Alcohol use disorder (also called alcohol addiction) makes you crave alcohol almost constantly. Even as you recover from the disease, cravings can creep up and increase your risk of relapse.
To fight off cravings and stay alcohol-free, follow these five tips.
1. Distract Yourself
When you feel the urge to drink, explore a hobby instead. Popular hobbies include:
- playing an instrument
- learning a language
These activities can give your life a sense of purpose. When your life has a purpose, you’re less likely to feel bored or depressed, which are two of the most common causes of cravings.
Another effective form of distraction is exercise. Whether you hit the gym or stroll around the block, exercise eases alcohol cravings by:
- keeping you busy
- reducing stress, which is another common cause of relapse
- boosting hormones called endorphins, which make you feel happy and relaxed
Visit With Family Or Friends
You can also distract yourself from friends and family members. Discuss your cravings with supportive loved ones, hang out with sober friends, or contact your Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor if you have one. All of these individuals can help you cope until the craving passes.
2. Think About Why You Quit Alcohol
Before you reach for an alcoholic drink, remember what made you stop drinking in the first place. Write a list of all the reasons you quit. Some of the most common reasons include:
- staying stable for your loved ones
- modeling healthy behavior for your children
- saving money and achieving your financial goals
- advancing your career
- avoiding the negative health effects of alcohol, such as high blood pressure, depression, and liver disease
- avoiding alcohol-related legal problems
Keep your list somewhere accessible, such as your phone or wallet. Whenever a craving comes on, look at the list. It can motivate you to fight through the craving, no matter how intense it gets.
In some cases, as you’re looking at the list, you might think, “one little drink won’t hurt.” However, when you’re recovering from alcohol addiction, even a small amount of alcohol can have devastating consequences, including alcohol overdose.
3. Try Urge Surfing
Often, when you try to ignore a feeling or make it go away, it only gets stronger. That’s where urge surfing comes in. Urge surfing is a mindfulness technique that helps you acknowledge a craving without giving in to it.
First, notice that you’re experiencing a craving and that it feels uncomfortable. Identify unpleasant feelings associated with the craving, such as guilt, fear, and uncertainty. Also, observe any physical sensations caused by the craving, such as sweaty palms, shallow breathing, or increased heart rate.
Next, avoid judging these psychological and physical effects. Instead, acknowledge the craving as a normal part of recovery that will pass.
As you wait for it to pass, focus on your breath and other bodily sensations. This can help you feel grounded, which makes you less likely to get carried away by your thoughts and feelings.
Eventually, the craving will fade, and you can go about your day.
4. Consider Medication-Assisted Treatment
Some people need prescription medications to help them beat cravings and quit drinking. The most common medications used to treat alcohol cravings include:
- acamprosate, which makes your brain desire alcohol less
- disulfiram, which discourages alcohol use by causing unpleasant side effects (such as nausea, headache, and chest pain) if you drink alcohol
- naltrexone, which blocks the pleasant effects of alcohol
These medications are most effective when prescribed as part of a medication-assisted treatment program. Such programs combine medication with mental health counseling and other forms of recovery-focused treatment.
If you’re interested in medication-assisted treatment, talk to your health care provider or an alcohol treatment center.
5. Know Your Triggers
A trigger is anything that makes you want to drink alcohol. There are two main types of triggers: external triggers and internal triggers.
External triggers exist in the outside world. Examples include:
- people you used to drink alcohol with
- advertisements for alcohol
- bars, clubs, or other places associated with alcohol
- parties, weddings, or other events that feature alcohol
- certain times of day you used to drink, such as right after work or late at night
Internal triggers exist in your head. Examples include:
Once you identify your triggers, plan how you’ll cope if you encounter them.
For example, if you run into an old drinking buddy, you could immediately make an excuse to leave. Similarly, if work becomes extra stressful, you could try journaling, meditation, or other activities that make you feel calm.
You can learn many other coping strategies in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy helps you manage unhelpful thoughts and feelings, including alcohol cravings.
If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol abuse, please contact a Recovering Champions specialist. We offer a variety of substance abuse and addiction treatment options, including cognitive behavioral therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and support groups.