Have you struggled with excessive alcohol consumption? Have you tried to quit drinking? How was that experience for you? In addition to possible withdrawals, alcohol cravings can severely affect your ability to remain sober.
Cravings for alcohol is a real struggle for many people. Perhaps, you are one of them. It is also a reason for multiple relapses. This struggle highlights the reason why recovery is often described as a journey.
Relapsing on alcohol can be a frustrating experience. This frustration is especially so when you have gone to great lengths to curb this habit. Imagine, going through detox and a 30-day rehab. As hard as it was staying away from family and friends, you made it work. You did this because you know how important it is to treat your excessive drinking. Perhaps, you even had a 90-day treatment!
Walking out of rehab, you feel confident. And full of hope. You have a resolve to stay away from alcohol, and you mean it this time! After all, you have had four previous treatments. This intervention is your fifth – and has to be your last, you hope.
You strongly believe things will be different this time – even though you are going back to the same environment.
Why not? You ask yourself. This fifth treatment was different, after all. New coping mechanisms accompany you from what turned out to be an excellent treatment facility. Deep down, though, you have an uneasy feeling. You worry about a struggle you know only too well. Cravings!
So, what are cravings?
Alcohol cravings are the compulsions or urge to drink alcohol. The prominent symptom is the overpowering desire to consume alcohol. This psychological drive causes you to focus on getting this substance.
Per the DSM-5, the correct terminology for alcohol addiction is Alcohol Use Disorder. This condition is a chronic, relapsing brain disease. It causes compulsive alcohol seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.
The chronic nature of Alcohol Use Disorder means that there is no cure. Even after recovering, you may still relapse and get back to drinking. Thus, recovery is a process, and treatment needs to be ongoing.
Alcohol cravings are normal. They do not indicate that you have a problem or that you are weak. Alcohol cravings tend to come in waves. They build up, reach a peak, and then subside.
You may experience cravings shortly after your last drink or during withdrawals. It may also occur weeks, months, or even years after your last consumption. In general, though, alcohol cravings tend to decrease in strength and frequency over time.
Alcohol cravings may last for minutes or even hours. They, however, go away eventually – until the next wave. Your struggle with alcohol is worse when you are unable to manage your triggers and cravings.
Relapse triggers can be places, people, things, or situations. They are what you associate with the reward of drinking alcohol. These triggers can cause intense alcohol cravings.
Your relapse triggers can be completely different from someone else’s. Triggers can be classified as emotional triggers, social triggers, pattern triggers, and withdrawals.The use of alcohol often has emotional bearings. These emotional triggers may lead to self-medication for mental illness. This scenario is common in depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.Click To Tweet
Drinking alcohol with specific people or groups is common. This association serves as a social trigger. As a result, you may have a strong desire to drink in such situations. Relapsing over the holidays, for example, is quite common.
Specific places or things can sometimes create the urge to drink alcohol. These are pattern triggers. Examples include life events, time of year, and even specific times of the day.
When you stop drinking alcohol, you may experience uncomfortable feelings. These withdrawals may be psychological, physiological, or both. These symptoms can act as triggers to relapse on alcohol.
Alcohol cravings can also occur without any known triggers.
This step should come as no surprise. To better respond to your alcohol cravings, you need to know what your triggers are. Besides, this will help you avoid them better.
Different people have different emotional, social, and pattern triggers. Withdrawal symptoms can also vary slightly from one person to another.
Depending on your circumstances, planning can be helpful. For example, you may decide to drive through a different route to avoid your favorite bar. Unavoidable happy hours may, perhaps, be enjoyed by drinking non-alcoholic beverages. Attending certain events with someone who keeps you accountable is also helpful.
Unfortunately, some triggers may be unavoidable. These may include places, people, things, situations, and feelings.
So, how do you handle this?
Such cases make it necessary to have strategies to deal with cravings that arise from these triggers.
Let us talk about some of such strategies.
Mindfulness is a mental state you can achieve by focusing your awareness on the present moment. It involves acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
To experience mindfulness, you need to be fully present and aware of where you are and what you are doing. This state means avoiding being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around you.
