How to Stop Drug Cravings

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Discovering how to stop drug cravings could help you to move from active addiction into ongoing recovery without relapsing.

Cravings are one of the eleven diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder outlined in APA’s DSM-5-TR, the latest update of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Intense urges and cravings for drugs can present at any time. Many people in the early phase of recovery find that cravings initially seem almost overwhelmingly intense. Since using drugs would satisfy these cravings, some people relapse as a short-term method of relief.

Luckily, cravings for addictive substances are both short-lived and predictable. You can use this to your advantage by:

  • Learning how to spot urges and cravings developing.
  • Preparing and implementing distraction techniques, coping mechanisms, and lifestyle practices.

Why Do Drug Cravings Occur?

You should find it easier to resist temptation when cravings present if you understand why they manifest in the first place.

Drug cravings can be a response to both internal and external triggers. Many people in recovery from drug addiction report encountering triggers from both categories.

Most internal triggers involve thoughts, emotions, or memories that promote an urge to use addictive substances. Internal triggers can also be related to physical sensations. Here are some common internal triggers for substance use:

  • Discomfort
  • Pain
  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Irritation
  • Anger

External triggers can be any environmental cues that you associate with substance use. External triggers can be categorized as follows:

  • People
  • Places
  • Things
  • Occasions
  • Situations

Here are some specific examples of external triggers:

  • The end of your working day.
  • Attending a house party with people who use substances.
  • Arguing with your spouse.
  • Visiting a place where you would usually use drugs.

The deeper your understanding of your personal triggers for substance use, the more effectively you can reduce your exposure to those things liable to trigger drug cravings.

How to Stop Craving Drugs

While there is no guarantee that you can eliminate cravings for drugs, here are six simple techniques that could help you avoid becoming one of the four in ten people who relapse during recovery from drug addiction:

  1. Go outside for a walk
  2. Reach out to your sober support network
  3. Connect with a mental health professional
  4. Practice mindfulness and meditation
  5. Consider urge surfing and accept drug cravings for what they are
  6. Embrace self-care throughout your recovery from drug addiction

1) Go outside for a walk

Almost any type of exercise can help you to confront drug cravings without succumbing to temptation.

Going for a walk outside can deliver many benefits, calming you if you feel agitated and tempted to use drugs. Walking can give you a physical and emotional boost.

Walking positively influences your breathing and your CNS (central nervous system). Walking for just 15 to 30 minutes could help drug cravings subside.

2) Reach out to your sober support network

If you feel a loss of control when you are assailed by cravings for drugs, reach out to your sober support system. You do not need to suffer in silence.

Peer support groups can be an invaluable component of recovery for many people. If you attend NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings or SMART Recovery meetings, lean on your sponsor or attend an extra meeting when cravings strike.

If you do not attend any peer-based support group, contact a trusted friend or loved one. Tell them that they don’t need to say or do anything beyond listening.

3) Connect with a mental health professional

Recovery from drug addiction is not a single time-limited event, but instead an ongoing chain of events. Many people find that ongoing counseling or therapy is beneficial, especially during the early phase of recovery.

Counseling can help you to:

  • Identify any underpinning mental health symptoms.
  • Explore the needs you previously fulfilled by using drugs.
  • Create and implement healthy stress management techniques.
  • Discover how to implement mindfulness techniques.
  • Reframe negative or self-defeating thoughts.

Psychotherapy or talk therapy is often a central component of drug addiction treatment and can also be an effective approach to mitigating drug cravings during your ongoing recovery.

CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is the most common form of psychotherapy applied to treat addictions and mental health issues.

Your therapist will teach you how to deal with drug cravings by drawing on techniques such as:

  • Redirection: Redirecting your attention to something else.
  • Distraction: Distracting yourself by engaging in another activity.
  • Visualization: Visualizing yourself relaxing.

Additionally, CBT techniques can illuminate any distortions in your thinking – catastrophizing, for instance. Catastrophizing during a drug craving may trigger thoughts like:

  • “I can never get through this.”
  • “If I relapse, my recovery is over.”
  • “This feeling won’t go away unless I use drugs.”

Your therapist will impart skills that help you to de-catastrophize a situation and view it more objectively.

4) Practice mindfulness and meditation

If you find that stressful or tense situations tend to provoke drug cravings, practicing mindfulness can ensure that you stay anchored to the moment until those cravings pass.

More broadly, you could experiment with the following techniques and practices:

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Breathing exercises
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Stretching
  • Grounding techniques

Meditation is an ancient eastern discipline that calms the body and clears the mind. Mindfulness meditation allows you to meditate any time and any place. This can be a highly effective tool if drug cravings manifest.

5) Consider urge surfing and accept drug cravings for what they are

Urge surfing is an expression used to describe embracing a drug craving, surfing the urge rather than trying to make the craving disappear.

One way to urge surf when confronted by drug cravings is to:

  • Stop and acknowledge a drug craving.
  • Accept the craving for what it is.
  • Do not attempt to force the craving to go away.
  • Sit down, shut your eyes, and observe your thoughts and feelings, as well as any physical sensations throughout your body. Verbally acknowledge how you are feeling.

If you find this technique is effective, you can use it to show yourself that cravings come and go, in waves, and that cravings will always pass.

6) Embrace self-care throughout your recovery from drug addiction

In addition to the steps above, you can preemptively strengthen your defenses against drug cravings by practicing good self-care.

  • Eat plenty of whole foods and few processed foods.
  • Limit your caffeine intake.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking small glasses of water throughout the day.
  • Incorporate at least 30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine.
  • Take a relaxing bath.
  • Have a massage.
  • Spend some time alone to reflect on your recovery.
  • Journal your thoughts.
  • Spend more time with sober friends and family members.

If you create a healthier lifestyle for yourself, this will not only reduce the frequency of cravings, but you will also be more resilient to deal with cravings when they present.

Perhaps the best way to ensure that you remain strong in the face of drug cravings is to engage with an addiction treatment program. Fortunately, you do not necessarily need to go to residential rehab to make that happen.

Addiction Treatment at Ohio Recovery Centers

At Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers, all of our treatment programs for drug or alcohol addiction include access to counseling and psychotherapy. This will enable you to strengthen your defenses against drug cravings.

Choose from the following programs and services at Ohio Recovery Centers:

  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs)
  • PHPs (partial hospitalization programs)

Our dedicated treatment team will help you to address the physical and psychological aspects of drug addiction. When you have completed your outpatient treatment, you will be equipped with a robust aftercare plan, as well as a variety of relapse prevention techniques.

Contact the team online just here or call (877) 679-2132 for immediate assistance.

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn