Ways to Stop Alcohol Cravings
Alcohol cravings are a normal part of recovery. They can come in many forms. When you crave alcohol, sometimes it’s a desire to get rid of something, like an uncomfortable feeling — you want to numb or dull emotional pain or relieve boredom. Other times it’s a longing to get something — like a feeling of confidence, relaxation, or a better mood. Then there are times when alcohol cravings are related to slips in self-care. You aren’t getting enough sleep or eating right and drinking alcohol may seem like a way to feel better. During your recovery journey, you’ll likely always have alcohol cravings to some degree. But their voice will get much quieter the longer you’re sober. Learn ways to stop alcohol cravings and where to find help if you need it.
Why does Alcohol Become Addictive?
Numerous environmental conditions can act as triggers for cravings. Many of the policies of well-known recovery groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), advise members to avoid people, places, and things that are associated with one’s prior use of alcohol. In addition, the acronym HALT (for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) is often used to remind individuals in AA of the types of conditions that are very likely to foster cravings and spur a relapse to alcohol. Alcohol dependency is a complex issue. Medications can help treat it, but they work best when taken as part of a treatment plan that includes counseling, group support, and supervision from a specialist.
Changes in brain chemistry
Over time, alcohol use begins to affect the neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, in your brain. These changes can lead to tolerance, or a need to drink more in order to feel the same effects. They can also leave you more sensitive to alcohol’s effects and raise your risk of withdrawal symptoms. When not drinking, you might begin to notice feelings of anxiety or other emotional distress, along with strong cravings for alcohol.
Alcohol can affect your brain in other ways, too.
People often begin to use alcohol regularly because drinking leads to positive feelings or helps improve their mood:
- A drink after an unpleasant fight with your partner might help you feel calmer.
- A drink after a challenging day at work might help you relax.
- A drink at a party might help you talk to people more easily.
The pleasant euphoria you experience when drinking becomes a reward, one that reinforces your desire to drink in certain situations. You might eventually start craving that reward in new situations.
Ways to Stop Alcohol Cravings
When you are attempting to make changes to your drinking habits or drug use, it can be frustrating trying to figure out how to control urges. You might be doing your best to avoid taking drugs or drinking, but you still find yourself having drug and alcohol urges or cravings. Not all is lost, however. There are a number of ways to manage and reduce urges or cravings.
Keep track of your cravings
Here are some good reasons to keep track of your alcohol cravings:
- Keeping track can help you identify your “triggers” to drinking if your goal is to abstain or cut back. This includes external triggers – environmental cues like social situations, certain people, work responsibilities, financial troubles, etc. – and internal triggers – thoughts and feelings like sadness, stress, joy, anxiety, grief, boredom, etc.
- Keeping track can help you realize that the alcohol cravings aren’t always there or getting worse. Urges come and go. Fortunately, while urges may make you uncomfortable, they can’t hurt you.
- Keeping track can help show you that sometimes you can use urges to your benefit. For instance, if you have an urge to drink when you’re feeling anxious, the urge can be a signal to figure out better ways to manage your feelings of anxiety and how you deal with stress.
Plan ahead to stay in control to stop alcohol cravings
As you change your drinking, it’s normal and common to have urges or a craving for alcohol. The words “urge” and “craving” refer to a broad range of thoughts, physical sensations, or emotions that tempt you to drink, even though you have at least some desire not to. You may feel an uncomfortable pull in two directions or sense a loss of control.
Fortunately, urges to drink are short-lived, predictable, and controllable. This short activity offers a recognize-avoid-cope approach commonly used in cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people to change unhelpful thinking patterns and reactions. It also provides worksheets to help you uncover the nature of your urges to drink and to make a plan for handling them.
Avoid tempting situations
In many cases, your best strategy will be to avoid taking the chance that you’ll have an urge, then slip and drink. At home, keep little or no alcohol. Socially, avoid activities involving drinking. If you feel guilty about turning down an invitation, remind yourself that you are not necessarily talking about “forever.” When the urges subside or become more manageable, you may decide to ease gradually into some situations you now choose to avoid. In the meantime, you can stay connected with friends by suggesting alternate activities that don’t involve drinking.
