How to Cope With Substance Cravings: Make a List of Activities

Mar 18, 2022

Self-monitoring is an essential tool in your recovery toolbox. Patterns of behavior and emotions can focus when you keep track of your day. In addition, with time and practice, you can learn how to self-monitor to identify cravings and their triggers.


Over the past few years, attention has turned to understanding cravings. While some disagree on what the definition of the word “craving” includes, most researchers agree that cravings can impact treatment outcomes.

Cravings are not unusual, especially in the days during or following detoxification. You can have an urge to use alcohol or drugs years after you become sober. As the chemical from alcohol or drugs leaves your body, a void is left. Your mind and body no longer have access to what helped you cope. Your brain is left to heal the communication cells damaged by substances. The process will take time, so be kind to yourself.

While you are going through substance addiction treatment, you can begin a daily journal routine to help you learn how to self-monitor.

Self-Monitoring 101

Keeping track of your daily emotions and behaviors is a transformative practice. This is because being aware of your environment and the people in your life means you understand their impact on your decisions and motivation. Think of self-monitoring as journaling or a spreadsheet. A few tips on how to begin keeping track of your cravings include:

  • Write everything down. Remembering to take time to record your feelings or behaviors is not easy. However, when you make it a part of your daily routine, you can master the act.
  • Be honest with yourself. Record your feelings, behaviors, and what was going on when you felt a craving. When you do this, you can see if you have a pattern of behavior or an environmental influence on a craving. 
  • Recognize toxicity. Maybe you realize a person or a situation is the trigger for your cravings. If so, you can decide to either stop exposing yourself to the environment or person that threatens your well-being. In some cases, like being triggered by someone or something in the workplace, leaving is not always practical. Instead, talk with your alumni group or therapist about using healthy coping skills to alleviate feelings like stress or depression.
  • Acknowledge the days you did not have a craving. Then, spend time reviewing those days to see what is different from the days you had cravings. Also, find a way in your journal or spreadsheet to mark craving-free days. For example, document craving-free days with a zero or an emoji. 

Self-monitoring does take commitment, but when you start paying attention to how various situations or people affect your mood, you can begin to make changes.

High Versus Low Self-Monitoring

Mark Snyder, a researcher, brought about the concept of self-monitoring. He created the Self-Monitoring Scale. The scale reveals two types of people: those who fit in no matter what and can play a role, and those who find the situation to express themselves. 

  • High self-monitors pay attention to situations and people and find ways to fit in. They are aware of how others perceive them and adapt when needed. 
  • Low self-monitors present their authentic selves regardless of the situation, meaning their feelings and needs determine their behavior.

Life is not always that easy, though. For instance, how you act at work may not be how you act with loved ones. So, keeping track of your behaviors and feelings throughout the day can guide you in understanding your self-monitoring demeanor.

Signs of Self-Monitoring

You can determine what type of self-monitor you are by the signs below.

Three traits of high self-monitors are:

  • When they are in a conversation, they say or do things to be the center of attention.
  • They watch other people and follow their behavior.
  • They ask others what they should wear, do, or think.  

Low self-monitors will do the opposite.

Uses of Self-Monitoring

What does self-monitoring have to do with recovery? Tracking your triggers and behaviors can potentially:

  • Guide you to change behaviors or avoid situations that trigger the urge to use a substance
  • Increase your self-awareness and awareness of others
  • Help form healthy relationships
  • Find healthy coping skills in stressful situations
  • Recognize toxic influences in your life to focus on what you can change

Finding Change

Change takes time and work. Yet, the process and the results are likely to be worth the effort. An essential part of discovering patterns and harmful influences that can threaten your recovery is facing them. Healthy coping skills can deflect or protect you from possible harm. What skills did you learn in substance addiction treatment that have helped you assess, reset, and process your feelings? Use them regularly to keep your mind, body, and spirit healthy. 

If you find those skills no longer help you, go out of your comfort zone and try new things. Tap into your treatment center’s alumni group or aftercare program to discuss and explore ways to aid you in challenging situations. Remember – your strength, as well as physical and mental wellness all come from within.

Your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being are essential to your recovery. Learning how to spot the influences other people and places have on your well-being can guide you to make appropriate choices. When you self-monitor your emotions and behaviors, you gain insight into how you think and feel. Be honest with yourself when you record your day. If you had a craving, note what was going on. Take into consideration how you felt and what your initial urge was when confronted with stress or toxic influences. You can then translate the patterns of behavior or triggers for substance cravings into change. Renaissance Ranch Treatment Centers encourages you to discover your triggers and find healthy alternatives. That is why we have a solid and supportive aftercare and alumni program. We know there will be times when you need encouragement from those who understand your recovery. Our location in Utah brings you back to nature and healing. Call (801) 308-8898.