What Do You Do When the Cravings Hit?

By The Fix staff 12/30/19

Dealing with cravings and the urge to use is part of navigating life in recovery. Here’s what to do when cravings are wearing you down.

Woman biting her nails, nervous and craving.
When you stop using drugs or alcohol, your body is still out of equilibrium. ID 91480427 © Kiosea39 | Dreamstime.com

When you first got sober, you might have thought that going through treatment would be the hardest part of recovery. And while getting sober is no walk in the park, staying sober can be equally challenging. That’s because even after substances have left your body (sometimes for years) you can still experiencing cravings and the urge to use. 

So, how do you deal with addiction cravings, or the urge to use? Learning about the biology of addiction cravings and understanding the power you have to overcome the urge to use can help you stay sober. 

Understanding the Urge to Use

Most people who are in recovery occasionally experience the urge to use, or drug cravings. That’s true for people who are well-established in sobriety, and those who are relatively new to being clean and sober. One scientific review described cravings as “a very real phenomenon,” that “often intrudes into [people’s] daily lives, at times dominating their thoughts and generating considerable distress.”

When you stop using drugs or alcohol, your body is still out of equilibrium. Your brain is used to the intense highs brought about by drugs, and it’s unable to get those good feelings from everyday activities like hugging a loved one or exercising. Because of that, your body might crave drugs, in order to return to the “normal” that it has experienced during your addiction. 

In addition, many people experience the urge to use when they’re in a bad situation. Many people with substance use disorder have used substances as a coping mechanism to deal with fear, disappointment or anger. When you encounter these negative emotions when you’re sober, you might still have the urge to use to overcome them. 

How to Cope With Urges to Use

Luckily, it’s entirely possible to overcome the urge to use. After all, you’ve already overcome the pull of substances to get sober and start your life in recovery. Draw on that strength when you experience a craving. Remember, you’re in control, and saying no to a craving moves you closer to the life you want. 

Here’s what to do when a craving hits:

  • Ask Yourself Why: Oftentimes, there is a reason that you’re experiencing a craving or the urge to use. Naming that reason can help you understand why you’re feeling the way you are, and help put you back in control of your recovery. Maybe you’re experiencing a strong emotion, or you’re in a situation that you find triggering. Recognizing that can give you solutions and empower you.
  • Reach Out For Help: When you’re experiencing a craving, it can feel like you’re on the brink. Sometimes, having someone there with you holding your hand (literally or metaphorically) can keep you safe. Reach out to a sponsor if you’re in a 12-step program, or a trusted friend. If no one comes to mind, call the treatment center that you went to. Talking to someone, or just being in their presence, can help you overcome a craving. 
  • Take Your Time: After you’ve detoxed and are in recovery, most cravings come on quickly, but disappear relatively quickly as well. That means time is on your side. You may need to focus to overcome the craving while it’s at its worst, but soon the urge to use drugs will dissipate. The key is just hanging on until it begins to wane. 

How To Prevent the Urge to Use

Many people in recovery would love to never experience a craving or the urge to use again. However, that’s just simply not possible — cravings are part of life in recovery. Still, there are tools that you can use to minimize how often you experience cravings. 

Staying healthy overall and laying a foundation for recovery can help you avoid triggers and stay in a good mental space. That can help reduce cravings. In addition, some people find that certain activities help when they experience a craving. Instead of using, they exercise, bake, or sip a hot drink — anything to stay focused on the here and now, rather than a craving that could pull you into the past. 

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