In early recovery, just walking past a favourite bar or meeting a joint-smoking friend can be enough to start a strong craving; so can arguing with a family member or partner. Sitting in the sun and feeling really good can start cravings too. Or sitting in the rain! Help! Just about anything can start cravings! We had better believe it. And we had better be ready for them.
Addiction wants to return and cravings are a major method that it uses. When defences are weak and emotions still fluctuating, it is vital to be alert to the danger. Try to keep an emotional balance and remember HALT (don’t be Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired).
Remember to take positive action. Do not be passive when a craving starts but have a plan in place that you can refer to. This should include the following:
- Remind yourself that cravings only last, on average, fifteen minutes.
- Do something immediately, however small. For example, a telephone call – a random number or the speaking clock even; you don’t have to speak. Or clean your shoes, or your car. Do something.
- Relocate temporarily – go for a walk or call on a neighbour – it clears the mind.
- Speak to someone; arrange this person in advance, perhaps through the AA type fellowships.
- Use simple thought-changing techniques that you have already practiced such as counting the number of cigarette ends you can see ( there are always some) or reciting a song or poem from memory.
- Rationalise and challenge your thoughts behind the craving: what is really happening here? Am I emotionally upset? Is this old behaviour returning? Am I just bored?
Action is crucial; never allow yourself to sit with the craving and hope that it will just go away. It won’t.
Be very wary of impulsiveness when dealing with cravings. Many addicts are used to acting first and thinking later. A good way of combating this is to carry a Flashcard – a kind of visual wake-up call that can shake you back into the reality of your situation.
Such cards can be credit card size (keep them with your credit cards, payment is often a prelude to substance use) and might contain messages such as:
“Don’t mess it up!”
A photograph of you in hospital after your last binge
Or “Don’t be a ****** !”
Longer term coping strategies will include learning mindfulness and meditation techniques, finding new interests, acquiring pets and house plants and even developing normal human interactions. By that time, the voice of the craving should be a lot smaller, but it may never go away completely.
Remember – cravings are just cravings – they won’t kill you. In early sobriety, they can be very hard to overcome – taking the time to plan your response by learning some simple techniques, can make all the difference.
When cravings come, you must act. Doing nothing is not an option.
Chris Burn recently launched a website with daily inspirations from history and culture. Visit and subscribe to his updates at poetrychangeslives.com.
Page published: May 14, 2015. Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked July 27, 2021