When Will Opioid Cravings Finally Stop?
Do heroin cravings ever go away? Opioid addiction, including heroin, is one of the most debilitating and habit-forming types of substance abuse.
Opioids produce powerful effects that cause the brain to crave more doses, rewarding the user with a surge of dopamine in each dose. Eventually, an opioid user will only feel this “reward” neurotransmitter by consuming more opioids.
Cravings can start very soon after beginning opioid use, both for heroin and prescription opioid painkillers. When people struggling with opioid addiction finally start the recovery process, one of the most commonly asked questions in recovery is how to deal with heroin cravings.
The Cravings Never Really Stop
A common phrase heard in recovery centers is that “cravings never go away.” This may sound discouraging or even defeatist at first, but people say it with good intentions. What the people who say this mean is that recovery is not a one-step process. Cravings do not magically stop once you finish recovery.
Opioid cravings will not last forever, but they last for a lot longer than most people would like. Recovery is an ongoing process that lasts for the rest of one’s life, and the power of cravings diminishes with time.
During recovery, people struggling with opioid addiction will learn new coping techniques and relapse prevention therapies for managing environmental triggers. Substance abuse recovery will also help an individual struggling with addiction manage the stages of cravings.
The most significant cravings appear very soon after a person’s last dose of opioids. The detoxification process typically involves the most significant cravings, sometimes causing individuals experiencing them to:
- Lash out violently
- Experience extreme emotions
- Attempt to escape recovery
- Undergo a significant medical decline
The acute withdrawal period is dangerous for advanced opioid users, as the body starts to shut down and cravings become more overwhelming.
After detox, the first few days and weeks of recovery may also entail a degree of acute withdrawal. Cravings become obsessions, and this is a very delicate time for anyone struggling with an opioid addiction.
People in recovery at this stage often experience significant cravings first thing in the morning, during alone time, and during stress. As time goes on, these cravings appear more sporadically and with less intensity.
A few months into recovery will typically mean less frequent and less significant cravings. People at this stage will start to go for longer periods of time without cravings, and they will typically start to master the craving control techniques learned in recovery.
This is still a sensitive time, and environmental stressors and the sudden return to “normal life” can create the temptation for relapse. However, with every craving successfully quelled, the person moves closer to true sober living.
Managing Stressors in Long-Term Sober Living
Some people report feeling “normal” again in as little as six weeks after completing rehab, while others say it took six months or more to start to feel this way. Every person is different, and the psychological factors behind addiction may have deep roots that take time to uncover.
After about a year, every person who struggled with addiction and completed rehab will have likely faced all of the environmental triggers that could lead to relapse. Facing these temptations and applying the lessons learned in recovery builds a strong bedrock for lifelong sobriety.
Relapse Prevention Therapies
People who have been living sober for years will still report feeling cravings from time to time, but these cravings are more of an annoyance than a pressing issue at this point. After a few years of sober living, the relapse prevention techniques learned in rehab become almost second nature.
Aperson entering rehab for the first time may feel like the cravings will never stop. However, the future will start looking more hopeful after they get into the swing of rehab and recovery. Several therapies during rehab will help an individual struggling with opioid addiction to handle the psychological triggers that could lead to a relapse later.
A common therapeutic treatment for substance abuse is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Originally developed in the 1980s as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, EMDR aims to change the way traumatic memories are stored in the brain. These memories often have a significant impact on an individual’s cravings and addictive behaviors.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) emphasizes how we think and feel, and how those thoughts and feelings translate into action. CBT uses the Socratic method and draws on concepts from ancient philosophy to help individuals understand their emotional responses to cravings and other addictive behaviors.
CBT can help a person struggling with opioid addiction to understand the impact that his or her own thoughts have on the addiction, instead of focusing solely on environmental triggers.
On the other hand, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) focuses on psychosocial treatment. It includes mindfulness techniques, and helps the patient regulate emotions. DBT also helps with tolerating pain (not changing it) and maintaining stronger relationships with others.
Don’t Let Fear of Cravings Stop You
Ultimately, everyone who enters substance abuse treatment will deal with cravings on some level. Some people experience them more acutely and for a longer period of time than others. Nonetheless, the fear of cravings should never deter you from seeking treatment for substance abuse.
Cravings are intense and uncomfortable, but they diminish over time. Patients at Reflections Recovery Center learn how to manage these cravings in healthy ways to achieve lifelong sobriety.