Cope with triggers you can’t avoid to stop alcohol cravings
It’s not possible to avoid all tempting situations or to block internal triggers, so you’ll need a range of strategies to handle urges to drink. Here are some options:
- Remind yourself of your reasons for making a change. Carry your top reasons on a wallet card or in an electronic message that you can access easily, such as on a mobile phone or a saved email.
- Talk it through with someone you trust. Have a trusted friend on standby for a phone call, or bring one along for support in situations where you might be tempted to drink.
- Distract yourself with a healthy, alternative activity. For different situations, come up with engaging short, mid-range, and longer options, like texting or calling someone, watching short online videos, lifting weights to music, showering, meditating, taking a walk, or doing a hobby.
- Challenge the thought that drives the urge. Stop it, analyze the error in it, and replace it. Example: “It couldn’t hurt to have one little drink. WAIT a minute—what am I thinking? One could hurt, as I’ve seen ‘just one’ lead to lots more. I am sticking with my choice not to drink.”
- Ride it out without giving in. Instead of fighting an urge, accept it as normal and temporary. As you ride it out, keep in mind that it will soon crest like an ocean wave and pass.
- Leave tempting situations quickly and gracefully. It helps to plan your escape in advance.
Break the habit loop
If you’ve ever tried to break any habit, you probably know it’s often easier said than done.
Understanding the three distinct components of your habit loop can help you come up with more specific strategies to overcome cravings when they pop up.
- First, there’s the cue, or trigger — the first twinge of anxiety before a date, or an upsetting email from your boss.
- Then there’s the routine — having a glass or two of wine with your roommate when you both get home from work, or ordering a drink with dinner.
- And finally, the reward that reinforces the habit — a pleasant buzz, a better mood, or a drop in your stress levels.
Once you identify the cues, routines, and rewards that keep your habit loop on a repeat cycle, you can experiment with new routines that yield even more fulfilling rewards.
Question the urge
Think of the urge as a cue, a signal. It’s telling you that there is something going on at the present moment that is making these cravings happen. It might be telling you to have a drink, but it’s not controlling you. While having an urge can be uncomfortable, it won’t hurt you. With practice, the urge can become a signal that it’s time to use an urge-coping strategy.
Healthy foods to help stop alcohol cravings
During and after your alcohol rehab program, you’ll inevitably experience mood changes, accompanied by physical changes. Sometimes, these will go hand in hand, leading to alcohol cravings, especially in the early phases of recovery. But you can decrease these cravings and fight the urges with healthy, well-chosen food items. After long-term alcohol consumption, your body will experience vitamin, mineral and nutrient deficiency. So in order to keep yourself healthy and happy, you’ll need to create a new lifestyle and eating habits to reset your metabolism and nervous system.
There are other important strategies that can be useful to stop alcohol cravings:
- Recognize that cravings are time-limited; they do not last forever. Cravings will typically go away within 15-20 minutes after they appear if a person can resist them.
- Distraction is one of the most successful approaches to dealing with cravings. Exercise, meditation, and socializing with friends are excellent ways to deal with cravings.
- Become involved in activities that have a higher purpose, such as going back to school, mentoring someone, training for a new job, etc., to reduce cravings.
- Learn stress management techniques (e.g., relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing) to address one’s reaction to perceived stress, which is one of the most common generalized triggers that produce cravings for drugs and alcohol.
- Engage in a healthy lifestyle, such as paying attention to one’s diet, remaining hydrated, getting plenty of exercises, socializing, etc., to reduce the effects of triggers and environmental cues.
A Safe Haven That Helps You Heal
If you feel like you are ready for a fresh start and an addiction-free life, contacting Little Creek Recovery is the logical first step. As a drug and alcohol rehab facility in Pennsylvania, we have the tools and expertise necessary for providing our clients with a chance to find their way to long-term sobriety.
Long-term success greatly depends on one’s motivation and desire to get better. If you already have those two, then our residential housing facility coupled with different treatment programs will prove to be the perfect match that leads to sobriety. Give us a call and allow yourself to get out of the shackles of addiction.