Coping with alcohol cravings

Tips On How to Deal with Urges and Cravings to Drink

If you are having trouble coping with alcohol cravings, there are some useful methods to learn about.

“It’s like being lost in the desert for days and you are dying of thirst. You spot a body of water and ravenously lap up every single drop of the water. It’s like you think will never get another drop of water ever again. This is what having alcohol cravings feels like.”  

~A 25-year-old alcoholic describes alcohol cravings

Alcohol cravings are among the most difficult withdrawal symptoms to manage in early recovery. As your body adjusts to the absence of alcohol and eventually becomes stable, the cravings persist for weeks. The cravings explain the high relapse rates in the first few months of recovery.

When you decide to get sober, it marks a key moment in your life. By knowing what to expect in alcohol withdrawal and beyond, you can be better prepared. Read on to learn all about alcohol use disorder (AUD), detox, coping with alcohol cravings, and how to succeed in recovery.

What are the Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder?

When someone has formed an AUD they will begin to display the warning signs of addiction. Even having just two of these symptoms is a sign of a mild AUD. Four to five symptoms are moderate AUD and 6+ is severe AUD:

  • You drink more or longer than intended.
  • You have tried to cut back or stop drinking, but couldn’t.
  • You spend a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking.
  • Do you experience alcohol cravings?
  • Your drinking has caused you to neglect family obligations or caused problems at work or in school.
  • You kept drinking regardless of these problems.
  • You have lost interest in activities or hobbies you once enjoyed.
  • You have engaged in high-risk behaviors due to drinking.
  • Your drinking causes blackouts, mental health issues, or health problems.
  • You have increased your consumption due to increased tolerance.
  • You have withdrawal symptoms when the effects of the alcohol wear off.

What Causes Alcohol Cravings?

The reasons for the craving response to certain triggers, or “cues,” are varied. Ample research has tried to gain a better understanding of the intense urge and longing to drink alcohol. According to the NIAAA, there are three basic models of alcohol craving:

  • Reinforcement model. This model is based on how drinking alcohol can boost your mood or relieve unpleasant feelings. A process like behavioral modification will reinforce the drinking action that leads to the desired outcome.
  • Social learning model. This model involves cue-related cravings that occur during or after treatment. These will trigger conscious coping actions to maintain abstinence. Success depends on the person feeling confident that they can resist the urge to drink.
  • Cognitive processing model. This model is based on the belief that alcohol use becomes a habit that requires little effort, like any habit. It involves using certain problem-solving skills to block the automatic behavior in order to avoid a cue-related relapse.

Alcohol cravings involve both conscious and unconscious brain processes. In fact, the symptoms of craving are similar to the thought patterns and behaviors are seen in OCD. Also, the drinking itself may have caused certain nervous system changes in the brain.

How to Cope with Alcohol Cravings

There are some steps you can take to reduce the impact of cravings in early recovery:

  • Naltrexone. The drug, which goes by brand names ReVia and Depade, reduces the desire for alcohol after treatment. The drug can help prolong abstinence by blocking parts of the brain that register pleasure in response to drinking alcohol.
  • Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy uses essential oils to help relieve anxiety, depression, and reduce cravings. Because these issues can result in relapse, aromatherapy is a protective factor.
  • Acupuncture. Placing tiny needles in the ear region has been found to help reduce cravings and anxiety. Rehabs offer acupuncture for their patients during the detox process, as it has been shown to provide some withdrawal relief.
  • Diversion. Riding out the cravings by distracting yourself is a good option as well. There are many ways you can divert your attention away from cravings. These might include going for a walk, run, hike, or bike ride, going to see a friend or a movie.
  • 12-Step meetings. One of the best actions to take when cravings emerge is to attend a 12-step meeting. Just being around peers in recovery can help dampen the urge to drink. A sponsor or any member of your support network can help guide you through the cravings event.

Beating Alcoholism

While completing detox is a reward in itself, detox alone isn’t enough to sustain abstinence. The only way to stay sober is to unlearn the maladaptive thought and behavior patterns.

Using CBT and other therapies, you learn how to replace those dysfunctional patterns with healthy ones. Each of the multi-modal treatment actions works in tandem to help you make these needed changes.

Treatment includes:

Individual therapy. Therapy helps you identify underlying factors that may be involved in the maladaptive responses to stress-inducing events or triggers.

Peer group sessions. Group therapy offers peers in recovery a chance to share their personal stories and challenges.

Family therapy. Family group helps the family members heal and move forward together as their loved one begins life in recovery.

Classes. You will learn how the AUD developed, and then techniques to avoid a relapse.

Nutrition. Alcoholism can leave the body depleted, so learning how to adopt healthy eating habits is part of the rehab process.

Coping with alcohol cravings is not easy, but they can be controlled with certain actions. Don’t give up on sobriety when cravings hit. Learn how to control them with your own personal battle plan so you can progress in recovery.

Journey Hillside Tarzana Provides Evidence-Based Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Journey Hillside Tarzana offers on-site detox services and an evidence-based alcohol recovery program in an upscale setting. To learn more about the program, please give us a call today at (877) 414-1024.