What Are Alcohol Cravings – And How To Stop Them

You are no longer drinking, and alcohol cravings come along.  The desire to drink is strong and eating you inside. You might have stopped drinking for a few hours, a couple of days, several months or even years – but the craving to drink is strong as ever.  

What are alcohol cravings

The desire to get some booze inside you is eating you inside and it is all you can focus on.  You can think of nothing else right now except to have a drink. 

Welcome to the world of alcohol cravings.

What are alcohol cravings

Alcohol cravings are when you experience the urge to drink alcohol.  Not just an idea that it might be something nice to do – you feel an intense desire/need to drink alcohol.   We can crave for almost anything – we can want things in life that we know that are really good for us, or that we absolutely know that will not do us any good at all.  Yet we want them.  And cravings can become so strong that our every thought is consumed by the craving or desires.  When it is specifically alcohol that we crave, it could be for a number or reasons – but there it is and that is what we want.  We want to drink.

What causes alcohol cravings?

Triggers for alchohol cravings

As I mentioned, alcohol cravings can come at any time, regardless of the length of abstinence.  It is all related to ‘triggers’.  What makes your mind start thinking of having a drink….what is the ‘trigger’ to start off the train of thought

When we talk about alcohol triggers – we are talking about what sets you off to want to have a drink – what ‘triggger’ makes you have the desire to drink.

Recognising triggers.

We can break these down to two basic types of trigger – Internal triggers and External triggers.

Internal triggers – These can be confusing as one minute you might be enjoying your alcohol-free life and then the urge to drink just appears as if out of nowhere.  They APPEAR to, but if we step back and look at the reason for the desire, the urges usually stem from a thought you have had.  This could be something positive like receiving good news or being at a happy time and environment.  Or it could be negative such as feeling anxious or being in a situation that you do not like.

External triggers – social events, anniversaries of certain times of your life, meeting up with friends.

When working through recovery, an extremely useful tool to have in your chest of tools to continue with your sober life, is to identify your own triggers, when you are more likely to experience alcohol cravings and work out ways to control them.  They are often techniques that are personal to yourself, but tracking is a useful method in identifying them.

As you make your way through your journey to sobriety, you will learn to identifiy your own triggers.  There are often genera triggers that ‘most people’ associate with drinking- for example at a family celebration or gathering.  And there are often triggers that are very personal to you.  Triggers are not often obvious – or you might not come across a triggerfor some time and might not realise that it is actually a trigger, until you experience it.
As we move forward, we learn how to identify our own triggers, and how to deal with them or avoid them altogether.

How long do alcohol cravings last

How long do alcohol cravings last for

This is a very subjective question – exactly how long do alcohol cravings last.  Once the alcohol has physically left your body, does it stop then? PAWS (post-alcohol withdrawal syndrome can last up to 2 years according to science – so does it stop there? 
Cravings certainly get less as we go through our alcohol-free journey, but cravings could take many years after this to stop.  For some, the cravings will never truly disappear, and the triggers that you have within your own psyche may always remain.  The good news is that you are more and more in control of your alcohol cravings as you progress.  I have worked with people who have been 30 years without a drop of alcohol, yet they still experience these cravings.  The cravings that I have personally witnessed are still there, but they are extremely controlled and knowing your own triggers is key.  Actually, identifying that it is indeed an alcohol craving that you are experiencing, being able to step back from the situation and rationalise the experience, will massively maintain your positivity and focus throughout the craving.  Utilising your own coping mechanisms will allow the cravings to pass, and you can get back to living your AF lifestyle.

Medications that can help reduce or stop alcohol cravings

There are some medications that can help you with aspects of cravings,

  • Acamprosate – has been used to help with cravings but is usually used in reducing the amount of alcohol someone drinks when they have started drinking.
  • Naltrexone – is a drug that was given to help with opiate cravings, but is also effective in the reduction of cravings of alcohol
  • Baclofen – I have seen this prescribed for the use of alcohol cravings – although it was primarily a muscle relaxant.
  • Antabuse is a drug that is prescribed with the effects of making the user extremely physically ill, vomit if they are to consume alcohol while being prescribed Antabuse.

Behavioral treatments to address alcohol withdrawals.

Medication can only really support the physiological addiction to alcohol – that is to say that medication is useful and often required in the early process of alcohol addiction, there is not a medication on the world that will challenge your own thoughts and believes about alcohol.  And wit that in mind, there is not a medication that will stop your psychological cravings for alcohol  – well, not without the potential for adding another addiction and reliance to your behaviours.

Learning about your own triggers, and challeinging your behaviour with alcohol is one of the most effective methods to stop drinking.  Getting down to the root cause was certainly the turning point for me in terms of switching off my desire to drink.   This would be very indigidual to you.  

Some treatments that have good success with alcohol cravings –

  • Learning about generic triggers that can affect or cause cravings from anyone on their journey to sobriety.
  • Learning about specific triggers, personal to the individual.  Learning to understand what makes someone think of turning.
  • Education around what cravings are, and how they are a natural part of the process of recovery, and not signs of failure.
  • Developing coping strategies in a person’s own arsenal.   Having a set of proven techniques that a person can use as a tool,  should they experience cravings.   This could be something as quick as taking a few minutes to allow the feeling to pass…or could be to totally remove themselves from a situation.  Cravings may be location-related, company-related or many other given situations.  Allowing themselves to acknowledge their own triggers, and having the skills in place to manage the craving – this is a skill that usually has to be learned BUT once learned, the individual is far better equipped to move through their sobriety journey, and how to manage or stop alcohol cravings

Some techniques to stop alcohol cravings.

ways to stop alcohol cravings
  • Distract yourself.
    Cravings WILL pass, but they can last in excess of 15 mins – so for this time try and focus on something else.  Take your mind completely off to do something else.  Take yourself away and return to your situation to see if your cravings have reduced.  They often have, but if not then try using one of the other techniques that you have used before with some success.
  • Meditation and relaxation.
    These methods are reaching ever-increasing popularity when it comes to recovery.  We are seeing the health benefits of relaxation, and reflection in your overall awareness of your feelings.  Mindfulness encompasses having a strong awareness of who you are, and there are currently some great self-help guides around online as well as many being taken up by government health services.
  • Look after yourself.
    Taking part in a pro-active healthy lifestyle has positive impacts on your whole existence when it comes to recovering and controlling alcohol cravings.  Healthy eating and regular exercise, remaining rehydrated, staying in touch with friends and family.   Taking on these aspects of your life will offer you many rewards both physically and mentally.
  • Online support and communities.
    With more communities available online, there is the opportunity to take advantage of support around.  There are regular Zoom meetings organised by groups, social media groups and so on.  Find a group that you are comfortable with and introduce yourself. 

To sum up about alcohol cravings.

Alcohol cravings are a normal part of the process of letting your body heal.  We have just spent a long time throwing poison into our body – an addictive and very strong poison. Let’s not forget this!
To take something away that we have become used to for a long time, there are always going to be side effects.  Cravings are very real, but also very manageable once you have worked out the strategy to keep you alcohol-free that works for you.

ebook guide

FInd Your Own Alcohol Off Switch

Make that change.  Work out whatever it is that hits your switch, and gets you on the road to sobritety.

This could be a book, a group, a meeting, a whole new approach to life.  Finding 'your' reason to quit alcohol is personal, on every level.

Learning to change your relationship with alcohol, your views, your beliefs.

Read our guide on how you can begin the journey to find your own 'Alcohol Off Switch'.

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