Methods & Tips to Reduce Cravings for Drugs and Alcohol

Posted under Addiction Treatment on June 25, 2009
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Recovery from alcohol and drug abuse or addiction is a long and often difficult process. One of the hardest things to overcome is the almost unbearable craving you have to take a drink, use a drug, just to get over or get back to feeling good again. Cravings are incredibly hard to resist and are responsible for many incidents of relapse. But you can overcome cravings for alcohol and drugs. It takes discipline, determination and practice. Here are some tips that can help.

Medication May Reduce Cravings

Certain drugs have proven effective in helping people with drug and alcohol addiction to resist cravings. These drugs, approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), include Naltrexone (ReVia), Suboxone, Acamprosate (Campral), and Vivitrol.

• Naltrexone was the first drug approved by the FDA (in 1994) for the treatment of alcoholism and opiate addiction. For most patients, a dramatic reduction in cravings for drug and/or alcohol occurs within a few hours after the first dose. Naltrexone blocks the high from the substances and reduces the urge to consume while on the drug. It is not addictive and patients have no withdrawal effects from cessation of the drug. It reduces the probability of relapse and can be taken with other prescribed medications (such as those to treat depression and other psychiatric conditions). Since it significantly reduces craving, which can reappear months or years later, naltrexone offers the patient an increased chance of long-term successful recovery. Naltrexone is used in combination with treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy

• Vivitrol – This is the injectable version of naltrexone, approved by the FDA in 2006, intended for use in patients who are able to abstain from drinking in an outpatient setting. It is used in combination with counseling and/or group therapy.

• Suboxone – One of the newer drugs approved by the FDA, suboxone is effective in treating withdrawal from opiate addiction and also maintenance, helping to reduce cravings.

• Campral – This drug (the marketed name for acamprosate) approved for treatment of alcohol addiction, has been shown to help heavy drinkers maintain abstinence for several weeks to months, and may be more effective in severely alcohol-dependent patients.

• Disulfiram – Approved for the treatment of alcohol dependence, disulfiram (Antabuse) in clinical studies shows promise in reducing cravings for cocaine.

Drugs currently under study in clinical trials for treating cocaine and stimulant abuse include Modafinil (a stimulant, helps reduce cravings for cocaine or amphetamines), Topiramate (an anticonvulsant, helps avoid cocaine use or reduce cravings), and Baclofen (a muscle relaxant, when combined with drug abuse counseling reduces cocaine use).

It is important to note that these medications may be effective for some people but not others. You also must obtain a prescription for them. And it is recommended that most of them be used in combination with psychotherapy, either individual counseling and/or group support meetings. But if you are experiencing drug and/or alcohol cravings, don’t think you can go it alone. Cravings will grab you and steer you down the path toward relapse quicker than you think. You have to get help to combat them. Medications may help, but they’re only one part of the process.

Therapy Is Crucial

Since much of alcohol and drug dependence mechanisms are controlled by repetitive behavior, like the daily reward of alcohol or drug use in specific situations (you’re with a certain person, in a particular bar or other setting, it’s that time of day, etc.), therapy to help identify and modify these thoughts and behaviors helps to change them. This form of psychotherapy is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. The therapy helps to train the patient’s brain to learn new behaviors and has been extremely effective in helping patients to remain sober and/or drug-free. In effect, you learn new ways of thinking and behavior that do not involve alcohol or drugs. You learn how to change destructive behavior and deal with recurring issues that drive addiction, understand what is going on with your body and brain, and learn new coping mechanisms to prevent relapse.

Many drug and alcohol rehab or treatment programs offer counseling, and some use CBT as part of the continuing treatment.

Education Is Important

You need to be informed on how alcohol and drug addiction works on your body and your brain. The more you learn about the effects of drug and alcohol abuse, the better the likelihood you can make the often difficult decision to stop drinking and/or doing drugs. Research as much as you can on the Internet at such sites as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), at www.drugabuse.gov), get brochures and pamphlets, talk with your counselor or therapist. Knowledge is one of your best weapons to combat cravings and avoid relapse.

Tend To Your Nutritional Needs

Most alcoholics and drug-dependent individuals entering treatment suffer some form of malnutrition. Their bodily functions are impaired due to the nutrient deficiency. Some alcoholics are also pre-diabetic or hypoglycemic. Alcoholics get caloric content from the alcohol. They drink rather than eat, with predictable nutritional consequences. You need to eat a diet high in quality nutrients: protein, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid foods high in sugar. Blood sugar levels are often mistaken for cravings. Supplements can also help.

Attend Support Groups

After you’ve left an alcohol and/or drug addiction treatment program (whether inpatient or outpatient), don’t try to chin it and expect to go it alone. That’s just a recipe for disaster. The nature of recovery is that it is an ongoing process. Relapse is blamed on cravings that can become simply unbearable – especially if they pop up weeks, months, or even years after you believe you’re fully recovered. To avoid relapse, and help minimize and/or deal with cravings when they do occur, regularly attend support groups, or continue individual counseling.

You can also join online drug and alcohol recovery forums where you can participate on an anonymous basis.

Find someone else who is at the same stage as you are in recovery. Sometimes the buddy system can work wonders as you help each other overcome the cravings to drink and use drugs.

Exercise for the Natural High

Vigorous exercise promotes the release of endorphins in the brain. This natural chemical can lift depression and reduce cravings. Whether the physical exercise is playing a game of softball, touch football, a game of golf, or going for a brisk hike, swim, running or other athletic activity, make sure you engage in exercise that’s sufficient enough to get your heart pumping. A good workout also promotes the release of endorphins. Feeling good naturally will chase away the cravings.

Meditation, Yoga and Other Forms of Relaxation

As you will learn in therapy and counseling, you need to develop ways to take your mind off of your cravings. You need to give it an outlet, a means to relax. Meditation, Yoga, Biofeedback, acupuncture, massage and other forms of relaxation can really help. When your mind and body are in a relaxed state, you’re less likely to experience the cravings. If and when they do come, you’ll be better able to deal with them.

Call a Friend

When you’re alone and cravings strike and it’s not time for a meeting or counseling, what can you do? Call a friend, someone who supports your not drinking or doing drugs. This may be your accountability partner from a group, or a minister, relative, or someone else. Experts recommend having a call list, a series of names you can call. Keep calling until you reach someone that has the time or is available to help.

Devise a Strategy

Knowing in advance what you will do and how you will act when cravings strike is more than half the battle. If you try to resist when you’re under stress, haven’t slept well, or are depressed or ill, and don’t have a plan, you’re subjecting yourself to potential relapse.

Look at the Now

Try not to think about abstaining forever. Sure, that’s your goal. But it can seem insurmountable and, at times, it may seem easier just to take that one drink, use just this one time. But remember that you can’t drink just one drink and you can’t just do a taste of a drug. They’re poison, and will land you right back at the beginning.

Instead, overcome your cravings just for today. Experts say that you should live your life in the now, live for the moment of sobriety and drug-free existence. This minute can then lead to the next minute, and more minutes beyond that. Living in the now also helps you to better appreciate the life and blessings you do have. It also helps to thank God or whatever higher power you believe in for your continued ability to overcome cravings and enjoy life to its fullest – alcohol and drug-free.