Dealing with cravings is one of the biggest challenges of addiction recovery. Sometimes they seem to come out of nowhere and they can be very intense. Your brain starts to engage in all sorts of crazy logic to justify using “just one more time.” You might find yourself pacing your room, feeling like you’re about to lose your mind. How long do you have to put up with these cravings? Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer to that. Every drug is different and every person is different. Some people are relatively unbothered by cravings, while others battle cravings for years. Generally speaking, cravings fall off in stages. The first stage is acute withdrawal. This is the most intense stage and a lot of people don’t make it through detox without relapsing, especially when they try to detox alone. During this period, the drugs are slowly leaving your system and the chemical change causes all sorts of havoc. Exactly what symptoms you experience depends on the drug, but withdrawal symptoms typically include agitation, irritability, anxiety, headaches, nausea, and insomnia. When you’re in the grip of bad withdrawal and you know using again will make it stop, cravings can get very intense. This phase typically lasts a week or two. After that, cravings fall off quite a bit. They may be frequent, but not constant, and they will gradually become less intense and less frequent over the next year. Sometimes people experience post-acute-withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, which typically feels like protracted depression, emotional numbness, or irritability. This period is difficult because after months of feeling like mush, people start to wonder what the point of sobriety is if they’re just going to feel awful for the rest of their lives. PAWS can last anywhere from a few months to over a year, but it does eventually go away. You should definitely talk to your therapist about your PAWS symptoms. Most people notice a pretty significant reduction in cravings by the five year mark. This is typically when recovery is considered solid. Cravings don’t disappear entirely, but they are fewer and farther between, and most importantly, you have experience in managing them. No one is ever really safe from relapse and it’s important to keep working on recovery, but cravings at this point are typically minor compared to early sobriety. The important thing is to know your triggers and learn strategies for dealing with cravings. Addiction is, among other things, a sort of learning disorder. Your brain learns too well that it likes certain substances and the rush of dopamine creates a very deep connection between the trigger and the substance. Many researchers believe that connection never completely goes away. Even after several years, a stressful event may make you want to use again. Self-awareness, emotional regulation, and social support are the keys to staying sober.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.