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How to Manage Cravings and Avoid Relapse: Practical Tips for Staying Sober

Whether a person has been sober for a few weeks or years, overcoming cravings from substance abuse is not simple. People may experience feelings of helplessness, anxiety, or even panic whenever their cravings kick in. The good news is that recovering individuals can develop healthy coping mechanisms for managing cravings and triggers.

Some of the relapse prevention strategies we’ll discuss are building a solid foundation consisting of treatment and support.

Substance abuse modifies the way neurons function in the brain. Once a person develops drug or alcohol addiction, their brain is chemically programmed to want more. People recovering from drug abuse may go through withdrawal symptoms and cravings, which are part of the relapse process.

What Are Drinking Triggers and How Can I Avoid Them? cover

Cravings are a normal part of recovering from substance use disorder. Those working on their recovery should prepare themselves to experience these cravings occasionally. The key to a successful recovery is not to completely eliminate cravings but to recognize the beginning of a cycle of cravings and learn how to take preventative measures. People in recovery must first eliminate the places, people, and things that trigger their craving for drinking or drug use and replace them with a sober support network and healthy coping skills.

Understanding Drug Cravings in Addiction Recovery

Drug cravings are an acute desire to use drugs or other substances to which a person is addicted. They are physical and psychological sensations that occur after a period of substance abuse. The first two to three days after quitting alcohol or drug use are the most difficult for people who experience cravings. This stage is referred to as withdrawal, and various physical adverse effects may accompany it, such as anxiety, tremors, fatigue, and mood changes. 

Cravings happen because of the psychological and physiological impacts of drug use. A drug’s effects on the brain are cumulative, changing with each use. When a drug is used repeatedly, the brain chemistry gets rewired to associate alcohol or drug use with a feeling of reward, leading to obsession. The substance may eventually be the only thing the user finds truly enjoyable. The brain then develops cravings to abuse alcohol or drugs and alleviate any discomfort because of the certain “high.”

There are various types of cravings: physical, mental, and environmental. When a person experiences physical cravings, they may experience sweating or shaking. Mental cravings are characterized by an overwhelming desire to consume drugs or alcohol and a sense of being unable to focus on anything other than the cravings. Meanwhile, environmental cravings are caused by triggers, such as a place or an item associated with the initial use of an addictive substance.

Strategies for Managing Cravings in Addiction Recovery

Cravings are more likely to emerge when certain triggers are experienced, often external cues such as negative emotions like sadness or anxiety. They can also be triggered by seeing old acquaintances or going to familiar environments where a person used to take drugs or alcohol.

There are useful ways to promote recovery, despite how difficult it may seem at first. Everyone in recovery experiences cravings and triggers, but being prepared can help prevent relapse.

Here are some practical tips for managing cravings:

  • Exercising is a distraction technique that can help recovering individuals forget about their cravings. Getting in shape doesn’t require a marathon or hours in the gym. People may step outside, stretch their legs, and jog or do brisk walking. Walking and running have therapeutic effects that can help people relax and clear their minds.

  • A healthy diet and adequate sleep can aid in the recovery process. The body receives its supply of energy from the nutrients that it consumes. In addition, research shows that sleep quality affects drug cravings.

  • Mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises, long recognized as means of calming the mind and regaining concentration, are especially helpful for relieving the discomfort of cravings.

  • People in recovery may paint, write in a diary, watch movies, or listen to music. They may follow their inspiration and use it as a distraction when they feel cravings coming on. Engaging in a hobby that provides pleasure or comfort is a helpful relapse prevention plan.

  • Overcoming cravings can be eased with the help of a family member, friend, support group, or therapist. Talking to someone for support when one is feeling an impulse to use will help them work through their cravings and dedicate themselves to recovery. Learning new ways to deal with cravings in the future can be facilitated by enrolling in a treatment center and participating in therapy, a support group, or a recovery community.

Relapse Prevention: Identifying Triggers in Addiction Recovery

Relapse prevention refers to a set of strategies and techniques designed to help individuals in addiction recovery maintain their sobriety and prevent a return to substance abuse. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that relapse rates for substance use disorders are between 40% and 60%. It involves recognizing and addressing the factors that may lead to a relapse, such as triggers.

Triggers in addiction recovery are specific situations, emotions, or circumstances that can increase the risk of relapse. They can be both external and internal factors that evoke strong cravings or temptations to engage in substance abuse. Identifying triggers is crucial because it allows individuals to become more aware of the situations or emotions that may put their recovery at risk.

