Handling Cravings & Triggers in Recovery

What is Addiction Part 7: How to Handle Cravings & Triggers to Avoid Relapse

Estimated watch time: 7 mins 10 secs


When you experience a trigger, it’s actually a process. Learning how to identify the steps in that process and your thoughts surrounding it can help prevent cravings from being automatic. Delve into your experience of a craving with help from this video. For example, learn to identify the emotions you experience, so you can be prepared for high-risk situations.

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Today’s lesson will be cravings. Keep in mind that triggers lead to thoughts that lead to cravings.

Now that you know your triggers and the thoughts that lead to cravings, you can learn how to keep a craving from becoming a relapse. When you break the process down and are aware of the triggers, the thoughts and the cravings, the outcome, whether you use or not, does not have to be automatic. It’s a decision you can make with your rational brain. Noticing your sensations, thoughts and emotions that you experience during a craving will help you to become self aware and improve your chances of not using when you have a craving.

So think about how you experience a craving in your body. There will be an exercise after this lesson to help you write things down.

So what do you notice when you’re craving? Is your chest tight or some other sensation in your chest? Does your stomach feel woozy? What’s happening in your jaw? Does your jaw get tightened, your neck, your shoulders? What’s happening in your heart? Is your heart racing? And your nose. Is there anything that you are smelling when you’re having a craving? So think about which of these are true for you. Getting to know what’s happening in your body so that you can identify a craving before you’re out automatically using. And do you have any other sensations?

And then what emotions do you experience when you’re having a craving? Do you get anxious? Are you feeling excited? Are you having anticipation, restlessness, irritability? Any of the same emotions you experience when you’re drinking or high? This is pretty common. Think about which of these are true for you and any other emotions that you experience also.

So you want to identify the thoughts that are part of your experience. Do you say things like,” I need it. I have to have it. if I don’t drink or use i’m going to go crazy. I can’t handle it. I can’t get it out of my head.”

Are these the sorts of thoughts that you say? And are there any others? You can see how these are certainly helping you to move toward use as opposed to away from use?

So sometimes changing what you’re doing using behavioral coping strategies helps us to work through cravings. So sometimes we want to use thinking strategies, thought strategies. But sometimes you want to just do things and it makes it a little bit easier to get through the cravings. So it might be easier to do than to think in early recovery.

One of the first strategies you can think of is surfing the urge. So an average length of craving is only fifteen minutes. For some people, it’s useful to think about the craving as a wave in the ocean. It will climb until it peaks and then it will crash and subside. If you can get through that brief period of time by riding it out. You will experience the urge sensations weakening and going away. The goal is to ride it out without reacting to it by drinking or using.

So did you know that? Craving 20 last fifteen minutes. We can trigger them and caused them to last longer.

So distract yourself. If you think about drinking or using like it’s entertaining a fantasy.
And the more invested you are in imagining how it will play out, the more you will want it. The more you want it, the less you are able to weigh the pros and cons and make a rational decision about it. With this knowledge, you can choose to distract yourself from the urge before your imagination runs away with it and leads you to a relapse. Here are some of the ways to distract yourself when you first notice the urge.

You can imagine a big red stop sign as soon as you feel the urge and hold that image in your mind for as long as you can. You can also wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it to distract your attention. Sometimes you need to take what’s emotional and move it to something physical, so that snapping can help you have a physical sensation that takes your mind off of what’s going on in your head. You can leave the situation that triggered the urge. Maybe you are someplace that’s causing you to think about using. Turn around and leave.

Talk to somebody who supports your recovery. This can be a friend, a therapist, a 12 step sponsor, a family member. Just talking to somebody can get you through a tough moment. And the reality is, you don’t even need to talk about what you’re going through. You can. There are times that you need to let people know that you’re craving because they can help you to not use. And sometimes it’s just a matter of getting your mind focused on something else. So if you call somebody and just talk to them about what’s going on in their day, that can help dissipate the urge as well. And then you can also use imagery to get your mind to a different place. You can try imagining a safe, quiet place or a place you would love to be in that moment. Maybe it’s in the mountains. Maybe it’s on a lake. Maybe it’s at the beach. Be sure that the place you choose is not compatible with drinking or using.

Which of these distraction techniques do you think you can use? And can you think of any others you can use?

Delay the decision.

You can use your distraction ideas to delay the decision about whether or not to drink or use for 15 or 20 minutes. Remembering most cravings only lasts about fifteen minutes. You’ll find more often than not that once you’ve made it through that initial period, the urge has subsided. It’s easier to make a firm commitment and not drink or use. If you’re still uncertain after 15 or 20 minutes, repeat whatever exercise you did the first time, or even try another one and distract and delay yourself for another 15 or 20 minutes. If you do this repeatedly over time, you will get quite used to surfing your urge and getting through your cravings.

You can also keep a schedule which can really help you get through difficult moments in your days.

So if you keep a schedule and plan your days out in advance, you can anticipate when you might find yourself in triggering situations and plan for it. As you plot out your day, you can identify which times of the day are most triggering and put a plan in place for that period of time that helps you maintain sobriety. And this could be at lunch or maybe once you leave work or after the kids go to bed.

Everybody has different times that are triggering for them in a day or when they often started using it.

So a high risk situation is any situation that might be triggering for you. When you know you have a high risk situation in your day, you can develop a plan for it, for getting through it and also have a backup plan for that.

So what are your high risk situations? For some people, it’s just waking up in the morning. For others, it’s once you leave work is when you started using. So identify what time of day is that for you. And then think about what you could put in your schedule at that time of day that can help you to stay on the path of recovery.

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