Managing 3 Types of Cravings in Addiction Recovery

December 5, 2019 Amanda Richardson

As a recovering behavioral addict, I've learned quite a bit about cravings in addiction recovery and how to manage them. Through my experience, I've determined that cravings can typically be split into three different categories: physical, mental, and emotional. Some recovering individuals are more impacted by one of these craving categories, while others are plagued with the task of fighting all three on a regular basis. Addiction recovery, like most things, does not come in a one-size-fits-all format, though. You must figure out which cravings affect you the most and learn how to manage cravings in addiction recovery on your personal recovery journey.

Managing Physical Cravings in Addiction Recovery

Physical cravings might be the most familiar and frequently discussed cravings in recovery. Physical cravings are often associated with detoxing, especially from notoriously addictive substances like cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, alcohol, opioids, and more. However, these cravings in recovery are not exclusive to substance addictions. As a recovering behavioral addict, I've experienced many situations where my physical craving for sex, pornography, or food became the driving force behind my addictive behaviors, sometimes even leading to a full-blown relapse.

A physical craving can feel nearly impossible to power through because you are literally at war with your own body. I've learned that one of the best tools to fight a physical craving is to combat one physical sensation with another. For me, this typically means having to physically leave my house and go for a walk or participate in some type of exercise class. The combination of changing my physical location and doing something active can reset my body in some mysteriously, miraculous way.

However, this method isn't foolproof. I believe in more extreme circumstances (especially in early recovery) medicinal methods might be needed. For a more personalized recovery plan, please contact a medical or addiction professional to figure out what's needed at this stage in your recovery.

Fighting Mental Cravings in Recovery

Mental cravings differ from physical ones because they are often more subtle and manipulative. In my experience, mental cravings are commonly misunderstood and underestimated by many recovering addicts. Because a mental craving in recovery typically has no physical sensation to accompany it, it is often misconstrued as something that's "all in your head."

However, it is important to remember that just because something is in your head, doesn't mean it isn't real. Our thoughts, our ideas, and even our desires all formulate in our minds but over time those internal thoughts and ideas can change our lives and sometimes not for the better. We must take every single thought seriously in our recovery, especially the unhealthy ones.

In my specific addiction journey, mental cravings will sneak up on me in the form of persuasive thoughts, tempting dreams, or unhealthy self-talk. The most powerful practice I've learned when battling mental cravings is the use of mindfulness and meditation. Deep, guided breathing techniques, a simple body scan practice, 60 seconds of mindful thinking, or even a quick yoga flow can shake up your mental state just enough to get through those mental urges and desires.

Dissecting Emotional Cravings in Addiction Recovery

Emotional cravings are likely the most confusing cravings I've endured in my recovery. Unlike fighting through a physical sensation or navigating the battlefield of the mind, emotional cravings tend to tackle something much deeper, like the feeling of intimacy or a desire to feel emotionally safe.

I can't speak for everyone, but I can say that in my personal experience the emotional cravings in addiction recovery tend to be at their strongest when my emotional state is feeling frail and fragmented. I suffer from depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder so I'm pretty confident that these disorders make me even more susceptible to emotional cravings and emotional triggers in addiction recovery.

I believe that emotional cravings are most prominent in individuals who used unhealthy behaviors or substances to cope with emotionally difficult situations. My specific emotional cravings are typically triggered by problems with my family, the sense of abandonment in relationships, feeling unloved or unwanted, or experiencing a lack of control over my own life. However, please note that this list of triggers could differ greatly depending on your past experiences, possible co-occurring disorders, and many more unpredictable variables.

I've found that the most suitable approach when fighting emotional cravings or triggering situations is the use of talk therapy through cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy. Being able to verbally process through emotionally disturbing or difficult situations with a trusted confidant is a gift unlike any other.

Even though I'm many years into my recovery now, emotional cravings seem to be the ones that just won't loosen their grip. My therapist has been an incredibly helpful tool when navigating things like this by helping me talk through my biggest insecurities, worst fears, and recurring irrational thoughts.

Final Thoughts on Cravings in Recovery

The most important thing to remember about cravings is that they are perfectly normal in recovery. We all have them in some form or fashion. Once you figure out the root of your addiction and your addictive behaviors, you'll have a much better chance of effectively fighting cravings and triggers in your personal recovery.

Also, if your cravings in recovery get the best of you through either a mental or physical relapse, don't forget that it's never too late to begin again. You never really lose your sober time, you simply start your recovery count over again with even more strength, courage, and grit than you had before. There is no shame in falling as long as you pick yourself up and keep moving forward.

APA Reference
Richardson, A. (2019, December 5). Managing 3 Types of Cravings in Addiction Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Amanda Richardson

Amanda is a professional health and wellness writer who specializes in creating content tailored to the female audience. She is especially passionate about social injustice, mental health, and addiction recovery.

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