Dealing with cravings can be difficult, but the most important part to remember about cravings is that they are temporary. They come and go and they do not last forever! Furthermore with time, cravings will become less and less frequent, and much less difficult to deal with.
Alcohol cravings are perfectly normal and we all have them. The are a physical reaction to a powerful desire for something we used to have. For most people they feel similar to a sugar craving or a hunger. Cravings come and go at random times, and last different length of time for everyone. Sometimes completely strange cues evoke the memory of the “happy” effects of alcohol and set off an urge. Sometimes just seeing alcoholic drinks or smelling them can stimulate a craving. Sometimes even after long-term sobriety, a sudden craving may come up.
Even though cravings feel super uncomfortable, and overwhelming, there are many ways to manage them. Here are some of the tools that helped me the most with cravings:
- Physically remove yourself. This may only include going to the bathroom, another room or just outside.
- Talk with someone. This literally can be anyone, you do not necessarily need to talk about how you feel, sometimes talking about something completely different is the most helpful to get your mind off the craving.
- Break time down into smaller increments . Commit to staying sober for next 1 minute, or 5, or 10 minutes. Wait that time and then do it again until the craving passes.
- Take few deep breaths. Try to relax your thoughts by taking deep breaths and focusing on your breathing only.
- Eat something sweet. Because alcohol contains lots of sugar, lack of sugar can often cause the cravings.
- Take care of H.A.L.T. Sometimes cravings may be confused with hunger, or caused by tiredness.
- Focus on something else. Redirecting your attention to watching TV, or reading aloud will help.
- Repeat a positive affirmation. I can do this, or mantra: This too shall pass. Or the serenity prayer.
- Fight the urge. Imagine this is a battle that you want to win! And will win!
- Pray. Ask for the strength to stay away from a drink or a drug.
- Observe your thoughts. Don’t believe everything that you think. Choose not to drink despite what your mind may be telling you.
- Don’t isolate. It may be a food idea to go somewhere safe with someone you trust.
- Go for a walk. A brisk walk may just be the key to getting rid of that craving.
You may find it helpful to write a few of these on an index card and maybe even cutting the card into the size of a business card to keep in your wallet. Choose 2-5 of the above coping skills that you think would be helpful in the moment, if a craving to drink surfaces. It may also be helpful to keep a log of when the urges come so that you know which tools maybe effective and what situations you may need to stay away from.
If your craving are severe and /or you have relapsed, or are currently having a difficult time, please talk to your doctor; there are several medications currently on the market that can help those feelings become less intense.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)*, please check out the Sober Courage menu at the top of this page for an extensive list of support groups and recovery related articles.
*Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of “alcohol use disorder” or AUD. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using (Ref: NIAAA).