We can all experience mindfulness. It is always available to us at every moment. You need to take the time to appreciate it. A study showed that mindfulness could decrease cravings in people who use addictive substances. This decrease can be as much as 20 percent in the short-term, and probably even more over an extended period.
Struggling with cravings can be difficult. Sometimes, it may be better to surf the urge, rather than trying to stop it. Urge surfing is a mindfulness technique that helps with accepting a craving for what it is, rather than resisting and struggling with it.
So, how do you do this?
This technique involves acknowledging cravings when they come on. Thus, rather than trying to push them away, you accept and ride them out. Cravings will eventually pass. They always do. Urges to drink usually disappear in about 10-20 minutes if you remove yourself from the trigger.
Using distractions is an excellent way to overcome cravings. This technique is especially helpful when you cannot avoid the triggers. For example, listening to music, going for a run, watching a movie, cleaning your house, or taking a relaxing bath.
In some cases, it may be helpful for you to make a list of distractions that help you with cravings. This way, you can quickly refer to your list when necessary. As a result, you can make a call to action much faster. The short duration it takes to think up and decide on a distraction can make the difference between relapse and sobriety.
Even though this sounds simple, the benefits can be huge. There are several ways to do this. Some simple examples are journaling, dancing, singing, and painting.
The idea is to immerse yourself in your feelings, rather than trying to escape the urges to drink. Indeed, this technique can be a truly transformative experience that helps with alcohol cravings.
Calling and speaking with a friend, family member, sponsor, or therapist helps with cravings. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) encourage having a sponsor. The advantage of this is that you can talk to someone when you are struggling with the urge to drink.
It is also helpful to attend support group meetings. Such sessions connect you with other people who have the same struggles. In addition, you learn from other people’s experiences. Support groups help with your conflicting desire to drink and your commitment to stay sober.
Alcohol helplines are also available. You can obtain these online for your area. These helplines have counselors who understand the struggles of sobriety. In some cases, they may also be in recovery.
Churches and other religious bodies are also good support systems. Professional counseling goes a long way in helping with alcohol cravings. Besides, it also enables you to explore your past, present, and ways to deal with the future.
An excellent way to create distractions during alcohol cravings is by engaging in hobbies and new interests. The urge to drink tends to be stronger when you are bored and lonely. Cravings occur because your mind attempts to fill a void or space that was previously occupied by drinking.
You may have lost your job due to your drinking habits. Lots of free time and a lack of structure can make relapse more likely. Occupying your time with a job or hobby takes away boredom. It also gives you a sense of self and fulfillment.
Regular workouts boost the release of endorphins in your brain. These chemicals are also known as “feel-good hormones.” Most forms of exercise help with cravings. Aerobic activities (cardio) tend to help more, however. Examples are running, brisk walking, cycling, swimming, basketball, and tennis.
Talking yourself out of drinking is one way to deal with alcohol cravings. The adverse effects should be a constant reminder of the need to stay away from alcohol. You may find it helpful to write down a list of the reasons for quitting. Also, challenging your thoughts when you have the urge to drink is beneficial to curb cravings.
This form of therapy can help you deal with your stressors, as well as identify and change your behaviors. CBT techniques help with negative thinking and cognitive distortions. It also enables you to develop a positive skillset that helps with alcohol cravings.
So, how does it do this?Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps you understand the relationship between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It provides techniques to help with alcohol cravings when they arise.Click To Tweet
Redirection, visualization, and distraction are some of the methods that can help you cope with alcohol cravings.
This treatment is an evidence-based approach that involves the use of medications. There is also the involvement of counseling and behavioral therapies.The goal of Medication-Assisted Treatment is to provide a 'whole-patient' approach to treatment. Medication-Assisted Treatment is often called the gold standard of addiction treatment.Click To Tweet
The most common medications for alcohol use disorder are disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate, naltrexone tablets, and Vivitrol injections. Vivitrol contains naltrexone and is essentially a long-acting injectable form. Naltrexone, in pill or injectable form, helps with cravings.
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The entire content of AddictionBlueprint, including content on drugs and alcohol, medications, therapies, facilities, spotlights, recommendations, and other features is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This does not constitute a physician-patient relationship. Please seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers regarding your addiction, mental and medical issues.
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