Take 4 deep breaths
Say to yourself, “I’m having a craving”
Describe to yourself how the craving makes your body feel
Describe to yourself how the caving makes your mind feel
Repeat steps 1-4 until the craving is gone
Make a mental note of how long the craving lasted
If you have ever abused drugs or had difficulty controlling other things such as eating or spending, you know what it’s like to experience craving. The strong desire to have something can make you uncomfortable. You can often feel it somewhere in your body. It seems to take control of your mind, making it hard to think of anything else. Instead of trying to avoid cravings, it’s best to stand up to them. The 6 steps above will help you do that.
The use of drugs or alcohol can be very harmful to your health, so schedule an appointment to talk with a doctor if you have cravings for any of those things.
Never try to quit drinking alcohol without consulting a doctor. Doing so could be deadly. Also, a doctor can prescribe medications to help you quit using drugs or alcohol. A doctor can also connect you with other sources of help.
The 6 steps presented here can be helpful in dealing with cravings during your recovery from drug or alcohol use, but only after you’ve graduated from a comprehensive treatment program.
These steps for facing cravings are a tried and true technique. They are based on the research by G. Alan Marlatt, who adopted the principles of an ancient form of meditation for the treatment of addictions.
Like any other technique, the more you practice it, the better you will be at doing it. Start practicing the 6 steps at least once a day.
Let’s go through these 6 steps now:
Take 4 deep breaths. Starting with 4 deep breaths helps you to settle down and calm your mind for the work ahead. You learned how to breathe here. If possible, take the 4 deep breaths with your eyes closed and while seated in a quiet and comfortable place. When you’ve practiced enough, you’ll be able to do this anywhere. For now, it’ll be easiest to learn in a quiet and comfortable place. After taking the 4 deep breaths, keep your eyes closed and go on to step #2.
Say to yourself, “I am having a craving”. This step is very important. Accept that you have cravings and that cravings are a part of your life now. Know that they will come…but that they will also go. If you hide from them or try to ignore them, they will find you. You cannot run from them. You must own them. You must stand up to them. So, when you do experience cravings, begin facing up to them by saying to yourself, “I am having a craving for [fill in the blank].”
Describe to yourself how the craving makes your body feel. With your eyes still closed, start scanning your body from the top of your head and move downward toward your feet. If you find some place in your body that you feel your craving, stop there and observe it. Describe to yourself how it feels. Is it a constant burning sensation? Is it a deep throbbing? It may also feel like something else. There’s no “right answer”. There’s only what you feel. Try to describe every detail of that feeling to yourself. Notice how strong it is and rate it on a 0 to 10 scale. After you do that, keep scanning downward until you reach your feet. See if any other parts of your body feel the craving.
Describe to yourself how the caving makes your mind feel. With your eyes still closed, notice how the craving makes you feel mentally. Overwhelmed? Scared? Guilty? Maybe all of these. Maybe some other way. No matter how it makes you feel, describe the feelings to yourself without beating yourself up about it. Don’t criticize yourself for having the feelings. Just accept that they are there. Don’t try to push them away. Face them.
Repeat steps 1-4 until the craving is gone. Cravings don’t last forever. They come and they go. After you’ve completed steps 1 through 4, you may notice that the craving is still there. You will likely notice that it is not as strong as it was when it started. If it is still there, repeat steps 1 through 4.
Make a mental note of how long the craving lasted. This step is important because, as they say, “knowledge is power.” Knowing how long your craving lasted gives you powerful information. It shows you that the craving came and it left. It did not last forever. Knowing this about your cravings will empower you to stand up to them.
Benjamin Williamson, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist. He earned his medical degree from the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan where he also completed his residency training in psychiatry. He currently practices psychiatry in coastal North Carolina. In his free time he enjoys surfing, organizing activities related to ocean conservation and Vipassana meditation.
Disclaimer: Creating peacefulness is not easy and requires a commitment to training. What we are offering is an "on ramp" to the path toward peacefulness. You can experience some benefits right away, but you will benefit more and more the longer you travel on the road.