Understanding and managing cravings
When you are making a change to your alcohol or other drug use, it can help to understand how cravings work and how you can manage them.
A word of caution: Sometimes reading this type of information can trigger a craving so if you are feeling vulnerable you may wish to return to this page when you are feeling stronger. You can also start a chat with one of our counsellors at any time, to talk you through some individualised options for managing craving and at a pace that suits you.
Cravings, or urges to use, are a common feature of addiction. They are the result of long-term alcohol or other drug use and can continue even after you stop using.
Cravings can be triggered by people, places, objects, feelings, situations and anything else associated with a person’s drug use.
Identifying what triggers your craving can help you to make positive changes to avoid a lapse.
What do cravings feel like?
A craving is like an ocean wave...
- It starts off small, gathers momentum, peaks, and then breaks.
- The peak intensity of a craving rarely lasts beyond a few minutes.
- The trick is to ride out the peak until it passes.
Cravings will only lose their power if they are not fuelled by continued drug use. Even occasional use of alcohol or other drugs keeps these waves growing. The wave subsides, and loses power, each time a person does something other than using drugs in response to a craving. The peak of the craving wave will become smaller, and time between waves will be further apart. This is known as 'extinction' of craving.
Tips for managing cravings
The key to managing cravings is being prepared for them. Try and remove triggers then bring on cravings from your life and have a plan for how you will respond to cravings before they happen. Here are a few strategies to get you started:
- Cravings, just like an ocean wave, do break. Visualise yourself surfing the crest of the craving wave, you'll feel it build, peak, subside, and finally break.
- Don't like the ocean? Imagine a craving as one loop on a roller coaster or a Ferris wheel. You can ride it out!
- Delay acting on cravings, as this helps to disrupt the cycle of reaching immediately for alcohol or drugs when a craving hits. Reassure yourself that this feeling is temporary, that you don’t need alcohol or other drugs and remind yourself why you wanted to manage your addiction in the first place - “This feeling will pass... I can handle this."
- Deep breathing by taking long, slow breaths in and out. Repeat this three times. This will give you space and time to downwind and can help you to recall other strategies you have.
- Distract yourself from your craving. Go for a walk or run, have a shower, call a support person, listen to music, just do whatever it takes to get you through the peak (it should only last for a few minutes!). Remember to make a note of what works for you and do it again and again. Eventually, your mind will associate the new activity with pleasure and a new, healthy habit is born!
- Decide to stay in recovery. After the craving has passed, remind yourself why you wanted to manage your alcohol or other drug use in the first place. Re-read your pocket guide if you made one. Now decide to stay committed to your goals. Know that the next craving will be easier to manage because you didn't give in to it this time. Every time you get through it without using, your confidence will increase and you can challenge any catastrophic thoughts you may have had about your ability to be stronger than your cravings.
If you would like additional support to understand and manage cravings you can chat to one of our counsellors anytime. Our service is free, confidential and available 24/7. You can also chat to others with similar experiences on our forum.