Cravings do not usually just come out nowhere. They are born out of our inner experiences. We might have a memory of a challenging experience or we might see a scene on television that sparks thoughts and feelings that triggers a craving. In fact, in many cases, triggers happen unconsciously. That is, they happen without our knowing. For instance, a deeply ingrained thinking pattern might unknowingly ignite old feelings that we are so familiar with but that are negative and challenging.

It’s interesting to note that almost anything can become a trigger depending upon the associations that have formed in our mind. Brain researchers have found that the brain contains a vast network of connections, and we are forming and losing those connections every day depending on what we give our energy to. For instance, if feeling angry meant grabbing a beer again and again, then over time, as that connection got stronger and stronger, then there might be an unconscious connection to drink when feelings of anger arise.

However, part of the task of recovery and sobriety is to become aware of those internal connections and create new and healthier ones. The following is a list of common feelings that have led to cravings for many people. These are the kinds of feelings that many people might want to escape from through drinking or drug use. They’re listed here so that you can begin to become aware of them in yourself.

-resentment built up over time
-feeling the need to lash out verbally or physically
-guilt for lashing out or guilt for feeling angry
-anxiety, worry, or stress
-missing the excitement of using when you’ve experienced it and enjoyed it
-feelings of emptiness, sadness, or depression
-feeling hopeless about the future
-feeling guilty about what you have put your family or others through
-not feeling attractive, smart, or financially stable enough
-feeling a deep sense of shame about who you are
-feeling like no one loves you
-feeling incapable of loving others
-feeling heavy criticism around you
-feeling hurt or left out
-feelings of sorrow about losing someone you love
-deep regret about the past

If you’re have a history of feeling these emotions, perhaps you recognize the connection between one or more of the feelings listed above and a tendency to use. For instance, does feeling regret about your past lead you to get high? Does feeling shame about who you are lead you to drink?

These are common associations. If you’re noticing any connections, you’re not the only one. These sort of connections are common to have. The first step is to recognize them. Once you’re aware of what you’re doing, you can change it. The next time you’re feeling angry, for example, you might replace drinking with going for a walk. Or the next time you’re feeling regret you might be able to replace getting high with talking about your feelings with a friend you trust. The point is to do something different. Instead of using drugs or drinking when you’re feeling these emotions, choose a new behavior.

The following is a list of new choices to make when you’re experiencing heavy or challenging feelings:

-Take a walk.
-Write in a journal.
-Vent your feelings in a safe place – with a trusted friend or therapist.
-When you notice a negative thought, change it to a positive one.
-Stay aware of any negative thoughts you say to yourself and change them.
-Go to a yoga class.
-Breathe. There are many breathing techniques to learn that you can implement in times of emotional challenge.
-Go for a bike ride.
-Sit on the beach and think about the best way to respond to the situation you’re bothered with.
-Learn other relaxation techniques to keep yourself more calm throughout the day.
-Tell yourself not to take it personally.
-Coach yourself to make a healthy choice instead of reacting to your feelings.

These are examples of what can replace drinking or drug use when you’re experiencing challenging emotions. However, you probably know what is best for you when faced with feelings that turn into cravings. Practice making the healthier choice in these situations, and in time, it too will be your unconscious way of responding.

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