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When You’re Feeling The Urge, It’s Time To HALT

At Sunshine Coast Health Centre Center and Georgia Strait Women’s Clinic, we recognize that the landscape of addiction treatment and recovery is varied and personal. As such, we strive to provide clients and families with a variety of resources and to match them with knowledge and tools that will work for them specifically. 

Many tools and concepts have been created to help people in addiction and recovery. The one we’ll be exploring in this article is not presented in a one-size-fits-all sort of approach, but rather as another tool for the toolbelt of treatment and recovery.

What is HALT?

HALT is a concept which originates with the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program. In short, it’s a tool for preventing alcohol relapse specifically. Although it could, in theory, be applied to other problematic substance use as well.

It’s worth noting that while our own approach differs substantially from AA, many of our clients have a connection with the AA community prior to seeking treatment at our center, and may make use of AA resources as part of their post-treatment plan. AA continues to be one of the most accessed resources for recovering from addiction to alcohol. So it’s not surprising that the concept of HALT is familiar to many of our clients before coming to SCHC/GSWC.

What does HALT stand for?

HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. HALT also reminds us to halt, as in stop.

In essence, the tool recognizes four common triggers that may lead people to relapse into drinking at a time when they have committed to quitting or reducing their alcohol consumption.

Man using the HALT method

While relapse can come seemingly out of nowhere, the recovery community has long recognized a handful of factors that tend to push people over that edge. And while we advocate for responsibility and accountability at SCHC, we also believe in giving yourself the best shot when it comes to recovery. In short, the HALT philosophy is that by pausing to reflect on your psychological state, you can better understand your urges, and possibly even mitigate against them.

When should you HALT?

The HALT tool is meant as a literal halting of impulsive behaviour. It’s a tool that is meant to be applied between you and the urge to drink/use in real-time. If you are thinking about having a drink, this tool beckons you to take a moment and ask yourself four questions: 

  • Am I hungry?
  • Am I angry?
  • Am I lonely?
  • Am I tired?

If the answer to any of these is yes, then the idea is to deal with that need/feeling specifically, rather than ignoring it by drinking. The HALT concept is sometimes referred to as a self-care tool, in that it aims to foster a personal responsibility to care for oneself. 

Let’s look at some examples of how the HALT tool can be used.

Questions To Ask Yourself With HALT

H: Am I Hungry? (Or Thirsty?)

Sometimes, when your mind is craving a drink, you might simply be hungry or thirsty. Nutrition and hydration are basic needs for the human body, and they can only be put off for so long. By giving yourself the time to pause and reflect on whether you might be hungry or thirsty, you may be able to both avoid drinking and support your body in getting what it really needs. 

A: Am I Angry? 

Anger is a natural emotion, especially in recovery. Contrary to popular belief, anger doesn’t necessarily need to be directed at something specific… it can simply be a feeling that we feel. And while we might be inclined to suppress that feeling or run from it, simply sitting with that feeling can provide meaningful self-reflection and could even be enough to prevent a relapse.

As road rage will attest, anger is a feeling that can make us impulsive. That being said, responding to that anger intentionally is key to taking responsibility. And remember: just like the urge to drink, this anger too shall pass. 

L: Am I Lonely? 

Loneliness is a significant risk factor for alcohol use and can be a strong relapse trigger. But just like anger, loneliness is a perfectly natural feeling. It’s okay to feel lonely; most people feel lonely at some point or another, even in settings that are bustling with social activity. When it comes to loneliness, it can be helpful to try to understand what kind of loneliness you are feeling: Is it situational loneliness? Chronic loneliness? Depending on the answer, there are ways you can address that loneliness that don’t involve drinking.

T: Am I Tired? 

Sleep disorders are common and incredibly disruptive, especially during recovery. At SCHC & GSWC, we recognize quality sleep as an essential part of clients’ treatment and journey to well-being. A lack of sufficient sleep (or quality sleep) may leave folks in recovery more vulnerable to relapse, as it can reduce willpower or motivation. Our center’s renewed focus on sleep emphasizes a holistic approach to dealing with substance use and mental health.

man using the HALT method for introspection


In closing, HALT is just one tool of many; it’s not a silver bullet to preventing relapse, but it can easily help you recognize some of the common feelings (hunger, anger, loneliness, tiredness) that commonly trigger relapse in a number of people. If you’re looking for support in treatment, recovery, or avoiding relapse, we’ve got your back.

Sunshine Coast Health Centre and Georgia Strait Women’s Clinic are world-class centers for addiction treatment and mental health. We take an approach that recognizes the importance of the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of individuals in treatment and recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use and mental health, give us a call today.


Focus: Addiction: Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery – PMC

How Using the HALT Concept Prevents Alcohol Relapse

HALT: Pay Attention to These Four Stressors – Cleveland Clinic

HALT: On Being Hungry and Tired – Drug Rehab Options 

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