadness? It’s okay to acknowledge these feelings, but reliving the trauma of the relationship may spark cravings. Take time to go outside and breathe in some fresh air.
Going outside, even just a quick visit to a green space, has profound health benefits. A 2018 study published in Science Daily reports that “Spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, and increases sleep duration.” Wilderness therapy is a popular treatment modality used in drug and alcohol centers across the nation, where clients are taken out into nature to promote exercise, greater mental health, therapeutic healing, and addiction recovery. You can get the same connection to and benefits of nature by going outside once a day.
Addiction recovery and nutrition experts agree that causes of relapse can often be attributed to low blood sugar and neurotransmitter (dopamine) deficiencies. Reaching for sugary snacks during recovery is common, as we want to keep our dopamine rush alive. To combat these issues and raise your levels naturally, feeding your brain with a diet rich in protein (chicken, eggs, nuts, soy), vitamins (B, C, E, calcium, magnesium), and essential nutrients (amino acids) can balance blood-sugar levels and ward off cravings.
You can also research nutrition blogs for information on healthy eating or download apps like My FitnessPal to help stay true to your journey. The website Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, created by Olivia Pennelle (6 years sober), is a good place to start as it is tailored for people in recovery who want to live a healthy lifestyle.
Gardening is a great hobby, but it can also serve a deeper purpose for those in recovery. At the NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation Center, horticultural therapy is used to promote a sense of mindfulness and to distract or motivate patients during a tough physical therapy session. This kind of distraction takes the attention away from the person and helps them focus on something positive. As one patient told the New York Times, “The best thing about horticultural therapy is that I’m no longer the subject.”
Those in recovery can use the same principles to ward off cravings and stay sober. When feelings of anxiety and stress trigger temptation, retreating to a few houseplants, an indoor mini garden, or an outdoor vegetable, herb, or plant garden can help take you out of your own head and into something relaxing, mindful, and creative. The American Horticultural Therapy Association suggests that horticultural therapy may facilitate a deeper connection with nature and that working with plants promotes emotional, mental, and physical health as well as a sense of well-being.
Sometimes certain triggers can be too overwhelming. Life events such as death, divorce, or any other trauma may be too difficult to bear, and your cravings are just too strong to handle alone. This may be the time to re-enter rehab and seek professional help. Many times, an emotional relapse begins long before you start using again. During this stage, you may begin to cope with your stress, emotions, and feelings in unhealthy ways. You may retreat into isolation, stop practicing self-care, or start denying you have a problem. While you may not consciously think about using alcohol or drugs at this stage, avoiding your emotions can lay the groundwork for a relapse down the road.
There are addiction treatment options available to fit your needs during this time, especially if you can not afford long-term treatment. At The Kimberly Center, we offer intensive outpatient and outpatient treatment services, sober living, and continuing care options. Our professional staff can help you understand why you feel the way you do, recognize the signs of relapse, and course-correct before you start using again. And if you do relapse, that is okay too – we are here to get you back on track and healthy again. Call us any time, day or night, to speak to an addiction counselor at 855-4-KCENTER (855-452-3683). You are not alone, and The Kimberly Center is here to help.