Addictive Cravings for Alcohol – Alcohol is for celebrations like weddings, birthdays, graduations, and promotions, for other special moments in your life, and for lasting memories of time spent happily with those closest to us – friends, lovers, and family.
It’s easy to forget, however, alcohol is also a highly addictive drug.
It is often entirely responsible for broken marriages and broken families, for feelings of desolation and despair, for homelessness, for lives spent needlessly behind bars, and, most importantly, for the premature deaths of nearly 100,000 Americans every single year.
You would have thought, then, that we would approach the use of alcohol with real caution, especially for our children, and we would do our utmost to help and treat those who become alcoholics.
Sadly not. Not even close.
In the U.S. of today, getting drunk on alcohol is all too often seen as a standard “rite of passage” for teenagers and adolescents at certain points in their young lives.
In fact, thanks to our “drinking culture,” not getting drunk on alcohol is regularly seen as a kind of social failure in some respects, especially among so-called peers.
Unsurprising, then, that many people suffer from severe psychological and physical cravings for alcohol, sometimes even on a daily basis – all because their bodies and their brain are so used to the regular influx of alcohol into their systems.
Without it, these people, now having built up a strong tolerance to alcohol, struggle to function normally or to even feel “normal.”
If you are regularly acting on these alcohol cravings – even knowing the clearly negative consequences of such actions – it may well be a sign that you are suffering from an alcohol use disorder (known as AUD for short), which at its worst, is considered to be alcoholism.
In many, many cases, AUD requires professional addiction treatment.
Why Do You Crave Alcohol?
Here’s the science behind your cravings for alcohol: When you drink, dopamine – our “reward chemical” – is released in the brain. Over time, this reward motivates you to engage in the same behavior, again and again.
Alcohol eventually alters the reward system in your brain, which then prompts compulsive urges to use alcohol – psychologically, and later, physically, too.
The simple process of drinking alcohol actually trains your brain to actively seek out the substance in the future…
Research shows that alcoholics have become conditioned to random thoughts and environmental triggers that relate to alcohol. Both internal and external cues or “triggers” can lead you to actively think about the euphoric effects of alcohol, resulting in an urge to drink.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms – both physical and psychological – can also set off cravings. Withdrawal is the physical and psychological process experienced when someone with AUD or another substance use disorder (SUD) stops their use of the drug.
For those who don’t think they have a problem with their alcohol use, please remember that hangovers are predominantly your body responding to the elimination of alcohol from your system.
Severe cravings for those with AUD are usually the most intense during the acute withdrawal stage. However, similar cravings can occur even months or years after the cessation of all alcohol use.
Here are your “6 Essential Ways to Reduce Your Addictive Cravings for Alcohol” – a mixture of both immediate and long-term strategies to reduce cravings for alcohol, as advised by drug and alcohol addiction experts (as well as the drug and alcohol treatment rehab in Phoenix that helped me to begin my own journey to addiction recovery).
“Alcohol cravings can be very intense, especially in early recovery. The good news is, they only last for a short period of time. If you can distract yourself or sit through them, they’ll typically pass.”
– Ruby Mehta, LCSW, Director of Clinical Operations, Tempest
6 Immediate & Long-Term Strategies to Reduce Alcohol Cravings
Bearing in mind that a typical alcohol craving lasts between 3 to 5 minutes, using the simple strategy of distraction is often enough to see you past these unpleasant few moments. Additionally, tell yourself that the craving will pass on its own soon enough, as this helps too.
Here are a few easy ideas for distraction that are commonly used successfully by people in this kind of situation:
- Put on some music, and listen to a few tracks
- Pick up a book and read a chapter
- Go for a walk, by yourself or with a friend
- Make a snack or cup of tea
- Spend some time on your favorite hobby
- Meditation (we’ll get to that more later)
- Taking a shower
#2. Staying Present
Stressful, tense, and pressured situations can tend to trigger cravings for alcohol. If this happens, the practice of mindfulness can provide the answer.
Exercises in mindfulness can help you to anchor yourself in the present moment, making you more aware and enabling you to comfort yourself until the craving passes.
Here are a few ideas for you to explore:
- Relaxation exercises
- “Grounding” techniques
- Physical activity, including yoga
- Changing your environment
#3. Understanding Your Triggers
Understanding the specific people, places, and situations that trigger your own urge to drink can make a big difference in controlling your addictive cravings for alcohol.
Additionally, knowing these triggers in early recovery is critical, as this is when you are at your most vulnerable.
Therefore, avoiding your triggers might mean:
- Choosing restaurants that don’t serve alcohol
- Hanging out with tee-total friends
- Altering your journey to and from work to avoid local bars and old hangouts, and
- Practicing excellent self-care to satisfy your need for sleep, exercise, food, water, and friendship
Furthermore, perhaps you experience your strongest cravings when you feel anxious, stressed or emotional?
Learning how to work through these moments – to challenge them for what they are – will improve your wellbeing immensely, and in time, help you to control these sporadic urges to drink.
#4. Breaking a Habitual Behavior
If you’ve ever tried to break a strong habit, you know it’s undoubtedly easier said than done. Here’s something you may not know to help you break them:
Fact: 60% of everything you have done today, you will repeat tomorrow. Unless you do something to actively break these numerous loops of behavior, you’ll do another 60% of what you do tomorrow again the day after… and on, and on.
Every habitual behavior (or habit) has 3 distinct elements; these are:
- The Cue / Trigger (as discussed previously)
- The Routine (it’s a habit – part of your 60%), and
- The Reward (reinforces the habit, such as feeling happier and more secure, a pleasurable buzz from alcohol, or a lessening of your feelings of stress)
Once you identify the triggers, routines, and rewards that keep your habit constantly repeating itself, you can experiment with trigger avoidance, better routines, and healthier rewards.
#5. Building Your Personalized Toolkit
People are fundamentally different from each other, even though they can appear similar types of people. Each person with a diagnosed alcohol use disorder (AUD) or issues with their alcohol use will have a different set of triggers – personal to each of them.
Therefore, it follows that each person can be helped in different ways and with different strategies.
In other words, what works for one person won’t always work for you.
Building your own “craving recovery toolkit” can make a real and practical difference in controlling the most intense cravings. Toolkits can be a combination of:
- an actual physical box or bag that includes items like a favorite snack, a prized possession, a favorite book or a writing journal, and a list of the contacts in your support network, and
- an “invisible” toolkit which includes mindfulness or breathing exercises, affirming mantras, and other strategies for coping with cravings
#6. Asking for Medical Assistance (The Use of Medication)
Alcohol cravings can be difficult to manage alone, and there’s no shame in needing a little extra support. One method of support for handling intense and persistent cravings is the use of prescription medication, such as:
- Naltrexone (Vivitrol, Revia): Blocks alcohol’s effects and lessens cravings
- Acamprosate (Campral): Helps to reduce cravings
- Disulfiram (Antabuse): Although this doesn’t directly prevent cravings, it makes drinking alcohol an unpleasant experience, with side effects such as nausea and vomiting
Speak to your family physician directly about the use of these types of medication.
Remember, alcohol cravings are a common symptom, especially when you first try to change your drinking habits. It takes time and effort to find a way or a strategy to help you navigate them effectively.
The “6 Essential Ways to Control Your Addictive Cravings for Alcohol” provided here for you should be seen as your personal starting point to find out what works best for you when it comes to dealing with and controlling these alcohol cravings.
Good luck, be safe and be well.