Dealing With Cravings for Opiates
Cravings for opiates are common when you're in early recovery. There are steps you can take that will minimize cravings to help you avoid a relapse.
Opiates are narcotic painkillers that alter the way your brain responds to pain. They make the user feel temporarily relaxed or pain-free. Your body has natural endorphins to help you recognize, reduce, and cope with physical pain. When someone continues to use opiates long-term, the natural process decreases and eventually stops. When the body stops producing these natural endorphins, higher and higher doses of opiates are required to prevent uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Once someone has become addicted to opiates, it is incredibly difficult to get off of them due to the terrible withdrawals and intense cravings. Cravings are a burning desire or drive to use a substance; they are initiated out of your consciousness. Cravings will cause a person to go to extreme measures to obtain the drug. It often feels like your life is dependent on it and for that moment, nothing else matters.
According to the National Institutes of Health:
Opioid addiction is characterized by a powerful, compulsive urge to use opioid drugs, even when they are no longer required medically. Opioids have a high potential for causing addiction in some people, even when the medications are prescribed appropriately and taken as directed. Many prescription opioids are misused or diverted to others. Individuals who become addicted may prioritize getting and using these drugs over other activities in their lives, often negatively impacting their professional and personal relationships. It is unknown why some people are more likely to become addicted than others. (NIH)
Often the fear of the severely uncomfortable withdrawal prevents a person from getting off opiates. Overcoming the intense cravings and successfully recovering from opiate addiction is a difficult process, but there is hope. There are different ways to deal with cravings for opiates, and it’s important to remember that everyone is different, so treatment must take an individualized approach.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
One of the ways to deal with opiate cravings is medication-assisted treatment. For some individuals, the mere thought of withdrawal from opiates causes debilitating anxiety. Others may have tried to recover, but find themselves unable to successfully quit and in a vicious cycle of relapse. Medications like Methadone and Suboxone or Subutex are available to help those people deal with the cravings and prevent the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These medications are opioids, so some people in the recovery community believe that if an individual is on MAT, they are switching one drug for another and aren’t sober. However, medication-assisted treatment has saved a lot of people’s lives and has enabled a lot to get their lives back.
For those that wish to avoid all mood and mind-altering substances, but still may need the help of medication, there is also an abstinence medication available. Naltrexone is an opioid blocker. It works by blocking the opioid centers in the brain. Naltrexone doesn’t satisfy cravings as the other medications do, but it may reduce cravings. If a person is “blocked” from using or feeling an opioid, cravings tend to subside.
Coping Skills to Deal With Opiate Cravings
Cravings can last anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Cravings are time-limited and will eventually subside after time. There are a few coping skills that one can use to help deal with cravings. The first one is distraction techniques. A person can occupy their mind with a focused activity and the mental energy that is devoted to the craving is taken away. Some different distraction techniques are:
- Reading a book or magazine
- Going for a walk or exercising briefly
- Listening to music
- Eating a snack
Another coping skill an individual can use to help deal with cravings is talking. You can either talk to yourself (self-talk) or talk with others. Communication is so important in recovery. When you are experiencing cravings or on the verge of a relapse, you have to talk to someone in your support group. It is so important. Self-talk can also be effective. Telling yourself that this is normal and the cravings will subside.
The last coping skill one can use to deal with cravings is to practice mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness includes staying present with how you feel, avoiding judgments about your emotions and thoughts, and remaining “still”. You can practice mindfulness while exercising or being physically active, you are just accepting the cravings without trying to change them. The more you let go and accept what it is, the less control it will have over you and the sooner it will be gone. You can close your eyes and visualize being at the beach or ocean and listening to the waves.
Overcome Opiate Addiction
A couple of other things a person can do to deal with opiate cravings are attending meetings and establishing a healthy environment. Living in a healthy environment that supports sober living can be a very effective approach against cravings and relapse. When you’ve got other people around you that are going through the same things that you are, it helps you to make better choices. Especially if the environment you came from was one that has others around you using or potentially enabling old behaviors.
Support groups such as AA and NA or group meetings can also help; they are a big part of recovery. As I said above surround yourself with positive and supportive people that understand what you are going through, and you are also getting therapy. Also, you can develop lasting relationships with people that want the same thing as you, recovery. You can also maybe find a sponsor to help provide accountability and support.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, our addiction specialists are available around the clock to assist you. Absolute Awakenings is here to help you obtain long-term recovery. We understand that treatment is not a one size fits all approach so each client has their own unique, individualized experience. Call us today to begin a new journey!