By Randy Lindel, Facilitator, SMART Recovery® Boston
Read on for five (5) practical ideas on how to cope with urges and cravings after you have decided to abstain from drugs and alcohol.
Cravings are normal
Everyone who’s engaged in addictive behavior will experience uncomfortable cravings (“I want it badly”) and urges (“I have to do it now”). They are normal. And fortunately, they always pass with time. At the outset of recovery, they can be pretty intense, but each one will subside if you can wait it out and have a plan for relapse prevention. Cravings and urges will decrease in strength and frequency over time. You can make this happen by adopting some coping strategies that work best for you.
Learning to resist cravings
For many people, urges and cravings to use drugs or alcohol trigger automatic responses. They are without conscious thought: I want [fill in the blank]. = I get it. Learning to say NO to these intense, ingrained desires is one of the biggest challenges in recovery. The good news is that you can understand these desires and learn to resist them.
In fact, “Coping with Urges and Cravings” is Point 2 of the SMART Recovery 4-Point Program®. The SMART Recovery Handbook has collected nearly two dozen strategies for dealing with them. Some of the approaches that work best for many are summarized with the easy-to-remember acronym DEADS – as in “Combat Urges DEADS.” Each letter stands for a useful approach:
D = Delay. The mental activities of cravings and urges disappear over time unless you actively maintain them with your attention. Given time, they will run their course and disappear. If they aren’t gone in 10-15 minutes, then chances are you are still exposed to the stimulus that cued the urge in the first place. Just don’t give in no matter how bad the urge is and it will pass. All the urges you have ever had have passed. Once you have denied an urge, you know you can do it again and again. And after a short time, there will be fewer cravings and the ones you have will diminish in intensity. Waiting them out is a great step to recovery.
E = Escape. Just leave or get away from the urge provoking situation. Run away from it. Leave the pub so that you can stop staring at the beer taps. Leave the supermarket where all the bottles of wine are so nicely displayed. If there’s an alcohol ad on TV, switch the channel. Just the act of escaping the trigger will focus your mind on something new – which will quickly lessen the urge.
A = Accept. Put your urges and cravings into perspective by understanding that they are normal and will pass. It’s important in the recovery process to learn to accept discomfort. It won’t “kill” you and will be gone pretty quickly. You’ll feel good about what you’re learning and achieving.
D = Dispute. If you’ve worked through the ABC or DISARM exercises, you may have developed a rational “Effective new belief” or counter statement to help you attack your (irrational) urges and cravings. These exercises help you productively diagnose past addictive situations and develop useful tactics for disputing them when they occur again – which will help them pass much more quickly.
S = Substitute. When you get an urge, quickly substitute a thought or activity that’s more beneficial or fun. Take a walk or any other form of exercise. Pick up something new to read or turn on something to listen to. The possibilities to substitute (and lessen the craving more quickly) are endless. Think about and write down some possibilities to have a list on hand when an urge occurs. Then just pick one to employ an effective response.
Thanks to our colleagues at SMART Recovery UK for some of these ideas for addiction recovery. I hope they help you to find ways to say NO to your urges and cravings.
Do I have to have a new password every time i log on to an On-line meeting?????
Hi Kimberly: The message board at http://www.smartrecoveryforum.org has an option that allows the MB to remember your password. If you then open http://www.smartrecoveryforum.org you should be able to enter the meeting rooms via the link on that page and should not be required to re-enter our password. Hope this help!
This is AMAZINGLY helpful, I’m shocked its new to me, 30years in addiction, bless u.
delay, escape accept,dispute and substitute is the five way to deal with urges and cravings. we know cravings are normal .But this way of learning to resit craving is a good method through smart recovery. This can adopt many addicted peeople, who want to get away from addiction.
I’m a newbi and this website makes the most sense to me and my quest. Lately I’ve been trying my own step-down system and although the steps are small ones it’s working so far, I know I need all the advice and pointers that I can get. I’m thankful for your knowledge! I plan to be logged in for a while! Thanks, MJ
I’m taking one dayat a time and I need all the support I can get!!!
Theresa. Hi am trying to work DEADS thanks for the
This has been extremely effective in my dealings with attempting to make my triggers go away. I especially found Substitute very powerful. God bless the people who wrote this and God bless the people who put it up for all to see. We can do these things together, together we are strong enough.