Here are some ways to identify triggers in addiction recovery:


Take the time to reflect on your past substance use and identify patterns or situations that were associated with your substance abuse. Consider the people, places, activities, or emotions that often led to using drugs or alcohol.

Keep a Journal:

Maintain a journal to track your thoughts, emotions, and experiences related to your recovery journey. By regularly documenting your thoughts and feelings, you may start to notice patterns and identify specific triggers that arise in your daily life.

Seek Professional Help:

Reach out to a therapist, counselor, or addiction specialist who can assist you in identifying triggers. These professionals have experience in working with individuals in recovery and can guide you through the process of recognizing and understanding your personal triggers.

Support Groups:

Attend support groups or 12-step meetings where you can interact with others who have similar experiences. Hearing their stories and sharing your own can help you identify common triggers and gain insights into your own triggers.

Pay Attention to Emotions and Physical Sensations:

Observe how certain emotions, such as stress, sadness, anxiety, or boredom, impact your cravings or desire to use substances. Also, be mindful of any physical sensations that may trigger cravings, such as tension or restlessness.

Take Note of High-Risk Environments:

Be aware of the environments or social settings that have historically been associated with substance abuse. These could be specific places, parties, or even certain social circles that may increase the temptation to use drugs or alcohol.

Remember, identifying triggers is an ongoing process, and it requires self-reflection, self-awareness, and a willingness to be honest with yourself. Once you have identified your triggers, you can develop strategies and coping mechanisms to effectively manage them and reduce the risk of relapse.

What are the Stages of Relapse?

There are three stages of relapse: emotional, mental, and physical. The stages of relapse are especially difficult for people with mental health conditions, and they may need a treatment plan.

Emotional Relapse:

In emotional relapse, the individual is not actively considering drugs or alcohol throughout this stage. However, their emotions or behaviors, such as mood swings or poor self-care, may prepare them for future relapse. If they don’t address the warning signs and symptoms of the emotional stage, they are more likely to move on to mental relapse.

Mental Relapse:

When someone has entered a mental relapse, which may be considered a war within their own minds, they are extremely vulnerable to also experiencing a physical relapse. Mental relapse symptoms include psychological and physical urges to use substances and thinking about the people, places, and things connected to past use.

Physical Relapse:

Lastly, physical relapse follows quickly after the mental and emotional relapse when the individual does not recognize and address any relapse warning signs. This type of relapse entails the use of alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs.

Building Relapse Prevention Skills and Tools in Addiction Recovery

Many people in recovery feel lost in their newfound freedom from substance abuse. They may fill the time that was once spent drinking or doing drugs by replacing them with healthy activities. The following are relapse prevention skills and tools that may lessen the likelihood of relapse for those recovering from alcohol or drug dependence:

Recognize and Understand Triggers:

One of the key steps in avoiding relapse is identifying and understanding triggers. Triggers can be external factors such as certain people, places, or situations that elicit cravings or negative emotions. They can also be internal factors like stress, boredom, or emotional distress. By recognizing these triggers, individuals can develop awareness and take proactive steps to manage them effectively.

Build a Strong Support System:

Having a strong support system is crucial for relapse prevention. Surrounding oneself with understanding and supportive individuals can provide encouragement and accountability during challenging times. This support can come from family, friends, support groups, therapists, or sponsors in recovery programs. Regularly engaging with this support network can provide guidance, empathy, and a sense of belonging.

Develop Coping Mechanisms:

Learning healthy coping mechanisms is essential for avoiding relapse. It involves finding alternative ways to manage stress, emotions, and cravings without resorting to substance use. Engaging in exercise, meditation, journaling, or hobbies can help individuals alleviate stress and promote emotional well-being. Developing effective coping strategies empowers individuals to navigate triggers and challenging situations with resilience.

Practice Self-Care:

Prioritizing self-care plays a crucial role in relapse prevention. This includes taking care of physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Getting sufficient sleep, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly can contribute to overall wellness and stability. Engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment, practicing relaxation techniques, and seeking therapy or counseling when needed are all important aspects of self-care.

Getting the Help Needed, Whether it’s Medical or Non-Medical:

Negative behaviors can be avoided with the help of a strong support network, whether from friends, family members, support groups, or therapists. Joining a 12-step program or attending support group meetings may help one meet people going through similar experiences and learn from them. Professional help, such as psychotherapy, contingency management, motivational interviewing, and cognitive behavioral therapy, may teach coping skills that serve as relapse prevention strategies.

