Cravings and how to cope with them

25.01.2018 - Addiction, Articles

During the process of treatment and recovery cravings will be one of the biggest areas individuals will have to deal with when abstaining from mind altering substances and behaviours.

There are four main areas of craving associated with addiction, and people recovering from addiction need to be able to understand where they come from, how they work, how they were triggered and more importantly how to avoid/stop them.

There are two main things to remember:

– Cravings always need a trigger (face, place, £ etc)

– Cravings are not a need, they are a want

What is a craving?

Cravings are a combination of physical, chemical and emotional factors:

Physical feelings of, sweating, heart beating faster, butterflies in the stomach, and increased breathing rate come from the release of adrenaline into the system triggering off the flight, fight or freeze response.

The compulsion to use, single minded behaviour (the mission) and a belief an individual needs the drug come from the imbalance caused to the brain chemicals. Also a person may not be thinking clearly due to lack of sleep and poor nutrition.

Emotional factors like depression, anxiety, trauma, celebration, boredom and isolation can provide justifications to use and attribute to irrational thinking.

Types of craving?

Craving when using:  These are usually triggered by the initial ‘crash’ or ‘come down’ which can be experienced after each use of a mind altering substances. The down experienced, when a person has felt so high, makes them want to use more even when they know that the ‘buzz’ felt is not going to be as high as the last one. 

Open Craving: As the name suggests a person is fully aware of what is happening and what they want. This type of craving may fit into their pattern of use such as time of day, day of the week, faces and places. The important thing to remember is the person knows about it and can choose whether they act on it or not. 

Hidden Craving: This type of craving is a little more complicated and often appears when a person is trying to let go of using mind altering substances. A string of events may build up to lead them into a using position so that they are not fully aware of it until it is too late. In effect, they end up kidding themselves into a using situation. 

False Craving:  This usually happens further down the line of recovery. A person has been drug free for some time and feeling confident about life. An event happens that causes the person to feel anxious,  (a first date, new job etc) or generates real fear (threats, dental treatment etc). These events will trigger off the fight, flight or freeze response. This can feel like a craving and start a person thinking about using. 

How to cope with cravings?

Please remember if there is an urge to use:


Support:  Dealing with a craving on one’s own can be very hard work. It is important to stay close to people that can offer support and make it less likely to use. Support networks like the anonymous meetings and family can all be useful. Whatever the support networks are, please ensure they are used.  Be aware of picking the wrong support (hidden craving). Make sure you are not going to get support from someone who is likely to feed your craving so that you end up using together!

Consequences: Most of the time when a person craves, they are just thinking about the ‘buzz’. It’s like playing a video, reaching the good bit of a film and then pressing pause. If time is taken to play the tape forward. The bigger picture will be seen and the person may be left asking How will I feel with the come down?  Will I be likely to cause harm to myself and others? Will I loose respect?  What risks may occur to my health?. The person will have probably been through all the above and will therefore be able to predict the possible consequences of use. Do you want these to happen?x

Awareness: Once a person understands where cravings come from it is easier for them to deal with them. Understanding individual triggers is essential for this process. Think of them as a ladder with each rung taking the person a step closer to using. The earlier a person spots what is going on, the easier it is to jump off. If they wait before its one step off using, then most of the time it’s too high for them to jump!x

Relaxation: Nature has given us a cut-off switch for coping with the release of adrenaline. This is very simple and effective. Please remember deep breathing kills the feeling: This is how most complimentary therapies work and is a way of minimizing the adrenaline being released.x

Education: Psychiatrist, psychologists, therapist, sponsors and people who care about your wellbeing can support you through challenging times.  If you get close to using or have a lapse, remember to not keep this secret. Call someone you trust and ensure you keep away from as many triggers and high risks situations as possible.

Word of warning

Be careful not to set yourself up. Putting yourself in dangerous situations to test how far you have come is not a good idea. This sets up a situation whereby you can ignore danger. It’s OK because I was OK the last time’ does not mean that it is going to be OK now. Never take anything for granted and remember that emotional factors like depression, anxiety, boredom and celebration can affect the way that you are going to react to a situation.

Author: Nick Kypriotis, Client Relations Manager (MSc, FDAP NCAC) at The Kusnacht Practice