Experiencing cravings are a normal part of recovering from any form of addiction — to alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, sex … or even television. They’re uncomfortable and complain at us like a nagging child, and we quite naturally want them to end. The quickest way to end a craving is by giving in to it. The problem however is that by giving in to it, we reinforce the addiction.
Think of this like the five year old child begging for a cookie. If we say, “No… no … no …” and then, frustrated with the complaining and wanting it to stop, we give in and say, “All right, have the cookie!” we’ve just taught the five year old a very bad lesson: enough complaining and you’ll get what you want.
We even have to be careful of our thoughts. Thoughts such as “I’ll die if I don’t get it” or “This isn’t going to end” or “I’d love nothing more than to have a drink (or whatever your addiction might be),” only increase the craving. The thoughts may express what we’re feeling, but the trap is when we believe their true and start entertaining them, then we start imagining what it would be like to give in to the craving, and then we’ve only increase our suffering many times over.
We don’t want to teach our addictions that if they complain loud enough, they’ll will.
So what to do.
There are many things. We can distract, seek support, revisit our values, pray to a higher power, turn our attention to helping others or buckle down and white-knuckle it. All of these are useful and necessary tools in the struggle with addiction.
Another useful tool is mindfulness. With an absolute commitment not to give in to the craving, we can settle ourselves down, calm the mind and investigate exactly what the feeling of craving is all about. This investigation requires that we don’t judge the craving and we don’t feed it with thoughts about using. We simply notice the body sensations, the emotions, and let whatever thoughts arise, rise up and drift away.
We take a skeptical stance about what this craving is really saying to us, maintain doubt that feeding it is going to make our life easier, and then, by mindfully letting the craving flow through our body and mind without attachment, we learn that it loses its force. In fact, research shows that a craving will last less than a minute if we do not feed it with thoughts or actions. We then soon begin to learn that cravings are like after-shocks. They rumble for a little while, but if we don’t attach meaning to them, they’ll soon subside.
This is the true lesson our cravings need to learn, not that they won’t go away unless fed, but that discomfort arises and fades away and that this is part of our recovery from addiction.