Learning to anticipate problems and exhibiting self-control are skills you need to master when you’re on the road to long-term sobriety. Most people experience alcohol cravings, or strong urges to drink, during the early phase of addiction treatment, but the urge to drink can persist for weeks, months, and years depending on your particular circumstances. Luckily, most alcohol cravings are short-lived, predictable, and controllable. Understanding and identifying triggers, engaging in healthy distractions, having honest discussions about the urge to drink, and remembering your reasons for change can be some of the most effective ways to manage alcohol cravings.
Know Your Triggers
Environmental factors like people, places, smells, and sounds can all trigger cravings. The urge to drink can also be provoked by internal triggers like emotion and stress. Luckily, understanding your triggers can help you control and avoid sudden urges to drink.
- External triggers are situations, people, places, moments, and certain times of day that provide you opportunities to consume alcohol or remind you of drinking. Even though these environmental factors can be extremely risky, external triggers are more obvious, predictable, and avoidable than internal triggers.
- Internal triggers can be hard to recognize. Thoughts, emotions, headaches, nervousness, and tension can all trigger alcohol cravings, seemingly out of nowhere. But if you think about what’s happening and how you’re feeling when you have a craving, you’ll notice that the urge may have been provoked by a fleeting thought, flashback, memory, or negative emotion.
Everyone’s triggers are different, but some of the most common triggers of alcohol cravings include:
- Exposure to an addictive substance
- Seeing or visiting places associated with drinking, such as bars or clubs
- Viewing or hearing an advertisement for alcohol
- Feeling anxious, depressed, excited, or joyful
- Watching other people drink alcohol
- Professional stress
- Relationship turmoil
- Holidays, weddings, parties, or funerals
- Certain times of the day when you used to drink, such as lunchtime, after work, or late at night
Cognitive-behavioral techniques like self-monitoring, or keeping track of your thoughts and behaviors, can help you pinpoint situations that cause you to crave alcohol, making you better equipped to fight the urge to drink.
Engage in a Distracting Activity
You can also turn to distracting activities to help you manage alcohol cravings. When you feel the urge to drink, you can distract yourself with a healthy, sober activity, shifting your attention away from drinking. Some of the most common sober activities include:
- Exercise. Exercising regularly improves your health, strengthens your body, boosts your self-confidence, and helps you to stay busy. Physical activity can also help reduce the stress that triggers alcohol cravings.
Playing sports, visiting the gym, taking a walk, swimming, snowboarding, hiking, canoeing, going for a short run, lifting weights while listening to music, or even participating in a quick YouTube workout can help you manage and overcome the urge to drink.
- Enjoying a Hobby. Like exercise, enjoying a hobby can help relieve stress. Hobbies can also prevent you from wasting time or engaging in unhealthy activities. When you’re enjoying a pastime, you’re focused on the present moment, making hobbies an excellent distraction.
Painting, pottery, writing, singing, cooking, playing an instrument, arts and crafts, photography, coding, gardening, learning a new language, grilling, skiing, boxing, camping, carpentry, woodworking, and fishing are great ways to learn a new skill, spend time with others, enrich your perspective, and fight cravings.
- Spending Time With Friends. Meeting up with supportive friends for a sober activity is a great way to distract yourself from the urge to drink. Spending time with friends boosts your mind, relieves stress, and increases your sense of belonging and purpose.
Playing a board game, enjoying a potluck dinner party, having a movie marathon, organizing an indoor scavenger hunt, or playing trivia can help distract you from the urge to drink while reminding you that you can have sober fun as well.
Have an Honest Talk About Your Cravings
Talking about your cravings may be uncomfortable, but confiding in a sober friend, family member, mentor, or counselor can help reduce the anxiety and stress that generally accompanies cravings. Discussing the urge to drink with a trusted friend can also help you identify triggers you may not have recognized yet. In addition to that, talking with someone you trust can help you remember your reasons for becoming sober, making you less likely to succumb to cravings. Last, being able to pick up the phone and call someone you trust when you’re in a high-risk situation can help minimize your risk of relapse.
Ride Out the Urge Without Giving In
Avoiding and resisting the urge to drink isn’t the only way to effectively manage alcohol cravings. You can also ride out the urge without succumbing to the craving. You can accept the cravings as normal and temporary and fight the urge to drink by urge surfing.
Urge Surfing, a mindfulness technique created by psychologist Dr. Alan Marlatt believes that most urges are like waves, rising in intensity, peaking, and then crashing.
The skill takes practice, but you can urge surf in 5 simple steps, including:
- Identifying the physical sensation in your body. When you feel the urge to drink, stop for a minute, and take note of the physical response to the craving. Pinpoint the specific body part that’s most affected by the craving.
- Focusing on the sensation. Once you’ve located the body part most affected by the urge, explore the sensation that part of your body feels. Is your head warm? Chest tight? Back in pain?
- Noticing your breathing. Next, take a moment to notice your breathing. For 1 to 2 minutes, inhale through your nose and slowly exhale through your mouth.
- Refocusing on your body. Now that you’ve evaluated your breathing, refocus on the body part affected by the urge. Visualize how each breath lessens the weight, pain, or negative sensation. You can even imagine each breath as a white light rejuvenating your body and each exhale as a dark cloud you’re letting go of.
- Staying curious and present. As you focus on what’s happening physically and psychologically, imagine yourself successfully riding the wave as you continue to inhale and exhale. Keep in mind that the urge, like a wave, will pass. You can even repeat phrases like “I can ride this out” or “I will get through this” as you breathe and ride the wave.
You may need time to get accustomed to urge surfing. Once you’ve adjusted, this mindfulness-based practice helps you remember that you can learn to surf the waves even though you can’t stop them.
Challenge the Thought
You can also manage alcohol cravings by challenging the thoughts that accompany the urge to drink. Instead of succumbing to the idea that “one little drink can’t hurt,” stop and consider what you are thinking. Remind yourself that “one little drink” could hurt you, your progress, family, career, and sobriety. Remember that “one little drink” has hurt you, your family, finances, career, self-worth, and life before, because “just one” leads to a lot more. Continue to challenge your thoughts until you’re able to stick to sobriety.
Remind Yourself of Reasons for Making a Change
Remembering the purpose behind your sobriety is another simple but effective way to fight alcohol cravings. You can keep a list of your top reasons in your wallet or purse or on your phone or email for easy access. But you need to have these reasons near and dear to your heart and mind at all times, especially when the urge to drink arises. Keeping these reasons in mind can also help you evaluate the negative consequences of drinking. Having that drink could cause you to lose your family, job, identity, sense of purpose, and self-worth. Remembering your reasons for change and having something to lose can help you resist cravings and stay on the right track.
Equipping You for Long-term Sobriety
At Meta Addiction Treatment, we pride ourselves on equipping and empowering our clients with the knowledge and support they need to make healthy decisions that lead to long-term recovery. Our three tiers of addiction recovery services allow us to assist our clients as they move from high-level support to gradual independence. Additionally, the majority of our executive team are in active recovery. They know what it takes to manage alcohol cravings and maintain long-term sobriety and are happy to walk with our clients when the road to recovery becomes difficult.
Call us today at (978) 776-3206 if you’re looking for a recovery program designed for real people with real solutions for lasting transformation.