Create a Relapse Prevention Plan:

Developing a relapse prevention plan provides a roadmap for staying on track in recovery. This plan should include specific strategies, actions, and resources to utilize when faced with triggers or cravings. It may involve setting goals, establishing daily routines, attending support group meetings, and seeking professional help when necessary. Regularly reviewing and updating the plan can help individuals stay focused and prepared.

It may be difficult for someone in early recovery to see a future in which their lives would be different. Smaller, measurable, more manageable, and realistic recovery goals may serve as a source of motivation throughout the rehabilitation process. Short-term goals, like getting out of bed on time, may sustain one’s motivation and concentration for longer-term objectives, like repairing relationships with loved ones.

Taking part in meaningful activities:

These activities help inspire people to feel good about themselves. Some examples are joining a local sports team or volunteering in a club.

Practicing self-forgiveness and self-compassion:

The individual may also set objectives that include learning from their mistakes, improving their self-image, and showing themselves compassion.

Maintain a Positive Mindset:

Having a positive mindset and cultivating a sense of optimism can be instrumental in avoiding relapse. Celebrating milestones and achievements, practicing gratitude, and focusing on personal growth and self-improvement can strengthen motivation and resilience. Embracing a positive outlook helps individuals stay committed to their recovery journey.

Every person who wants to abstain from drug or alcohol use will face significant challenges, including overcoming cravings and triggers. Seeking professional help can lessen the occurrence of these negative consequences and help one develop the good coping mechanisms necessary for dealing with them.

5 Practical Tips for Maintaining Sobriety

Maintaining sobriety involves more than just saying “no” to alcohol or drugs. Living sober requires a significant shift in priorities and relationships. It entails exchanging harmful routines for healthier ones. Staying sober is a process that requires dedication and time.

Here are 5 useful tips for maintaining sobriety:

  1. Build a Strong Support Network:

Surround yourself with positive and supportive individuals who understand your journey. Seek out support groups, therapy sessions, or 12-step programs to connect with like-minded people who can provide guidance, encouragement, and accountability.

  1. Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms:

Replace harmful habits with healthier ones. Engage in regular, healthy activities such as exercise, pursuing hobbies, and spending time with positive influences. Find effective ways to manage stress and emotions, such as practicing relaxation techniques or seeking therapy.

  1. Avoid Triggers and High-Risk Situations:

Identify and steer clear of triggers and high-risk situations that may tempt you to use substances. This may involve staying away from certain places, events, or people associated with your past substance use. Prepare strategies to handle situations where substance use is present.

  1. Set Realistic Goals:

Set achievable goals for yourself in recovery. Break larger goals into smaller, manageable steps and celebrate your progress along the way. Remember to be patient and kind to yourself as you work towards your goals, understanding that recovery is a lifelong journey.

  1. Stay Educated and Reach Out for Help:

Continuously educate yourself about addiction, recovery, and relapse prevention. Stay connected to the recovery community, attend workshops, read relevant materials, and seek knowledge about new developments in addiction treatment and support. And most importantly, never hesitate to reach out for help when you need it. Whether it’s from a trusted friend, family member, sponsor, therapist, or helpline, remember that support is available to you.

Remember, maintaining sobriety is an ongoing process, and while relapse occurs, it doesn’t define your journey – it’s how you respond and get back on track that truly matters.


Substance dependence or alcohol use disorders have social, psychological, and physical impacts. Like other chronic diseases, it requires a comprehensive approach since substance abuse often stems from deeper issues that cannot be resolved easily. In addition, each person’s journey through substance addiction, recovery, and treatment is unique. Treatment plans or therapy must be adjusted to the individual’s specific needs while working toward accomplishing their recovery goals.

Recovery requires a dedication to consistent self-care, a readiness to face challenging emotions and triggers, and a network of loved ones and professionals who can offer encouragement and support. Through addiction treatment, healthy routines, and coping skills, cravings and relapse can be prevented. Discovering new interests is also a great way to keep recovering individuals occupied and maintain a healthy lifestyle. They may try their hand at a new hobby, like cooking, joining a reading club, or painting. They could also invite friends to sign up with them, which is fun and helpful for emotional support. The point is to switch out a negative routine for a more positive one that people in recovery can easily maintain.

Recovering individuals may gain insight into the root cause of their addiction by speaking with a trained mental health practitioner. It may be easier to overcome negative feelings and prepare for common triggers once people figure out why they have destructive patterns in the first place. In addition to facilitating their transition towards a sober lifestyle, cognitive distortions through counseling also teach them how to cope with stress effectively. People struggling with addiction can overcome cravings and achieve long-term sobriety with dedication and hard work. 

