March 29, 2023

Grounding Techniques for Addiction and How They Can Help

A woman thinking about the benefits of sobriety

Grounding techniques for addiction, otherwise known as grounding exercises, can help you to bring your mind into the present moment.

There are many applications for grounding techniques, including alleviating:

  • Drug abuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Stress
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)

Grounding techniques are tried and tested approaches to help those who feel overwhelmed by distressing thoughts, feelings, or memories. Techniques vary from straightforward deep breathing to more advanced grounding like meditation.

How Do Grounding Techniques Work?

Grounding techniques allow you to focus on the present, rewiring your focus so it lasers in on the here and now. This can a valuable distraction if you are overwhelmed by physical sensations and emotions during recovery from drug addiction.

There are many different grounding techniques, but they all have a common goal: returning your focus to the present moment when you experience:

  • Cravings
  • Unwanted memories
  • Flashbacks
  • Panic attacks

At their most basic, grounding exercises involve deep and conscious breathing. Some more complex grounding techniques call for self-awareness and deep cognitive abilities.

Many people who practice grounding techniques find that allocating a dedicated chair or area to grounding is beneficial. That said, these techniques can be performed just about anywhere.

What Is the Difference Between Grounding and Mindfulness?

Grounding and mindfulness are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are different skills.

Grounding involves guiding your attention away from your thoughts, focusing instead on your present safety – avoiding drug cravings, for instance. Mindfulness, by contrast, involves deliberately paying attention to the present moment.

Some people in the early phase of recovery from drug addiction find that mindfulness can be a useful tool when cravings first present. Grounding techniques may prove to be more versatile in ongoing recovery, though.

Grounding Skills and Drug Cravings

Those in recovery from drug addiction find that triggers are activated if they come into contact with stimuli that reminds them of past experiences. Triggers are typically either people, places, or things that prompt cravings in the form of an intense desire to use a particular addictive substance.

Grounding techniques can be applied at any time in many different situations. When drug cravings manifest, your CNS (central nervous system) acts as if you are experiencing the event. A craving offers you a means of relief. By becoming acutely aware of your personal triggers and catching cravings as they develop, you can return to the present moment rather than fantasizing about drug use. Most cravings will pass within minutes.

One of the most widely used grounding techniques is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Simple to execute, all you need to do is:

  1. Acknowledge 5 different things you can see.
  2. Acknowledge 4 different things you can feel.
  3. Acknowledge 3 different things you can hear.
  4. Acknowledge 2 different things you can smell.
  5. Acknowledge 1 different things you can taste.

By taking the time to perform this exercise as a drug craving first appears, you could distract yourself for long enough that the cravings subsides.

Different Types of Grounding Techniques

There are many more grounding exercises beyond the classic 5-4-3-2-1 technique. These can be categorized as follows:

  • Mental grounding techniques
  • Physical grounding techniques
  • Soothing grounding techniques

Mental grounding techniques

The following grounding exercises employ mental distractions to help you redirect your thoughts to the present and away from distressing emotions or cravings.

  1. Memory game: Study a busy picture or photograph – a cityscape, for example – for 10 seconds. Turn the image face down and try to recreate it in your mind. Alternatively, mentally list everything you can recall about the picture.
  2. Anchoring phrases: “I’m <full name>. I am X years old, and I live in <city / state> It’s 7pm on Saturday, January 14. I am sitting at my desk and reading.” Expand upon the anchoring phrase and add details about the weather or your surroundings until you feel calmer.
  3. Imagine leaving painful feelings behind: Visualize gathering your emotions and balling them up, the putting them into a box. Visualize walking away from the painful feelings – the feelings are still there but you do not need to be affected by them.

