Advanced Strategies for Coping with Urges

Adapted from the SMART Recovery Handbook, 3rd edition, pages 36-37

In Changing Habits: Learning to Cope, we covered the 14 basic strategies recommended by SMART Recovery for coping with urges. Here, we cover 4 advanced strategies for overcoming urges to drink/use/act out.

Learning to Cope With Urges to Drink1. Move Beyond Avoidance

Being exposed to triggers can help you strengthen your coping skills to resist acting upon them. Intentional exposure under controlled conditions can help solidify your coping strategy and increase your confidence. Try the following strategy (it may help to bring along a trusted companion for support and guidance):

  • Put yourself in a situation that may trigger an urge, such as the liquor aisle in a grocery store.
  • Use any of the strategies discussed in Changing Habits: Learning to Cope that you found helpful.
  • Practice refusing offers to engage in your addictive behavior so you can handle peer pressure.


  • Someone trying to persuade you to give in.
  • Yourself confidently refusing.
  • Someone who stirs strong emotions within you and is intent on getting you to partake in the behavior.
  • Keeping focus and managing your behavior.

2. Bring Out Your Urges

Once you gain mastery over coping with urges, confronting them on your terms may increase your confidence in your ability to cope with them,

  • Think of a time when you had a strong urge.
  • Allow yourself to feel the urge and visualize giving in to it. Let it pass.
  • Now, visualize the same situation again, only don’t give in to it this time.
  • Do this for as many situations as you need to.
  • Using the same technique, rehearse a situation that may happen in the future.

3. Role-Play/Rehearsal

Role-playing can help you practice handling challenging situations. SMART meetings can be a great venue for role-playing situations, or you can get together a group of people you trust.

  • Show your role-play partner how you think a difficult person will behave.
  • Your partner plays the difficult person, while you play yourself in the situation.
  • Once you finish the scenario, swap roles and do it again.
  • The people watching the role-play can then offer suggestions or show you how they might handle the same situation.

Consider role-playing challenges associated with events that are likely to trigger urges such as holiday events, weddings, etc.

4. Refuse to Use in Social Situations

There will always be occasions to use or act out. How do you deal with them? Here are some ways:

• Talk with others in recovery about an upcoming event that may trigger an urge. Update them after the event.
• Bring it up in a support group meeting such as SMART.
• Role-play/rehearse the situation until your response not to give in feels natural
• If the host is a friend, tell them in advance that you aren’t drinking. Enlist them as an ally.
• Take a nondrinking friend or a recovery buddy with you to the event
• Be sure to eat something before the event
• Arrive late, leave early. Have an escape plan just in case.
• When you get to the event, get something nonalcoholic to drink. This way, you can socialize with something in your hand, and it will forestall the “Can I get you something?” awkwardness.
• Remember that your drinking/using is less important to others than you might think. Even if the focus is on you for a little bit, it won’t be long before attention is turned elsewhere.

If someone insists that you use:

  • Make eye contact, it shows that you’re serious.
  • Speak in a firm, unhesitating voice.
  • Don’t feel guilty. You have the right not to drink or use.
  • After you say no, change the subject. You only have to say no once.

Practical Recovery provides SMART Recovery oriented treatment. If you would like to learn more about resisting urges, or if you need help overcoming addiction, call us. We can help!