Sobriety is achievable with access to the appropriate tools and coping mechanisms. Going to counseling or therapy regularly, joining a support group, or completing treatment can lead to improved outcomes of relapse prevention.

Recovery programs, such as sober living homes, can make a difference on the path to sobriety.

At Bridges Sober Living Apartments, Los Angeles, we offer a safe and supportive environment for men and women working toward their recovery goals. We also support them while they learn new skills and secure employment, allowing them to begin a new chapter in their lives. We aim to provide a safe space free of triggers for those recovering from substance abuse and help them readjust to society. Give us a call at 310-953-4075 to learn more about sober living services.

Frequently Asked Questions

Relapse prevention is an approach that aims to reduce the risk of relapsing following the cessation of addictive behaviors.
Yes, there are various activities that can manage cravings. People may do different types of exercise— from taking a stroll around the block to practicing yoga, bicycling, or swimming. When people work out, endorphins are released in the brain, which can help them overcome some cravings. They may also seek social support as a distraction by spending time with loved ones, friends, or a support group. Practices like meditation and mindfulness-based relapse prevention can help to recover individuals relax their minds and body to think more clearly and make wiser choices. Lastly, they may explore new hobbies to keep them occupied. These activities may include journaling, cooking, dancing, or painting.

Staying sober requires avoiding risky situations which can trigger substance abuse. This could involve cutting ties with a friend or avoiding a place where one previously engaged in alcohol abuse. Instead, individuals should count on sober loved ones for support. They may also find others who understand what they’re going through by joining a peer support group like SMART Recovery, Narcotics Anonymous, or Alcoholics Anonymous.

Taking care of one’s health will favor their mental and physical well-being, which is crucial in the healing process. They must prioritize physical activity, maintain a nutritious diet, get plenty of rest, and seek professional treatment to maintain sobriety.

An accountability partner is someone who will check in to see how a recovering individual is doing and offer encouragement and advice when they need it most. They also help them get through difficult times and maintain recovery. While there is no fixed time on when to check in with someone, it’s advisable to do so at least once weekly. Checking in with a person in recovery frequently may help in preventing relapses.

SMART goals are a useful tool for recovery. SMART goals stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. People are more likely to gain self-efficacy and take steps toward achieving their goals for sobriety when they are written down using this method:

  • Specific– Specific goals provide a clear statement of the overall goal. Factors like what will be done and by whom will be outlined.

  • Measurable– Measurable goals specify how the outcome of the action will be evaluated. If people want to know how far they’ve come, they need to measure it. 

  • Achievable– Goals that are achievable can be reached after considering all the things that might get in the way.

  • Relevant– Relevant goals align with the overall objective of what a person is attempting to accomplish. 

  • Time-bound– Goals that are time-bound are those that have a defined period of time in which they must be accomplished.

If substance abuse negatively impacts one’s life or the lives of others around them, it’s important to seek help. Getting help or therapy is necessary if people have substance abuse but cannot fight the addiction on their own. 
A relapse may occur at any time during the recovery process, and it is possible to avoid it completely. There are many strategies for avoiding relapse, including healthy coping skills to deal with stress and external triggers. These include self-care practices, mindfulness meditation, support groups, family therapy, treatment program, and hobbies. 
Yes. Staying away from places, people, and stressful situations that may serve as triggers can help prevent relapse. A list of all triggers is one of the most effective relapse prevention tools.

People can significantly reduce their risk of cravings and relapse by taking preventative measures such as reaching out for support. Support groups offer a non-judgmental atmosphere where people may learn how others could cope with and conquer addiction, while family and friends can provide encouragement and support throughout the recovery journey.

Medications such as naltrexone, suboxone, and buprenorphine can help avoid cravings for opioids and block their effects in the event that an individual relapses. These medications can only be prescribed by addiction medicine specialists or doctors.

Lydon-Staley, D. M., Cleveland, H. H., Huhn, A. S., Cleveland, M. J., Harris, J., Stankoski, D., Deneke, E., Meyer, R. E., & Bunce, S. C. (2017). Daily sleep quality affects drug craving, partially through indirect associations with positive affect, in patients in treatment for nonmedical use of prescription drugs. Addictive behaviors, 65, 275–282.

NIDA. 2023, March 9. Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from on 2023, May 22

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