Coping with urges and cravings

Based on psychological research, we present five effective ways to cope with urges and cravings from SMART Recovery. Say NO to urges and cravings by starting here.

minute read

By Randy Lindel, Facilitator, SMART Recovery® Boston

Are you ready to take control of cravings to use?

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. Plus, where to find more information on managing cravings and strategies to prevent drug relapse. We invite your questions, comment and feedback at the end.

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. But 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 response. 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. But the good news is that you can understand them 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 you have a list on hand when an urge occurs. Then just pick one to employ an effective response.

Questions about urges and cravings?

Thanks to our colleagues at SMART Recovery UK for some of these ideas. I hope they help you to find ways to say NO to your urges and cravings. If you need help with a current craving, or have a comment…please leave us a message below. We try to respond to all legitimate queries with a personal and prompt response.

About the author
SMART Recovery® offers free, self-empowering, science-based mutual help groups for abstaining from any substance or activity addiction. SMART stands for Self Management And Recovery Training. The SMART Recovery 4-Point Program helps people recover from all types of addictive behaviors, including alcohol, drugs, substance abuse, gambling addiction, and addiction to other substances and activities. SMART Recovery currently offers more than 650 face-to-face meetings around the world, and more than 16 online meetings per week, including a weekly online meeting for Family & Friends. Phone: 866-951-5357 OR 440-951-5357


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  1. Our son got out of 14 day rehab and is off cocaine…he relapsed the same day he got home and has only been clean now for 6 days because of the relapse. He is on 2 8mg suboxone per day and is asking for another 1/2 to get him over the ‘craving’ for cocaine. His doctor told him subs are not to stop cocaine, but if they help, ok good. I do not want to fight every day with him asking for an extra half or whole subs. he has extras right now bc he was rehab for 2 weeks and had his prescription filled when he got home. What do I do to stop this fight. His dad and I hold onto and administer the subs daily, so he has to come to us to get them. He is 37 and has been struggling with addiction since year 2000.

    1. Hi Marian. Call the Cocaine Helpline listed here on 1-888-497-6879 to get in touch with dependable hotline professionals available 24/7.

  2. Thank you for the info . I hope to use the skills I’ve garnered from your site. Again thanks. I will use this site as research.

  3. I´m a recovering addict but also a medical student, how can I control the cravings when I´m surrounded by drugs all day?

  4. Hi Leslie. Be compassionate with yourself. We as humans are ALL addicted to one thing, or another. I have a hard time finding someone who models moderation in my life.

    I’d suggest that you look into literature specific to the emotional aspect of eating. One good one we have at home is: Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life written by Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Look around and see what you can find. Please let us know if this helps!

  5. Hi..I stopped alcohol 2 1/2 years ago and while being successful with that…one day at a time….attending AA meetings & local church recovery 9 month program, alas, I have let sweets take over me @ night just like alcohol did. I have gained weight & have put off coping with this problem until I finally gave it a name…addiction. I read the list above, but was hoping for book recommendations to read about mental cases such as myself. I have been abusing myself for many a year without a clue as to know how to stop. Regards.

  6. My son just got out of rehab for opiate addiction. He is to start Revia. Can the Revia be dissolved in juice and then administered?

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