Physical grounding techniques

Physical grounding techniques harness tangible objects or your five senses to help you navigate emotional distress. Common examples include:

  1. Deep breathing: Inhale slowly and deeply and then exhale. Feel the sensation of each breath as it fills your lungs. Focus on how it feels to push the breath back out.
  2. Place your hands into water: Put your hands into some water. Focus on the temperature of the water and the sensation on your palms, fingers, and fingertips. Start with warm water and then use cold water. Next, try moving from cold water to warm water. How do the sensations differ?
  3. Move your body: Perform some simple stretches or exercises like jumping jacks, jogging in place, or jumping rope. Focus on how you feel as you perform these movements.

Soothing grounding techniques

Soothing grounding techniques can be especially comforting in times of emotional distress. Consider the following techniques:

  1. Practicing self-kindness: Repeat compassionate phrases to yourself such as, “This is a tough time, but you’ll pull through” or “You are doing your best and trying hard.”
  2. Picture your favorite place: Imagine your favorite place and use all of your senses to recreate the scene.
  3. Plan an outing or activity: Think about going out, whether alone, with a friend, or with a loved one. Picture what you will do and when. As with all grounding techniques, focus on detail as much as possible to get the most from the exercises.

10 Grounding Techniques to Help Drug Addicts

Here are ten tried and tested techniques capable of reducing anxiety and stress during addiction recovery by grounding yourself in the present:

  1. Acknowledge what is unfolding: If you are confronted by negative thoughts or find your mind wandering to thoughts of using drugs, acknowledge the craving. Next, focus on bringing your mind to the present moment where you are sober and not taking drugs.
  2. Use the earthing technique: Head outside, remove your shoes and walk around barefoot. Notice the different sensations you feel as walk without the protection of shoes and socks.
  3. Focus on we instead of me: If you find yourself imagining that you are suffering, reframe this and consider that we are all suffering.
  4. Embrace nature: Head out to somewhere relaxing where you can breathe fresh air and listen to the sounds of your natural surroundings. Ground yourself by returning to more primal instincts.
  5. Slow down: If you find yourself getting urges to use drugs, do not gloss over these feelings. Instead, acknowledge the craving by slowing down and becoming conscious of it.
  6. Replace “I can do this” with “I am doing this: Focus on calm and positive thoughts, congratulating yourself on moving from active addiction into recovery.
  7. Lift some weights: If you feel a craving for drugs developing, drop what you are doing for five minutes and do some simple exercises with some weights appropriate for your strength level. This will distract you from thoughts of drug use, while at the same time giving you a physical and mental boost.
  8. Tell yourself, “This isn’t me”: Imagine the painful emotions or cravings you are experiencing as a temporary feeling inside your head, a feeling that will soon pass. Acknowledge yourself as an entity apart from those feelings.
  9. Focus on areas of tension in your body: Focus on the areas where you are feeling tense and perform some stretching, or practice some yoga routines to relieve that tension.
  10. Leave the triggering place: If you find yourself tempted to use drugs in a particular situation, one of the most effective means of grounding yourself is to remove yourself from the situation. Head outside and practice some gratitude exercises by mentally listing three things you are grateful for in your ongoing recovery.

Drug Addiction Treatment at Gratitude Lodge in Southern California

Whether you are addicted to illicit drugs, prescription medications, or alcohol, choose to kickstart your recovery at Gratitude Lodge’s pet-friendly rehab centers in Newport Beach, and Long Beach.

Take advantage of our supervised medical detox program to streamline your drug withdrawal and to mitigate cravings during detox. After a week or so, you can transition directly into one of the following treatment programs:

30-day inpatient program

IOP (intensive outpatient program)

Dual diagnosis treatment program

All Gratitude Lodge treatment programs involve a personalized treatment plan that draws from these evidence-based and holistic interventions:

  • Grounding techniques
  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Psychotherapy (CBT and DBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapy
  • Daily meetings
  • 12-step immersion program

When you are ready to move from active drug addiction into ongoing recovery, we can help you build a firm foundation at Gratitude Lodge’s rehab centers in Southern California. Call admissions today at 888-861-1658.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

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