How to Overcome Cravings In 5 Simple Steps


Addictions and compulsions ruin relationships. Learn how to stop cravings before they become binges.

Do you have a compulsive habit or addiction that is ruining your relationship? Is your spouse or partner threatening to leave you? Is your behavior affecting you at work? Even if you are in a Twelve Step program, fighting off cravings is still a difficult job.

What can you do if you can't stop overeating, drinking, drugging, spending, gambling, smoking, sitting at your computer for hours watching porn, or something else that makes you feel good temporarily? Many people will suggest that you "just say NO." However, that doesn't work permanently. Have you ever noticed that when you are able to stop one behavior you often begin doing something else compulsively?

Many alcoholics overeat sugary foods; compulsive eaters often are shopaholics; compulsive spenders may also have food or alcohol issues. In the 1800's thousands of alcoholics in Ireland who swore off booze became addicted to drinking ether! Does this describe you? Do you engage in more than one feel-good behavior?

My client Jane was an alcoholic, drug abusing, compulsive overeater. She could never get free of all three cravings at the same time. When she moved to another city she decided to seek treatment from an addiction counselor. He told her, "Whatever you do, don't drink!" She later wrote to me that she had stopped drinking but had gained 30 pounds! It took her more than ten years to finally kick all her addictions using conventional therapy.

How do you stop going from one feel-good to another?  The answer lies in the brain. Everyone experiences stress in their lives, I call the kind of stress that causes the most binges Super Stress. Super Stress occurs when you feel totally powerless over a situation or relationship in your life. You tell yourself, “Ain’t it awful and there’s nothing I can do about it!”

Super Stress creates an imbalance in the dopamine and serotonin in the brain's pleasure center. The longing for relief from stress, whether physical or emotional, is what creates your craving. The craving is then directed toward any substance or behavior that will raise dopamine and make you feel good again.

But relief is temporary. When the stressful situation continues the craving returns.
The way to end craving cycles is to learn how to balance the dopamine and serotonin in your brain. Follow these 5 Steps and you can avert dangerous binges that lead to self-hatred and frustration. You will feel better and so will those that love you.

Step One

Become aware of your craving for a substance or behavior that makes you feel better. Even if you are not near alcohol, food, drugs, or shopping malls right now, are you making plans to have a binge later today?

Step Two
How strong is your desire? How intense is the feeling that "I gotta have it or do it?" Use a rating scale from 0-10 with 10 being so strong that you feel as if you have to give in immediately no matter what else is happening right now.

Step Three

Let's say that you answered that the intensity of your craving was 9. Ask yourself this question: What in my life today is a 9? Then take a deep breath and let it out as you allow the answer to pop into your mind. Remember that you will usually get in touch with something that you feel powerless over.

Some common examples: I just heard that my father has cancer; my son was kicked out of school for cheating; my wife lost her job; I can't pay my mortgage this month; my fiancé left me for another woman; my dog got run over.

Step Four

Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Put your hands over your heart and take 3 deep breaths. Allow yourself to get in touch with the emotions you feel about the situation. Perhaps you are angry at your fiancé and feel enraged, unloved, abandoned and insulted. If you can't pay your bills you may get in touch with fear, despair and self-hatred.

Step Five
Use the Phoenix Effect Process to transform stress into strength. Pick one feeling at a time and create a symbol for that emotion. Anger might be a bonfire or just a big red blob. Abandoned could look like a kitten stranded in the woods. Think up a color or shape for that feeling. It is OK if you make fear a big black letter "F."

Close your eyes, take another deep breath, and watch as that symbol gets bigger and bigger and bigger until it finally stops. Don't try to force it. Just relax and watch it.

When the symbol stops growing it will begin to get smaller and smaller and smaller until it completely disappears or fades away without a trace.  Again, don't try to shrink it on purpose. Let it take all the time it needs. Then go on to the next emotion and do the same thing. 

When you have done this procedure with each emotion think about what was stressing you so much that you were about to have a binge. Most likely you will have new ideas about how to handle the upsetting event and your craving will be gone!

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