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What Are Alcohol Cravings and How To Manage Them

If you struggle with addiction to alcohol and have ever tried to become sober, you are well aware of all the struggles that can come with sobriety. When trying to overcome addiction and enter into an addiction treatment program, getting sober usually means feeling worse before you begin to feel better. We at Sober Sidekick understand and are here to support you.

Along with alcohol withdrawal symptoms come cravings. Learning how to manage your alcohol cravings is essential to your recovery.

You risk relapsing and picking up a drink without knowing how to stay calm and focused. The cravings can be uncomfortable and painful, making it feel like putting alcohol into your system is the only thing that will make it better.

To learn more about alcohol cravings and how you can best manage them, continue reading!

What Are Alcohol Cravings?

Cravings, unrelated to just alcohol, occur when we are anticipating the consumption of a certain stimulus. We might be craving a sweet treat after dinner, a cigarette every few hours, or multiple drinks throughout the day.

Craving alcohol is being in a state of anticipation, seeking out the usage of that specific substance. They might happen as a result of alcohol use disorder and the withdrawals that you can feel or because you are simply reminded of alcohol.

Alcohol cravings vary for each affected individual. Based on what has set your cravings off or how your body reacts, you might experience a state of heightened arousal or even depressed heart rates.

Cravings might feel like you are failing in your recovery journey, but they are actually a natural symptom of alcohol addiction. Many individuals trying to quit drinking have to fight back against their cravings for years — and they do.

Why Do They Happen?

Anyone who uses alcohol or other substances could get a craving for that substance. The way it’s felt can range from physical pain to physiological torture. Depending on the severity of your alcohol use disorder, your cravings might be more manageable than others.

Your body becomes accustomed to the physical sensation of having alcohol in its system, so when there is a lack of it, you can begin to panic. The first thing you’re going to want to do is to get more of it into your body to combat the cravings.

It’s not always easy to stay strong and avoid giving in to them; they tend to make a pretty good case.

If you are in severe addiction or suffer from alcohol abuse and you’re trying to become sober, entering into a medical detoxification process is a great option. You can be monitored throughout your detox to ensure your safety and assist with these cravings.

Brain Chemistry Changes

Alcohol will begin to impact the neurotransmitters in your brain the longer you drink. You end up building a tolerance to the alcohol in your nervous system, meaning you require more of it to feel the effects of alcohol.

Your brain then begins to rely on alcohol to function, and when it goes without, the brain makes chemical demands for it. There is a lack of dopamine that your brain is now making up for.

When you stop or cut back on your drinking, you may also feel anxious or depressed more often than not. You might think drinking will help cure these issues, and unfortunately, you have likely trained your brain into thinking this is correct.

Try not to blame yourself or your brain — it is simply trying to protect you from the negative feelings coming up.

Habits Form

The initial feelings that you can get from drinking alcohol are mostly positive. You may feel independent, happy, confident, stress-free, and euphoric.

Alcohol allows you to loosen up, but the negative side effects can be damaging. You soon trick your brain into thinking that using alcohol, or a certain amount of alcohol, is the only way for you to feel this way.

This then turns into habit-forming behavior. Examples of this would be:

  • Having a drink when you get stressed out during the day.

  • Drinking at a party to help ease your social anxiety.

  • Having a drink when you want to celebrate something good.

  • Picking up a bottle of wine every day after work.

Triggers Happen

Triggers are what cause you to seek out alcohol consumption. You might not even be aware of some of your internal triggers at first, but the more you tune into your reactions to things around you, the easier it is to figure them out.

People can experience internal and external triggers that will prompt them to drink. An alcohol craving might come about because of a memory, a certain smell, an emotion, being in a certain setting, or hearing a certain voice or sound. The gut reaction to this trigger is to drink, as you likely had formed a habit surrounding that stimuli during your addiction.

And while this is challenging, it signifies just how powerful our minds are. Learning these triggers is the perfect place to start your comeback story.

Some triggers that might set your cravings off are:

  • Anxiety

  • Flashbacks

  • Anger

  • Seeing someone from your past

  • Visiting a bar you used to frequent

  • Arguing with a loved one

  • Being in physical pain

Managing Alcohol Cravings

When you feel an alcohol craving coming on, you will know it. If you’re aware of some of your triggers, you might even be able to guess they are coming before you can feel them physically.

If you are still actively drinking and trying to become sober, your cravings will be a neurological response to your brain wanting alcohol in the system to function. This is known as alcohol withdrawal, which can be dangerous depending on your addiction’s severity. These are best to be treated with help from a medical professional.

For those that are experiencing cravings as a result of a trigger or certain cues, there are ways that you can learn to manage them on your own.

Create a Plan

In the vaguest of senses, you should create a plan for when the cravings begin. This plan would be a part of your relapse prevention plan that aims to help you navigate triggers and learn better coping strategies. Start by identifying triggers and cues you have noticed to set off your cravings.

You will want to find things to help you successfully overcome those cravings. This will be a bit of trial and error until you find what works, but write down several options for you to try when you need calming down.

Distract Yourself

Concrete methods that help to distract you from your cravings are key components to note. It’s good to keep a list of distractions on your phone or a piece of paper you carry around daily.

This list could look like:

  • Going out for a walk

  • Finding a chore to complete

  • Taking your dog outside

  • Journaling your feelings

  • Putting some music on

  • Reading a book

  • Grabbing a snack

  • Playing your favorite TV episode

  • Coloring or drawing

  • Calling up a friend

  • Taking a warm shower or bath

The point of the list is for you to customize it to your needs. You know what helps you relax, so cater your distractions to things that will actually benefit you.

Reach Out to a Friend

Sometimes reaching out to a friend or family member when you feel a craving is the best type of distraction. Whether it is a sober friend or someone who simply has your back, talking to them can release a lot of anxiety and build your confidence back up.

Cravings don’t last for hours; many of them are fleeting. They come, you dwell, and they either win or move along — in this case, you win. A quick call is a perfect way to take your mind off the craving or talk through the craving.

Some people don’t want to forget and would rather try to break down their cravings to better understand them. Doing so with a friend allows for some feedback but also comfort in knowing you’re being supported as you fight your addiction. Just knowing someone is willing to listen can push you past the craving.

For this reason, an organized support system is one of the most common treatment options for many substance abuse and substance use disorders. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous have members at different stages of recovery from alcohol dependence. These people know what it’s like to deal with strong cravings and to curb alcohol cravings as much as possible.

Having friends who understand what you’re going through, who have also gone through periods of heavy drinking and emerged alcohol-free, can be extremely helpful for your recovery journey and well-being.

Practice Mindfulness and Meditation

When you feel a craving coming on, it is encouraged of you to practice mindfulness and meditate. Cravings can bring forth a lot of stress and anxiety, so centering yourself can snap you out of that mind frame.

Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of our unhealthy behaviors and patterns so that we can learn from them. Sit in a quiet space in a comfortable position and really feel your cravings.

Don’t think about giving in to them, but still understand where they are coming from. You can accept them and push forward.

Community Matters

Going through alcohol addiction recovery is not easy and can impact your mental health. Many factors try to keep you from being successful, cravings being one of them.

Going through these tough times alone can make the process feel isolating. With Sober Sidekick, you don’t have to go through your journey alone.

Having access to a community that is supportive and understanding of what you are going through can make the recovery process easier. With our app, you can chat with other sober individuals, gain access to AA meetings, and get professional help when necessary.

To combat your cravings, you could benefit from having this kind of community at your fingertips. Download on Android or iPhone today and continue on your journey to sobriety.


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