Quitting takes willpower, but when it comes to resisting cravings, what you really need is ‘won’t’ power. The problem is, the more you think about the things that you shouldn’t be doing, the greater the temptation becomes.

The human brain is a fascinating and sometimes fickle organ. You make up your mind. You quit, but at some point, you experience what is known as a ‘trigger’, and all the old associations and temptations come flooding back. What should you do?

Distract yourself

Have you ever noticed how you can distract babies and children from whatever’s making them cry by getting their minds occupied with new thoughts and activities? Of course, you’re not a child – but your mind still works in the same way. Give it a new ‘toy’ to play with, and the craving just goes away.

Since your current environment may have presented you with a trigger for your craving, it’s a good idea to get out and escape the situation. Take a brisk walk, or hop on your bicycle for some healthy exercise and a change of scene. Get down to the gym and put yourself through a strenuous workout. If you aren’t in the mood to get physical, you can take a drive to a pleasant lookout point in your area or take yourself out for a milkshake.

Talk to someone who supports you

Get grounded by calling or visiting someone who is supporting your recovery. Here’s a funny thing. If you tell them you aren’t going to backslide, and really mean it, you’ll be way less likely to go ahead and do it. Researchers have shown that once we take a standpoint and explain it to someone else, we’re far more likely to stick to our guns, no matter what. Strange, but true!

Do something you really get involved in

Whether it’s playing your favourite video game or working on your latest creative project, doing something that you find completely absorbing doesn’t leave room for the craving to linger. So choose something that you love doing and focus on just that thing.

Focus in – then change the channel

Why did you stop in the first place? Create images in your mind of all the things you used to do, and remember why they made you rebel against your addiction. Visualise the things that would have happened to you if you had continued on your old path of substance abuse or addiction. Now it’s time to change gear. Think about great things that have absolutely nothing to do with your addiction or your recovery. Conjure up positive images of people, places and experiences you love. Think about the things you still want to do in life and picture yourself actually doing them.

Get ‘in the zone’

Prayer, meditation and relaxation techniques can be your best friends when you experience cravings during your recovery. Take a bit of time out somewhere quiet and practice deep breathing techniques. Let your thoughts drift by without focussing in on anything or even judging it. This type of activity is called ‘mindfulness’, and it’s a great way of getting in touch with yourself and relaxing. Live in the moment and simply ‘be’. Experience the physical sensations, sights and sounds around you as if you were noticing them for the very first time. It’s a wonderful skill that’s worth developing, and it will help you cope with all sorts of stressors and add to your quality of life if you keep it up. Try spending a little time every day on this form of meditation. It gets easier as you go.

What if the craving is physical?

If you experience physical cravings, playing mind games with yourself isn’t going to work. What you need to do is to detox – preferably under expert supervision. Physical cravings and withdrawal symptoms are scary, unpleasant and even painful. Depending on your addiction, they may even prove fatal.

Even though you’ve resolved that you’re going to quit, your body isn’t accepting that. Having physical cravings doesn’t mean that you’re a weak-willed person, but it does mean that you’re an addict. And in case you didn’t realise it, addiction is an illness. Much as you may prefer to try going it alone, you really need help. Start by seeing your doctor, or if talking to the family doctor is too embarrassing to face, get in touch with a professional rehab center for advice as soon as you can.