Coping Strategies for Drug or Alcohol Cravings
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Addiction relapse prevention encompasses daily, even hourly, or minute-by-minute efforts, but urges and cravings can flip your recovery in an instant. Learning about preventing relapse is a crucial aspect of the recovery process, and the more you know, the better prepared you will be. At the heart of addiction relapse prevention are coping strategies— tools and techniques that will help you cope with urges and cravings in the moment.

Mindfulness Meditation

Using mindfulness meditation when an urge hits is a great technique to prevent a relapse, as it incorporates the mind, body, and spirit. The concept of mindfulness meditation is based on clearing your mind and allowing your body to sit in a relaxed position. 

Once there, allow yourself only to notice what is happening in the moment. You may still have the urge or craving, but rather than react to it and act upon it, you will use breathing and mindfulness to notice what is happening in your body. As you simply acknowledge instead of responding, you are using “mind over matter,” resulting in you not acting upon your craving.

Urge Surfing

Urge surfing is based on the analogy of waves in the ocean. Cravings and urges hit in waves. There is a rise, a crest, and then a fall. Knowing that there will be an end to the urge or craving, you can sit and breathe and “surf” the wave, similar to mindfulness. This is a technique that can be used anywhere.

Distraction Techniques

Using sensory experiences to distract your body from the urge or craving is also a very effective technique for relapse prevention. Some ideas include:

  • Changing Body Temperature – ice, cold water, a cold bath or shower, or cold rags can help reduce your body temperature that can naturally rise when you get an urge or a craving. The shock of the cold distracts you from the craving itself.
  • Dance – turn on some music and dance. The music and the movement will distract you from the urge or craving.
  • Aromatherapy – use your sense of smell. Light a candle or use essential oils to change the scent quickly and distract from the craving or urge. This technique is also great to use with mindfulness meditation or yoga.

HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired

Four of the most common reasons people relapse are that they are either Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Remembering the acronym “HALT” and making sure that you do not allow yourself to get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired will help prevent relapse. Some tips include:

  • Hungry – never let yourself go more than three hours without food, and always have a snack available.
  • Angry – avoid reacting to traffic, annoying co-workers, or whatever might make you mad by counting backward from five or using mindfulness to prevent being too upset.
  • Lonely – have a support network and always have plans. Keep yourself busy so that you do not become too lonely.
  • Tired – Develop good sleep hygiene so that you do not become too tired.

Exercise: Move Your Body

Doing some quick cardio exercise will distract you from the urge to drink or use substances. Go for a short run, or even run in place. Do some jumping jacks, or hop on your bike. Get your heart rate up, and soon the urge will be gone, and you will feel better, too.

Sensory Grounding Techniques

A great tool to prevent a relapse is a counting and grounding exercise that will bring you to the here and now and distract you from the urge until it is gone. There are five things that you can ask yourself to notice wherever you are that will use the five senses to ground you in the present:

  • Name five things that you can see
  • Name four things that you can feel
  • Name three things that you can hear
  • Name two things that you can smell
  • Name one thing that you can taste

If you are able to focus and find all of the sensory experiences around you, the urge or craving will likely be gone. You can keep mints or chocolates on hand or a candle with one of your favorite scents to help ground you for this exercise.

Always Be Prepared

Knowing relapse prevention techniques and tools will help you always be prepared for the moments when those cravings or urges hit. The more skills you possess, the better prepared you will be. If one technique doesn’t work, you can try another and another until you find one that does work.

The most important coping strategy in relapse prevention is to be prepared and have as many tools and skills at your disposal at all times. The more often you practice the different techniques listed above, the better prepared you will be when troubling urges or cravings hit. The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women is devoted to educating you about addiction recovery. We know that knowledge is power, particularly regarding relapse prevention. Our curriculum is based on the four principles of Ho Tai: prosperity, wealth, joy, and abundance as they pertain to addiction recovery. We want you to enjoy every gift that life has to offer. Sobriety is not enough; our goal is to help you recover – healing of mind, body, and spirit. Our Costa Mesa, California facility is a peaceful, non-judgmental place of recovery from addiction. Contact us today at the Ho Tai Way at (714) 581-3974