Alcohol cravings can happen any time, day or night. At first, the urge to drink may seem uncontrollable, overwhelming, and too powerful to resist. But in reality, most alcohol cravings are like the waves in the ocean: they appear to be sudden but are actually predictable and short-lived. This means that you can learn to see a craving forming and can fight the urge to drink by “riding the wave” with techniques and lifestyle practices designed to help you overcome alcohol cravings. Understanding why cravings happen, knowing your triggers, maintaining a busy schedule, countering the urges, thinking about the consequences, and remembering your reasons for sobriety can all help you fight alcohol cravings.
Alcohol acts as both a depressant and a stimulant. When you drink alcohol, your brain releases dopamine, a chemical messenger that stimulates pleasure and reward-seeking behavior. Consuming alcohol also impacts your glutamate system, which regulates learning and memory, and directly affects the brain’s plasticity, or ability to change. When disrupted, both dopamine and your glutamate system can change the way your brain works.
In addition to signaling pleasure and rewards, dopamine can also motivate you to act. Recent scientific studies reveal that dopamine can help us achieve something good or avoid something bad. In other words, dopamine helps us stay persistent when we’re trying to achieve a goal. The more you drink, the more your glutamate system interprets drinking as a pleasurable experience, motivating you to drink more. Over time, alcohol changes your reward system and tricks your brain into thinking you need alcohol to feel pleasure, prompting compulsive urges to drink, which are called cravings.
Severe alcohol cravings can disrupt your work, put a strain on your relationships, and interfere with your mental, physical and emotional health. Luckily, there are a number of techniques you can learn that will help you effectively move past these urges without risking your sobriety.
Knowing what triggers you is one of the most effective ways to predict alcohol cravings. “When the brain receives information that it associates with drinking,” Dr. Sal Raichbach explains, “like a stressful situation or the smell of a neighborhood bar, it immediately remembers the positive experience with alcohol and sends signals, or cravings, that encourage the behavior.” Identifying the sights, smells, memories, social events, people, and emotions that trigger the desire to drink can help avoid, minimize, or at the very least, anticipate alcohol cravings.
Some of the most common triggers include:
Think about and track the external and internal triggers that encourage you to drink. Being able to pinpoint these triggers and avoid them may help prevent cravings before they happen. If not, knowing your triggers can help you anticipate cravings so you’re not blindsided when they occur.
You might also encounter strong cravings to drink when you have idle time in your schedule. This may happen often if you have used alcohol to relieve boredom in the past. Whether you developed this habit or not, keeping yourself busy with a range of fulfilling activities can distract you from the urge to drink. Maintaining a busy schedule with fun sober activities can even help rewire your brain. Learning new skills, spending time with family and friends, and finding enjoyment in hobbies and outdoor adventures remind your brain that you can experience pleasure and reward without alcohol.
When you feel the urge to drink, try shifting your attention to one of the following activities:
In addition to acting as a healthy distraction from drinking, keeping your schedule busy with wholesome activities can also help relieve stress.
You can also fight alcohol cravings by countering the thoughts behind the urge. Are you trying to feel better? Then talk to yourself, out loud if you need to, and ask yourself how much better you’ll feel later if you don’t give in to the urge. Remind yourself that giving in to an urge keeps the craving alive. On the other hand, countering, resisting, and fighting against the urge slowly but surely kills the urge, making you stronger.
Don’t believe the lie that “one little drink” won’t hurt you. Remind yourself that “one little drink” could send you on a downward spiral, risking your sobriety, family, career, health, and progress thus far. Don’t stop countering the urge and challenging the thoughts behind the craving until you’re strong enough to resist the temptation and maintain your sobriety.
Reminding yourself of what the consequences will be if you do indulge in alcohol cravings can help you resist the urge to drink as well. Continuing to misuse alcohol can weaken your mental health, making you more susceptible to anxiety and depression. Giving in to alcohol cravings might also cause you to reopen wounds you’ve been trying to mend with friends and family. So when the urge to drink is strong, ask yourself if drinking “just this one time” is worth everything and everyone you could potentially lose.
Practicing mindfulness can benefit the recovery process in many ways. When it comes to resisting alcohol cravings, mindfulness and meditation can teach you how to be aware of unhealthy impulses without succumbing to those sudden urges. Mindfulness and meditation can also help:
Our mission here at Genesis Recovery is to restore lives that have been negatively affected by drug and alcohol addiction. We do that through a unique approach to treatment that combines the 12-step program, clinical treatment, a caring and supportive community, and activities that will rejuvenate your spirit and nurture your soul.
Call us today at 619-797-7319 if you’re ready to combat alcohol cravings and rehabilitate your life at a rehab center that truly cares about your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.