Triggers, Cravings, and the Risk of Relapse

Triggers, Cravings, and the Risk of Relapse

“A craving or longing for alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs is very common, especially in the early weeks and months of stopping substance use, regardless of how motivated clients are to stay substance-free… Therefore, being able to identify and label cravings is necessary for recovery to progress.”

~ Dennis C. Daley and G. Alan Marlatt, Managing Your Drug or Alcohol Problem

No matter how motivated to change a person in a San Diego drug or alcohol rehab program is, there will be times that they will be faced with temptation to drink or use again. Although “relapse is a part of recovery” is an oft-repeated phrase, there are practical strategies, treatments, and medications that can help ensure that relapse is an AVOIDABLE part of recovery.

What Are Cravings?

Cravings are almost-overwhelming feelings characterized by an intense desire to drink or use drugs again. They are primarily caused by three factors:

  • Changes to the brain –Active substance abuse interferes with the reward pathways of the brain, and when a person becomes physically dependent upon a substance, they are unable to experience pleasure or even feel “normal” without the presence of intoxicant. In this context, a craving is the brain’s response to the absence of the alcohol or drug.
  • External Triggers– These are conditioned responses to cues that the person associates with their history of substance use, such as –
  • People – family, friends, peers and acquaintances who drink or use drugs
  • Places – bars, liquor stores, or locations where the substance abuse typically occurred
  • Things – drug paraphernalia such as needles, pipes, or papers
  • Internal Triggers –Feelings of anxiety, frustration, depression, boredom, or anger can make a person in recovery feel overwhelmed if not dealt with.

These three factors pose the greatest risk during early recovery, because the brain is still in the process of returning to normal and new habits and means of coping are not yet ingrained.

What Can I Do to Fight Cravings for Drugs or Alcohol?

Avoidance is the best strategy – staying away from anything that may act as an external trigger, especially when recovery is new and still-fragile.

When that isn’t practical or possible and cravings occur, distraction can help immensely –

  • Physical activity such as exercise, going for walks, or even housecleaning
  • Listening to music
  • Meditation
  • Reading recovery literature
  • Journalling – keeping a chart of how your cravings come and go will help you gain control of them
  • Keeping busy by engaging in new activities and hobbies

Your support system is invaluable during recovery. When cravings hit, call your sponsor, discuss it with your counselor, talk to a loved one, or go to a 12-Step fellowship or other recovery support meeting.

Are There Any Medications That Help with Cravings?

Depending upon your personal drug history and drug of choice, there may be certain medications that are appropriate for your situation –

  • Methadone, for opiate withdrawal
  • Acamprosate, for alcohol cravings
  • Naltrexone, which can help reduce cravings for both alcohol and opioids
  • Antabuse, which causes severe negative reactions when a person drinks

In certain cases, your physician may feel that it is necessary to prescribe drugs for severe anxiety and depression. Antidepressants are helpful and other non-addictive medications for anxiety can be prescribed. It is best if you want to maintain sobriety, to say “NO” to benzodiazepines,  if recommended for more than 3-6 days, as  these medications should be taken with extreme caution. Benzodiazepines can be habit-forming, leading to a relapse on alcohol or drugs and can carry a heightened risk of misuse and addiction, especially for someone with a previous history of substance abuse.

If you live in San Diego County and need help overcoming a substance abuse disorder, the trained professionals at Lasting Recovery – can help restore your health and embrace your sober life by giving you the tools and support you need.

Contact an intake specialist today and begin your journey back to sobriety and stability.

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