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Dealing with Cravings

Cravings are convincing. Be it for chocolate, a drink, a vape or something else, cravings can change the way our brain functions. They can be triggered by positive or negative emotions, often signaling a deep-seated desire to consume substances.

It’s important that we understand cravings are a normal, natural, expected part of the change process when someone tries to shift their relationship with substances.

Causes of Cravings
Cravings stem from two primary factors. First, they arise as one's body and brain strive to return to balance after prolonged substance use. This process involves readjusting to the lower level of drugs or alcohol in our system, triggering cellular responses that manifest as cravings.

Second, exposure to “triggers” plays a significant role in eliciting cravings. Triggers can be:

  1. External, such as people, places, or things associated in our minds with drinking or using substances, or;

  2. Internal, including thoughts, feelings (such as anxiety, boredom and loneliness), and memories linked to past substance use experiences.

Effective Strategies for Managing Cravings
Let's explore practical approaches for managing cravings. It's crucial to note that attempting to ignore or suppress cravings often backfires, intensifying the urge to use substances. Instead, adopting proactive coping mechanisms can be empowering to navigate cravings successfully. Here are examples of three strategies that can be used:

  • Cognitive: Combatting euphoric recall involves countering the natural tendency to remember the past more favorably than it actually occurred. By playing out the negative consequences of past substance use experiences in vivid detail, we can combat the appeal of euphoric memories.

  • Affective: Engaging in open communication with a non-judgmental friend or loved one who is supportive can be a powerful strategy for managing cravings. Verbalizing emotions associated with cravings not only helps to lessen their intensity but also fosters a sense of understanding.

  • Behavioral: Often known as the "surf the urge" technique, encouraging yourself to ride out the wave of cravings without giving in to them is based on the principle that cravings dissipate naturally over time: they are also temporary, lasting between 5 to 30 minutes. By acknowledging cravings without acting on them, it’s possible to gradually decrease their frequency and intensity.

It's essential to understand that managing cravings is an ongoing process, and what works for one person may not work for another. Experimenting with various strategies and identifying those that resonate personally is key to success. Additionally, actively coping with cravings, seeking support, and recognizing the progress you make are key components of the journey towards overcoming cravings.

Craving change? ALAViDA offers a wide range of support options to help you change your relationship with alcohol and other substances. Visit for more information on cravings.

A. Paul Singh
Therapist, M.A., J.D., RSW
A. Paul Singh is a virtual health coach at ALAViDA Substance Use, a therapist in private practice in Vancouver, British Columbia and provides online counselling across Canada. He has over 25 years of experience in providing alcohol use counselling and has worked as a therapist in virtually every part of the continuum of care, including detox, outpatient, and residential treatment programs.

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