Cravings are a part of recovery
Cravings are intense feelings and desires to drink again. During alcoholism recovery, cravings are a usual and expected occurrence. Especially in early recovery, cravings can pop into your head out of nowhere.
Although these are thoughts of relapse, experiencing cravings DOES NOT necessarily lead you to relapse. But, what can you do when cravings appear out of nowhere? Can psychological support help alcohol cravings? Are there any medications that can curb the urge to drink?
In this article, we help outline options for coping with your urges and cravings. Then, we invite your questions about quitting drinking in the comments section at the end. In fact, we’ll try to respond to your question personally.
What does an alcohol craving feel like?
Cravings are an intense desire for a drink. These urges for relapse may come as whispers in your head, thoughts like:
“I wish I could…”
“Just a sip.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice if…”
Sometimes, they come in your sleep to catch you off guard. Dreams about drinking can be very vivid, to an extent that you may even feel the smell and taste of alcohol.
What are alcohol cravings symptoms?
Alcohol cravings are both physical and mental feelings that regular drinkers avoid by drinking frequently and on daily basis. By drinking, you keep the blood alcohol levels high enough to prevent you from experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. You are also actively engaging the craving as you drink. However, once the habitual drinking is discontinued, you can expect a series of predictable thoughts or thinking patterns to emerge.
Cravings are experienced as a part of the alcohol addiction condition, especially when you try to drastically lower the amount you drink or stop drinking completely. Further, cravings are not restricted to the weeks or months after you stop drinking. Cravings can also occur long after you’ve gone through withdrawal.
What triggers a craving?
An intense desire to drink usually occurs if/when a situation evokes your memories of the effects of alcohol. There are certain triggers of cravings, such as when you:
- are in contact with people, places or situations that you associate with this habit
- initially stop drinking (as a part of alcohol withdrawal)
- try to escape from unpleasant feelings such as depression, anxiety, boredom, stress, etc.
- want to enhance a positive mood (like you used to get from alcohol)
Other serious relapse triggers can occur anytime you feel:
How can I deal with cravings in recovery?
1. Avoid the triggers.
Avoid things that trigger your urges. There will be certain people, places, situations, or activities that trigger alcohol cravings. You should try to avoid them! Avoiding these triggers may mean changing things in your social life, private life, changing you living area, old activities, etc.
Practice saying “NO”. You can do everything in your power to avoid alcohol, but in the world we live in it will always find its way to you. In social situations, people will offer you a drink and you need to have a prepared response. Be firm, yet polite and turn the drink down by saying “No, thanks!”
Distract yourself. Distraction methods aim to move a person’s attention away from the negative thoughts or uncomfortable internal feelings, towards more pleasurable ones. You can practice awareness, go for a walk, listen to music that makes you feel good, do some housecleaning, run an errand, or turn towards your hobby.
2. Manage the triggers.
Talk about it. A conversation with someone whom you trust, such as your sponsor, therapist, counselor, supportive family member, loved one or a friend, or someone from your faith community can offer you the needed comfort and motivation to make it through cravings.
Respond to automatic thoughts in a rational way. Many of our thoughts are responsible for the cravings we feel, sometimes we may even be aware of them. So, when you are faced with cravings, try to analyse your own thoughts at that moment. See if you can get to the bottom of that issue, if you can look at it differently, or take positive actions to resolve it.
Relax. Feelings of anxiety, anger, stress or frustration are the most common triggers for craving. By learning how to stay calm and breathe deeply when such feelings arise you can successfully act rationally and avoid any impassivity. You can try, for example, light yoga exercise, meditation, play relaxing music, take a hot bath, drink chamomile tea.
Ride it out. Instead of fighting the cravings you can try to do some “urge surfing”. Cravings usually subside fairly quickly anyway, so ride it out without trying to battle, judge or ignore the feeling. You’ll notice cravings passing even more quickly this way.
Use coping flashcards. When a strong craving has you in its grip, be prepared with coping flashcards that you have written for yourself. The idea is to convince yourself that you can cope with this situation by reading encouraging facts. These flashcards can motivate you by numbering the things you can to be grateful for, or encourage you to persevere and that it will all be over soon.
3. Use medication.
NOTE HERE that medications are helpful for the treatment of alcoholism, but only as a part of the whole program. A complete alcohol addiction treatment should include psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral and educational sessions, individual and group counseling, and other therapies fit for different individuals.
Currently, there are three medications approved in the US by the FDA for the treatment of alcoholism and management of alcohol cravings. These prescription medications are:
1. Acamprosate – Is claimed to reduce the cravings for alcohol, the physical distress, as well as the emotional discomfort felt when you quit drinking.
2. Disulfiram – Acts as a deterrent from alcohol by causing a severe adverse reaction when someone on this medication consumes alcohol. Disulfiram is the main ingredient in Antabuse and can help with alcohol cravings.
3. Naltrexone – Works in the brain by blocking the “high” that alcohol causes when people drink it.
Alcohol craving treatment
There is no one-size-fits-all way to treat and completely stop cravings from re-appearing. But, there are a lot of therapies and things you can initiate on your own to be ready to cope through the occasional temptations. Some ideas for home treatment of cravings include:
- Ask your friends and family for support.
- Build a sober network.
- Call upon the guidance of a sponsor, counselor, clergy member, or anyone who can help keep your mind off using.
- Consider moving into a sober living house.
- Eat foods that can help you keep cravings under control (complex carbohydrates, dopamine enhancing foods, fruits and veggies)
- Join a recovery support group where you can share about your cravings with other group members or with a sponsor.
- Learn about your craving triggers and how to manage them.
- Mindfulness meditation can help you see that cravings just arise and then go away.
- Seek treatment for any other medical or psychological issues you are experiencing.
- Speak with an addiction therapist about any cravings that are interfering with your life.
- Try taking a class, joining a church or civic group, or volunteering.
- Write a recovery journal to help you refresh you memories about how bad things were and how far ahead you’ve come.
- Whenever you feel that you are about to relapse take action to avoid it.
Any questions about facing the urge to drink?
With time and practice, you will learn to recognize triggers that lead to cravings. Also, you will see that having cravings doesn’t mean you are not motivated or dedicated enough in your recovery…and that these feelings pass. However, if you are experiencing the same kind of triggers and cravings, you will need to do something to resolve that issue.
For any further questions about dealing with alcohol cravings in recovery, please let us know in the comments section below. We’ll try respond to you promptly and personally, or refer you to someone who will be able to help.