5 Coping Strategies to Overcome Drug or Alcohol Cravings

Updated on 3/8/2023

Cravings can catch someone in recovery from substance use disorder off guard. No matter how well your drug or alcohol addiction recovery has been going, it only takes giving in to one craving to cause a relapse. In order to prevent a relapse, not only do you need to take great care to follow all of your daily routines, but you need to have a plan for relapse prevention. Using coping strategies such as those outlined in the following blog can help you overcome cravings in the moment.

The following five coping strategies have proven effective in reducing relapse for many people. While you need to find the strategies that work best for you, remember that the more strategies you have learned and practiced, the more prepared you will be to prevent a relapse.

# 1. HALT

One of the most common coping techniques taught in treatment and recovery is the acronym HALT, which refers to being Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Being in any of these states are some of the most common reasons for relapse. Here are some tips to help avoid being in these states.

  • Hungry – While weight gain is a concern for some people in drug or alcohol addiction recovery, relapse will be worse. Be sure to eat three meals a day, plus snacks. Focusing on nutrition will give you the best outcome, but eating a less healthy meal or snack is better than not eating at all. Always keep snacks handy wherever you are.
  • Angry – Using mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises or counting backward from five when you are in a situation where you are getting angry will help you from reacting or staying angry. Avoiding situations where you know you will get angry is also helpful.
  • Lonely – COVID-19 has made loneliness far more common. You can combat loneliness even while isolated by scheduling regular video chats with friends and people in your support network, attending support groups, or, if you are able to commit to the long-term responsibilities, getting a pet.
  • Tired – Sleep is an essential part of recovery and yet can also be elusive as your body is healing. Developing a good sleep routine and scheduling plenty of time to sleep will help prevent becoming tired.

# 2.  Examine Your Thinking

Are you reacting to the craving?  Are you telling yourself that you will not be able to get through it? Are you using negative thinking? Or are you facing it calmly, accepting that it is simply a craving and that it will pass? Examining how you are thinking about the craving in the moment can help you from reacting or giving into it. Making a list ahead of time of positive ways to think in the moment can help you be prepared to redirect your thinking when you are faced with a craving.

# 3. DEADS

This is another acronym to help you remember in the moment. While it may sound negative, remembering these points can save your drug or alcohol addiction recovery.

  • Delay – Wait out the craving.
  • Escape – Remove yourself from a triggering situation.
  • Accept – Accept the craving, knowing that it will pass.
  • Dispute – Impose your new beliefs and recognize the irrationality of the craving to avoid giving in.
  • Substitute – Take a walk, listen to music or do another activity to replace the craving.

# 4. Self-talk

Talking yourself through a craving using the rationale you have developed in advance will help you get through the craving without acting upon it. While it is easy to lose sight of the big picture while you are in the moment, you can remind yourself of why you chose recovery and the potential consequences of giving in. Focusing on the positive outcomes for pushing through the urge is also helpful to motivate yourself for success. You can develop a list in advance and keep it in your wallet or someplace where it is always accessible to help remind you of the reasons you chose recovery.

# 5. Gratitude

While it may seem like the furthest thing from your mind, counting your blessings during an urge or craving not only distracts you from the temptation to use a substance but also can be emotionally transformative. Remind yourself of how grateful you are to be alive, to be sober, to be healthier and any other blessings you have.

No matter what your circumstances, there are always things to be grateful for, even just noticing nature or any material blessings you have. Focusing on what you have rather than what you don’t and being grateful can help change your thinking both in the moment and going forward. Keeping a small gratitude journal handy can help you to read past entries or to write new ones to pull you away from an urge and into a new mindset.

DiscoveryMD is dedicated to helping you put yourself back into the driver’s seat of your life. We offer both outpatient and intensive outpatient programs to provide you with flexibility and access to the services you need to begin your treatment. We also offer Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) to help reduce your cravings and maintain your sobriety. Our group and individual counseling can help you to heal and to learn more about yourself. Contact us today to begin your new life.

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