Coping with drug and alcohol cravings: A skills list

A check list of vey practical and tangible ways to cope with drug and alcohol cravings from licensed clinical social worker, Kenneth Pecoraro.

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Coping with drug and alcohol cravings

A straight forward, down-to-earth guide on how to cope with cravings. Your questions or comments about these and other addiction recovery tools are welcomed at the end.


If something, someplace, or someone sets off cravings or urges to use, simply stay away, leave, avoid contact, develop alternate plans and substitute activities. Think about what is causing the urge and get away. This is the most important piece to the puzzle when it comes to coping with cravings because it is the most proactive strategy. Planning ahead to avoid aspects of your environment that can trigger cravings is perhaps the most effective thing that you can do in order to decrease the frequency of experiencing cravings.


When thinking about using do not neglect to consider how you feel at the end, when whatever it is that you have used is gone. Think about the disappointment you will feel. Think about how you will wish you had done something else instead of using. Think about all of the lies and/or excuses you will have to make to cover up. Think about the trust you’ve worked so hard to regain and how hard you have worked staying clean up to this point. Remember: consequential thinking; Take time to remember the hangovers, feeling sick, wasted $, arguing with family, etc. You may have previously experienced that awful “morning after” feeling that comes when you wake up the next day after a bad night. If you can just learn to remember that feeling and become determined not to feel that way again you can achieve a lot when it comes to increasing your motivation not to give in to your cravings.


3.1 Change the Channel

Mentally, that is- just push the cravings right out of your mind by thinking of something else. Try hard to think about something that requires your focus and distracts you from your craving, even if only for a little while. Your mind will likely keep changing back but keep changing the mental channel until you ride out the craving

3.2 Use the Phone

Get on the phone quickly with a supportive person who can help you ride out the craving. Try to find a helper beforehand that you can call that you know will say just the right things to help you avoid giving in to cravings

3.3 Alternate Activities

Free time is deadly with cravings. Get out and do something safe.

3.4 Reverse The Tomorrow Trap

Remember when you were using and you kept that up by promising yourself “I’ll quit tomorrow” day after day? Well, in this case, now that you are not using, just do the opposite by telling yourself that you will wait until tomorrow to use instead of using and giving in right now today. (The idea of course is to wake up tomorrow and do the same thing by continuously pushing off the idea of giving in to your cravings, very similar to the “One Day at a Time” concept that is so effective in the 12 Step model (Alcoholics Anonymous)


4.1 ”Riding the Wave”

Remember that cravings usually come in waves that initially build in intensity but gradually subside if you are able to just patiently try to ride out the wave

4.2 Reward Yourself

When you make it through a tough time without using, do something nice for yourself

4.3 Prayer

(If applicable for you based on your beliefs) Pray for the strength and the desire to be able to successfully ride out the craving.

4.4 Emphasize the Positive

Think about the good things about not using. Remember why you stopped in the first place. Think about how proud you are that you have made it this far. Remember that if you can survive this craving, which shall pass, things will get better with time. Think about how grateful that you will feel if you don’t give in to the craving

4.5 Get Moving

Physical activity and exercise can be great for both preventing cravings (if done beforehand) as well as a way to divert current cravings by getting up and doing something active like taking a walk or a run to escape a period of cravings

4.6 Reflect and Redirect Negative Thoughts

This can take practice. Sometimes a craving is accompanied by negative thoughts such as “what’s the point, this is just too hard’ or “I can get away with using just this once” or “I’ll try harder tomorrow”. These are all lies we tell ourselves to give ourselves permission to give in to a craving. Before giving in, take time to think about the much more positive truth instead of these mind tricks. For example tell yourself “There is a point to me enduring all of this, it’s for the best in the end” or “If I give in today, it is likely I will give in tomorrow too”, “I can’t afford to give in even just this once” or “There is no sense pushing off to tomorrow what I need to do today, right now” “I can’t give up now” and “This will get easier with time if I can just stick with it”

4.7 Care for Your Feelings

Sometimes a craving is just a craving and there may be no identifiable reason for it. Other times, however, cravings can be triggered by feelings or mood states. If you are able to recognize that the reason that you may be having a craving is actually a response to an uncomfortable feeling or mood state, then instead of giving in to the craving to soothe your feelings, use your other positive coping skills for your feelings (talk to a helper, relaxation, stress management, anger management, etc.)

About the author
Kenneth Pecoraro, LCSW, LCADC, CCS has worked directly providing treatment for individuals with substance use and coexisting emotional-behavioral issues for over 20 years using a motivational, skills and strengths based, individualized client-centered perspective. The techniques explained in his method, Taking the Escalator: An Alternative to the 12 Steps, help individuals who are resistant to traditional approaches gain the tools needed for learning to increase insight and motivation for positive change.
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