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How to Cope With Alcohol Cravings in Recovery

Alcohol cravings are common during the recovery process.

Making the decision to stop drinking and live a sober life isn’t an easy choice by any means, and can be especially difficult when you’re hit with powerful cravings that are nearly impossible to resist. However, cravings are a normal part of alcohol addiction and are to be expected. Even people who are in long-term recovery can experience sudden, strong cravings that may take them by surprise.

So, how do you overcome these cravings so that you can finally get put the bottle down for good and stay sober? Although there’s no perfect solution, there are several ways you can cope with alcohol cravings and maintain your sobriety in the process.

Whether you are just beginning your sobriety journey or you’ve been in recovery for a while, you’re likely to experience cravings to some degree. The key is to manage your cravings without giving in to the temptation to drink. Read on to find helpful information about managing your alcohol cravings and keeping your sobriety intact.

What Are Alcohol Cravings?

Alcohol cravings can vary widely in their severity from person to person. However, they’re most often described as having a strong desire to drink or experiencing intense thoughts about alcohol. [1] Cravings for alcohol may be experienced differently depending on the person, but they are uncomfortable and are often very difficult to ignore.

Are Alcohol Cravings Normal in Recovery?

If you were or are currently addicted to alcohol, then yes, it’s normal to crave it at times. Alcohol cravings are a normal part of the recovery process, especially if you were heavily addicted and have been drinking for a long time.

People who have not experienced an addiction to alcohol aren’t likely to crave it, although they may have moments where they want a drink. This is because their brains have not been re-wired to function with alcohol constantly present. However, when you drink heavily over a long period of time, your brain adapts and learns how to function under the influence of alcohol. When alcohol is not present, this results in cravings.

If you constantly crave alcohol, that may be an indication that you may need help to overcome your dependence or addiction.

What Causes Alcohol Cravings?

There are two main causes of alcohol cravings: the way the brain itself functions and external stimuli.

There is a physiological explanation for alcohol cravings that is largely due to the way the brain functions. When you develop an alcohol addiction, the brain becomes acclimated to alcohol and requires it to function. When you stop drinking and abstain from alcohol, your brain still craves alcohol because it has become accustomed to functioning with it present.

Other, external stimuli can also trigger cravings for alcohol. As with other addictive drugs, consuming alcohol floods your brain with dopamine. Even after you stop drinking, your brain will still associate alcohol with pleasurable feelings. As a result, exposure to certain stimuli can trigger a desire for these feelings and your brain will demand more alcohol in the form of cravings.

Examples of triggers that can produce alcohol cravings include:

  • Attending special events such as parties where drinking is expected
  • Being around other people who are drinking
  • Being at a location where alcohol is present, such as a bar or a liquor store
  • Experiencing negative or positive emotions
  • Feeling lonely, anxious, or isolated

How Long Do Alcohol Cravings Last?

For most people, alcohol cravings tend to lessen in frequency and severity over time as they continue living a sober lifestyle. However, for some people alcohol cravings can last for years or they may never completely disappear.

After detoxing from alcohol entirely, you may also experience something known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS. The symptoms of PAWS tend to affect a person’s mental state, although there may be physical symptoms present as well. The symptoms of PAWS include:

  • Mood swings
  • Obsessive-compulsive thoughts
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Alcohol cravings

The symptoms of PAWS can last anywhere from several months up to two years in length. Although they’re less intense than the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that may be experienced during detox, they can come and go in waves, making it difficult for you to function and fight off cravings.

If you’re struggling to deal with the symptoms of PAWS (including alcohol cravings), you might need professional help to cope.

Learning How to Deal With Alcohol Cravings

It can be difficult to deal with alcohol cravings, especially if they come on suddenly and unexpectedly. However, there are ways that you can prepare yourself to deal with alcohol cravings by focusing on riding them out instead of giving in.

If you are experiencing cravings caused by alcohol withdrawal, it is important to understand that:

  • They are a physiological response to the lack of alcohol in your body and brain.
  • These kinds of alcohol cravings are very difficult to manage with self-control alone. Most people need help to cope.
  • The risk of returning to old drinking habits is high without assistance, and it is often best to seek help from medical professionals at an alcohol detox center.

If you are experiencing cravings caused by outside triggers:

  • It’s best to establish a plan for how you will deal with external triggers. Work with your treatment provider or sponsor to establish different methods to cope. Some examples might include:
    • Using distractions: Find something else to occupy your mind and get your focus off the cravings.
    • Get away from triggering environments: If you’re in an environment that makes you want to drink, it’s often best to just leave.
    • Be mindful of why you’re craving alcohol: Consider the reason behind your cravings. Are you stressed? Overwhelmed? Angry? Identifying the cause can help you remember that experiencing cravings doesn’t mean you’ve failed at sobriety. You can get through it.
    • Practice acceptance: Instead of trying to push alcohol cravings away or suppress them, accept that you are having cravings and that it is perfectly normal.
  • Seek professional help to manage your cravings, especially if they are disrupting your everyday life and are making it difficult to maintain your sobriety. Getting recovery support and living in a safe, sober home can help you learn how to deal with cravings as they happen in a supportive environment.

Seek Professional Help to Manage Cravings

Alcohol cravings and triggers are inevitable, but with the right treatment plan and support network they don’t have to stand in the way of your recovery. A medically-assisted alcohol detox program can help you manage alcohol cravings with medications and counseling while you detox.

At Briarwood Detox Center our licensed treatment professionals are trained to recognize and treat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. They provide 24/7 support and administer medication as needed to ensure your comfort and success in detox.

Our counselors and recovery specialists also offer emotional support as you experience the difficult emotions and cravings that come along with the alcohol withdrawal process. Research has shown that immediately after detoxing, a person is at a high risk for relapse. [2] To address this risk, we will help you manage the discomfort and prepare you for additional treatment in residential rehab or intensive outpatient rehab so that you can continue with your recovery in a supportive space. Once you’ve completed an alcohol detox program, our staff will provide referrals to rehab programs that will give you the best chance at achieving sustained, long-term sobriety.

If you’re ready to get help with overcoming your alcohol addiction, we offer alcohol detox programs in Austin and Houston. Call (888) 857-0557 to speak with an admissions representative or contact us online today.

References:

  1. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa54.htm
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53355/

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