Learn about the cycle of addiction and how you can overcome the cravings that addiction causes while in recovery.

One of the keys to recovery is to learn how to manage addiction cravings and triggers. Cravings are among the most commonly experienced symptoms during recovery, and learning techniques for managing cravings in recovery will help you to fully recover and decrease the risk of relapse.

Understanding Urges and the Craving Cycle

There are four steps in the cycle of every habit or addiction. These four steps as they relate to addiction are:

  1. Cue
  2. Craving
  3. Response
  4. Reward

While anyone who is becoming sober from a substance may typically have some baseline cravings, there will be cues or triggers that cause drug cravings to become heightened. This increases the risk that you will give in to the craving and strengthens the cycle for the next time a trigger is encountered. While this cycle may strengthen itself as time progresses, being aware of it can help you to break it.

Managing Cravings in Recovery

Overcoming cravings during recovery involves trying to break the addiction cycle at each step. By eliminating cues, you can decrease the incidence of strong cravings. By managing cravings, you can keep yourself from giving in to those cravings. Changing how you respond to cravings can help you avoid relapse. Altering how you view the reward for using or not using substances can also change your approach to substance use. All relapse prevention techniques ultimately address one or more of the steps in the addiction cycle.


Distraction can help reduce triggers and assist in coping with drug cravings. You may find yourself more susceptible to encountering triggers while you have time on your hands, so finding a hobby or volunteering opportunity you feel passionately about may help you avoid potential triggers. When you do encounter cravings, distractions, such as talking with a friend or playing a round of golf, may help by distracting you from the cravings. 

Urge Surfing

Urge surfing is a strategy for coping with the craving step of the habit cycle by acknowledging and managing the craving. Instead of trying to suppress the craving or ignore it, urge surfing directs you to focus on the feelings and sensations of the craving as they come and go. It takes about 20–30 minutes for a cycle of cravings to come and go. By focusing on the sensations and detaching yourself from the situation, you may be better able to manage your cravings.


Substitutions focus on altering your response to cravings or on changing the reward when you do not give in to cravings. Substitutions involve alerting your response to craving to involve something you enjoy that’s healthy. For instance, whenever you crave a substance, you could exercise instead. Over time, the craving for a substance may be satiated with exercise instead of using the substance. Substitutions may also involve rewarding yourself for not using a drug. This can help you modify your response to cravings. 

Exercise & Activity

Exercise in recovery can be a type of distraction or substitution and is often very useful. Exercise releases endorphins into the brain, the same chemicals that cause a high during substance use. This makes exercise an excellent alternative to substance use and helps it satisfy the cravings encountered during recovery. Exercise can be a helpful method of coping with cravings but should be used in moderation.

Talk it Out

Find a strong recovery support group or someone that you can talk to about your cravings. You can even talk to yourself or pray; the act of talking through your cravings out loud by itself can help stop drug cravings by allowing you to reflect on them and see the overall picture. Self-talk or talking with others is often found to be helpful in coping with substance cravings.

If you or a loved one find that you give into substance cravings or struggle to stop using a substance, then you should consider seeking professional help from an addiction specialist. The Recovery Village has a strong record of helping those with addiction overcome their cravings and have a full recovery. Reach out to a representative today to learn more about how you can start on your path to a full recovery.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

Lindel, Randy. “5 Ways to Deal With Urges and Cravings.” Smart Recovery. 2019. Accessed Aug. 18, 2019

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.