Attempting to stop or limit alcohol/drug use is likely to result in urges or temptations to use. In the recovery world, we call these cravings. Cravings can range in intensity from mild (i.e. fleeting thoughts) to severe (i.e. very strong urges). Learning to cope with cravings is an integral part of recovery treatment. Utilizing specific coping strategies instead of using drugs or alcohol in the face of a craving results in decreases in the frequency, duration and severity of cravings.
Here are a few coping strategies that our clients typically find useful:
Cognitive i.e. “what can I think?”
1. Remind yourself that it is normal to have a craving, and that the more you stay with it and don’t use, the more likely it is to go away on its own.
2. Use imagery: picture the craving as a wave that rises and falls, and remind yourself that cravings do not last forever. Eventually, the wave will crest and your craving will recede.
3. Recall times in the past when you have ridden out a craving and remember how good you felt afterwards.
4. Play the tape: think of the negative consequences of using “just this once.” Where will that one drink or drug lead you?
5. Think of all the reasons that you decided to stop using, such as your relationship with your family, your job, your children, etc.
Behavioural i.e. “what can I do?”
1. Journal: write down what you are thinking and feeling to better understand what is triggering the craving.
2. Call someone: share with someone in your support system what you are feeling.
3. Remove yourself from the triggering situation.
4. Practice box breathing (in through the nose for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, out through the mouth for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds; repeat).
5. Pause: tell yourself that you will wait 15 minutes before you will act on the craving. Practice coping strategies in the meantime.
6. Distract yourself: go for a run, put on a movie, play a game, or engage in an activity to take your mind off of using.
These strategies will be most effective when implemented under the guidance of a health professional. If you or a loved one are coping with cravings or an addiction, it’s important to reach out to a qualified clinician who can help you determine the most effective interventions.
Kate Best is a Registered Social Worker who specializes in the treatment of addiction, anxiety, depression and relationship issues. She received her Masters degree in Social Work at Columbia University.