Cravings are a normal part of addiction recovery. According to the inpatient addiction treatment no matter whether you haven’t used in months or you just stopped using this week, you’re likely to experience an urge to use at some point.
Urges are relentless, finding you at your weakest point and trying to convince you that you don’t really want the change you’ve worked so hard to accomplish. Drug cravings can quickly lead to a relapse if not handled appropriately.
Here are 8 ways to stop the urge to use.
When a craving arises, resist the urge to use by talking yourself out of it using logic and reason. Because a craving can often be “myopic” and prevent you from seeing the big picture outside the immediate moment, you can prepare a list ahead of time and have it handy to read to yourself when a drug craving comes on.
This list may contain all the reasons that you’ve chosen to quit in the first place as well as all of the negative consequences that could occur if you choose to use.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provides a myriad of techniques to use to cope with cravings when they arise. These include redirection, distraction, and visualization.1
When a craving arises, you may choose to redirect your attention to something else or distract yourself until the craving inevitably passes. Visualization techniques can also help you relax during a craving as you may imagine yourself in a relaxing setting.
CBT techniques can help you to spot cognitive distortions in your thinking. A common cognitive distortion that occurs during a drug craving is called catastrophizing. When you are experiencing a drug craving, you may catastrophize the situation by thinking things like “I’m never going to be able to make it through this” or “This feeling will never go away if I don’t give in and take this drug.” CBT techniques can help you to decatastrophize the situation and see it more objectively.
3. Get a Hobby
Hobbies not only build character and encourage joy, but they can provide an excellent means of distraction during a drug craving. Many times cravings arise out of boredom as the mind tries to find a way to fill a “void” or empty space. A hobby provides something else to engage in other than drug use.
Some hobbies you might try taking up include sports, playing free money making games, cooking, arts and crafts, dancing, hiking, fishing, or video games.
4. Surf the Urge
Rather than trying to stop the urge all together, surf the urge instead. Urge surfing is a mindfulness technique that rests on the principle of accepting a craving for what it is rather than resisting it and wanting it to go away.
To practice urge surfing, when you feel a craving coming on, stop and acknowledge it. Accept it completely for what it is and don’t try to make it go away. Sit down, close your eyes, and observe the thoughts in your mind and sensations within your body. It helps to verbally acknowledge the thoughts and feelings during the experience.
For example, you might say to yourself, “I feel uncomfortable and I am thinking about using drugs,” or “My palms are sweaty and my heart is beating fast.” Describe as many thoughts and sensations as possible until you no longer feel the craving. Urge surfing can help you realize that cravings come in waves and will eventually pass.
Basically, rather than trying to push them away, accept that they are there and ride them out.2,3
5. Self Care
Practicing good self-care such as eating healthy and exercising regularly can help promote physical health and emotional well-being, which will not only make you less likely to want to use drugs but will make you more resilient and better able to deny a craving when it does arise.
6. Know Your Triggers
During recovery, certain people, places, and things will inevitably make you want to use drugs. Knowing what your triggers are can help prepare you for the possibility of a craving and allow you to avoid it when possible.
Try making a list of your triggers and consider which ones you can honestly avoid. Recognize that there will be some triggers that are unavoidable, so come up with strategies for dealing with the cravings that may arise when you are triggered.
7. Reach Out to Others
If you feel a craving coming on, attend a support group where you can talk with other recovering addicts about your conflicting desire to use and commitment to stay sober. Consider calling your sponsor when the urge to use arises—he or she may be able to talk you out of it. If you don’t have a sponsor, check with your group leader about possibly getting one.
8. Remove Bad Memories
Many therapists offer what’s called memory reconsolidation, which helps treat cravings by consolidating and removing memories that are associated with drug use. By eliminating these memories, it can help you experience less cravings triggered by environmental cues that may be associated with memories of drug use.4
- NIDA. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research Based Guide.
- Nauman, E. (2014). Can Mindfulness Help Stop Substance Abuse? University of California, Berkeley. Greater Good: The Science of A Meaningful Life.
- Bowen, S. & Marlatt, A. (2009). Surfing the urge: brief mindfulness intervention for college student smokers. Psychology of Addictive Behavior, 23(4):666-71.
- Torregrossa, M. & Taylor, J. (2013). Learning to Forget: Manipulating Extinction and Reconsolidation Processes to Treat Addiction. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 226(4): 659-72.