How to Deal With Substance Cravings and Urges

How to Deal With Substance Cravings and Urges

It can be challenging and life-altering to try and move through life while trying to deal with cravings and urges for alcohol and drugs, or fight off behavioural urges such as gambling. 

Addiction Coaching Australia advocates for a simple and effective process to help affected people to recognise the craving, move away from it, and make positive decisions.

Originated by author John Dupey, the “5 R Strategy” has been a powerful tool, helping many learn how to deal with substance cravings and urges and work to overcome them.


Label the addictive thought or urge as exactly what it is.

‘This is just an urge, I don’t need to act on this and I have a choice whether I do or don’t’

It is just a feeling, not a need, which means there’s no instant requirement to follow and satisfy the urge. The first step is acknowledging the source of the thought and urge, and recognising there’s no need to act on the urge.

This step is about conscious awareness, intention, and attention.

By working to remain aware of the origins of your sense of urgency, namely that it is a manifestation of your addiction, you can relabel it in your mind, taking away some of the urge’s power.


Although they may feel emotionally-driven, urges come from neurological circuits that have been programmed in your brain from past experiences and use – these urges are your brain searching for extra dopamine or endorphins.

Often, our brains want to seek these endorphins as a stress response – when you feel substance cravings and urges, assess your current state and try to find what might be your current trigger. Are you stressed, tired, hungry, lonely, or upset? Can you rectify this issue another way?

By reattributing the craving to its trigger, you are able to rationalise its origin and find a non-substance use centred solution.


When you’re trying to overcome an urge, refocus your mind by dedicating time to something you love and enjoy. Having a small list of things you can focus on for 10-15 minutes can help distract your mind from its previous path, and offer you some of the aforementioned dopamine your brain is craving.

A great tool for refocusing is to connect with another person, whether through a message or a quick phone call to check in. Addiction Coaching Australia offers daily check-ins and phone support, so can help actively support you when you are working to overcome an urge.


Assess the actual value of what your mind seems to be asking for – remind yourself of the consequences and cost and focus on what you want to achieve in life and how giving in to this urge could throw those goals off-course.

“Where love and vitality should be, addiction roosts”

John Dupey

By focussing on the consequences of giving in to your substance craving, and recognising that in the long term it isn’t as much of a priority or ‘need’ as your brain may be telling you, you can reassign the value of the substance or activity.

This shift in behaviour and framing allows you to make a choice that supports and bolsters the work that you have done or want to do, and the success of overcoming the craving each time is one of the best feelings in the world.


If you’re reading this, some part of you is willing and eager to recreate your life by making different choices, aiming for a better version of yourself, your relationships, and your impact.

Whether you want to frame it as a recreation, rebirth, or simply a fresh start, begin by envisioning what you would want your life to be like if you could put a full stop on your addictive urges and cravings today.

What are your values? What accomplishments do you want to make? How do you want to impact those around you?

Put pen to paper and create a list of what your life would look like free of the cycle of addiction, and keep it close by.

When you’re struggling to deal with substance cravings and urges, refer back to this list and remind yourself that each time you overcome the urge and choose not to use it, you are actively moving closer towards the goals you have set.

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