Changing your alcohol or drug use

In the early stages, there may be many times when you have the urge to use alcohol or drugs.

At times like these, you may doubt your decision to change. Especially if it has been a big part of your life for a long time.

Take it one day at a time. As time goes on, the cravings will get less intense and things should get a little easier.

Reduce temptation

Giving up or cutting down means resisting the urge to use alcohol or drugs. You can get through these times.

To make it easier:

  • limit your access to alcohol or drugs at home
  • avoid social situations where you would normally drink or take drugs
  • keep away from people who might try to encourage you to drink or take drugs

Coping with cravings and urges

If you change your regular alcohol or drugs use, you may have cravings.

When the urge to drink or take drugs is strong, you may briefly forget the reasons you wanted to change. You may feel a desire to just give in.

Cravings may feel difficult to resist. Weigh up the short-term discomfort of resisting a craving with the problems of giving in to it.

These ways of coping and distractions may help.

Delay acting on a craving

Decide not to act on a craving for 30 minutes. The urge will pass.

Distract yourself

Distract yourself with another activity. Often it’s enough just to do something for a few minutes until the craving dies down.

Remind yourself why you decided to stop

Think about the way you felt and the problems you had before you made the change.

Think about how you would feel the following day, if you give in to the urge.

If you have decided to stop drinking or taking drugs, remind yourself of the reasons for this.

It might be helpful to write down the pros and cons of making a change and not making a change. Do this on a piece of paper or download and print our decisional balance worksheet (PDF, 1 page, 59KB).

Learn how to say 'no'

If you have stopped alcohol or drug use, learning how to say 'no' is a useful skill.

Some people will not have a problem with you saying 'no'. If they do have a problem, you may have to leave the situation if you think you are at risk of a slip-up.

When saying 'no', use confident body language and a clear, firm voice.

You could prepare something to say. For example, "No, thanks, I'm not drinking tonight" or "I don't feel like doing that right now."

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques can help take your mind off cravings.

Keep track of your use

If your goal is to cut down, you could use our alcohol and drug diary (PDF, 1 page, 37KB) to track how much you are using.

Use the diary to write down:

  • the time and place you used alcohol or drugs
  • who you were with
  • what you had
  • how much you had
  • how much you spent

You can also use the diary to identify triggers and danger times.

Page last reviewed: 23 September 2022
Next review due: 23 September 2025