Tips for Dealing with Urges to Drink or Use Drugs

Most people continue to have urges to drink or use drugs after treatment and must develop ways of coping with the urges in order to stay sober. Here are some ways people have resisted the urge to drink or use drugs; try these and find out what works best for you.

Delay your decision: When you recognize that you have an urge, take at least 15 minutes to decide what you’ll do about it. Urges feel strong in the moment, but they fade. Giving yourself some time before deciding what to do can work in your favor. 

Distract yourself: Do something that puts your energy and attention somewhere else. Choose something absorbing and enjoyable that you can do immediately and that doesn’t require planning, doesn’t depend on other people and is almost always available to you. Examples: listen to music or an audio relaxation program, go for a walk or bike ride, watch television, read a book.

Weigh the pros and cons: When you have an urge, it’s easy to think of the “pros” of drinking or using drugs; to resist the urge, think about your personal reasons for wanting to avoid using, and the negative consequences of continuing to use. Writing your reasons down or saying them out loud to yourself may also help.

Leave the situation: Certain situations can bring up strong memories of using substances or make you feel a way that reminds you of using substances. Leaving the situation may remove the urge.

Give yourself a pep talk: Talk to yourself—out loud, in your mind, or by writing it down—about your ability to handle an urge. Remind yourself of your strength and visualize yourself coping with the urge in a healthy way.

Frame the situation in a positive light: If you notice that you’re thinking in negative terms, try rewording the thought in more positive terms. Here’s an example of a negative statement: “The urge is going to keep getting stronger and stronger until I blow up or I drink.” This is what a positive statement might look like: “I feel pretty bad right now, but I know if I give into the urge to drink, it’ll get stronger; if I don’t drink, it’ll go away.”

Avoid certain situations: Avoid or remove yourself from situations that remind you of your substance use. These situations might include drinking or using any type of drug, being around other users, hanging out where you used to drink or use drugs or being involved in an activity that you associate with drinking or using drugs. 

Source: Dual Diagnosis Research and Treatment Project, UMASS Medical Center, Worcester State Hospital. Reviewed by Robert Drake, MD