Having worked in the field of substance abuse treatment for over 20 years, this is not the way to manage a craving for drugs. You have to recognize and admit you have a craving, but in dealing with a part of the brain that is so closely related to your basic needs and drives for survival ( this is especially true when addressing such powerful addictions to drugs such as Cocaine and heroin.) the simple “call your sponsor” or “think about something else” usually doesn’t work, especially in early recovery. You actually need to stay where you are; do not move towards “lead-ins” (doors, cars or phones) until you have successfully reduced the craving. This is a form of imagery which can be taught to the addict/client in treatment; the addict may even experience a slight ” high” while engaged in the imagery work, but he/she can be taught to bring the image to its final conclusion – which is a painful event which happened ( or he/she most fears might happen) if he/she uses the drug again (eg: his/her 5 year old son walks into the room while the addict is using, and says: “What are you doing, Daddy?” Once this image is introduced, the craving turns into a negative feeling, both physically and emotionally. The client is asked to stay with that feeling until the cravings diminish. At that point, he/she can feel safe to call a sponsor or seek other support.
Thank you. This was very helpful. I’m early in my recovery. I find night time is the worst. Before I lay down I ask my husband to state the consequences if I use. It seems.to be working ok. I’m two weeks sober today!
Congrats. I am ten days
This is the most helpful comment I’ve read. I’m trying my hardest to stop using crack and heroin and the cravings are breakin me 😭
Wonderful information and tips. It’s clear you have experience in the area. Thanks!
Really helpful thanks worked for me nearly ruined three months!
This is ridiculously helpful. I think I’m addicted to food. I’ve been making excuses (I.E that I just love to eat out, I love amazing food, I enjoy good living etc.) but actually, the lack of control over this lately has scared me…I’m wondering if there is at least a dependency to food, if not an addiction. Your comment has really helped me to get past an urge! Thank you so much.
I am a recovering substance abuser and recently I relapsed. And again I came back. Sometimes, I cannot overcome the craving. Please help.
There is help, Rigzin. You can find a meeting at http://www.smartrecovery.org/community
I am in the same boat with you, I’m so sick of relapsing and wish that no one ever told me that relapsing is a part of recovery. Since being told that, now I will want to be done and go to rehab to only leave as soon as I’m done detoxing and some money hits my bank account. Money is one of my biggest triggers I’ve come to find out. ????????
You’re not alone there. I struggle to control my impulses as-is but it’s exponentially difficult when I have a large sum of money leftover after bills. I know in my wise mind that I need to save for emergencies, auto/home maintenance, etc. but I find myself “window shopping” before long and I have switched addictions so much throughout the years that I have developed multiple cross-addictions all derived from my impulse control disorder.
I’ve come a long way in just the past 2 months (thanks to being in a VA facility) but the power of freedom is overwhelmingly tempting. Denying myself the self-damaging liberties that I crave so much makes changing my skewed core beliefs (“I deserve this because I have sacrificed all that”) just as challenging. I try to attend meetings whenever I don’t believe I can hold on much longer and just keep reminding myself that I will “feel” better eventually. Also, mad props to my good friends, Hydroxizine and yoga.
I need help getting sober! I’m new to this and it’s a big step seeking help.
Welcome to SMART. The website if full of information you can use. You can also find a meeting at http://www.smartrecovery.org/community
Can I apply the SMART program to help me lose weight?
SMART Recovery tools can help with any addictive behavior, including eating disorders. You can find information on those meetings can be found at http://www.smartrecovery.org/community
I think a good way to deal with urges is to write a list of why you decided to stop in the first place.
I started my recovery when I was pregnant. I was 5 months into my pregnancy and was admitted to rehab for 6 weeks. My son is 4 1/2 and I’ve had a few slips. My urges are not as frequent, but unfortunately they haven’t disappeared. I’ve been clean but lately many triggers have been around me, especially my ex husband. I need tips on how to NOT act on an urge.
The SMART Toolbox, https://smartwww.wpengine.com/smart-recovery-toolbox/, has a lot of helpful information and resources available. You can also find a meeting at http://www.smartrecovery.org/community
What if you’re at work and are unable to practice many of these techniques? I’m trying the “Accept” right now and dear God it ain’t working. And what if your job is the stressor, but you have no other job alternatives? A little more than 100 days sober and the cravings keep getting worse. Argh!!!