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Page medically reviewed by Claire Rimmer (BA (Hons), Dip.Psychology, FDAD (NCAC)), Lead Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Altrincham, in June 2022.

Making the decision to cut back on your drinking, or stop drinking entirely, is a really positive step towards a much healthier lifestyle. However, reducing your alcohol intake can lead you to experience cravings for alcohol. These can be quite intense and powerful, especially if you are in the early days of your recovery from addiction.

The good news is that cravings usually only happen for a short period of time, and if you can distract yourself and ‘ride them out’, you’ll be able to continue along your path to wellbeing.

What do Alcohol Cravings feel like?

Alcohol cravings feel like an overwhelming urge to drink alcohol. Your cravings might be so strong that you find it hard to concentrate or think about anything else until the craving has passed. You might also experience other difficult or unpleasant symptoms alongside your cravings. These can include anxiety, sleep problems, irritability, low energy and poor appetite.

Cravings are common in the early stages of recovery and you may experience them on and off for a number of years. A typical craving usually lasts for a few minutes.

Why do we Experience Cravings?

There are three key reasons why you might experience cravings when you reduce your drinking or stop drinking completely. These are:

Withdrawal

Frequent drinking can cause your body to build a tolerance to alcohol. This means that you need to drink more in order to feel ‘drunk’ and you’re likely to be much more susceptible to experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These can include feelings of anxiety, irritability, nausea and headaches, as well as intense cravings for alcohol.

Environmental or emotional triggers

Cravings can also be triggered by situations or emotions. For example, you may crave alcohol when you’re in a certain bar that you used to drink in, when you’re at a party, or when you’re on holiday. Equally, internal triggers such as stress can also lead you to crave alcohol and the relaxed feeling that you used to achieve when you’d had a drink.

Old habits

Habits are often quick to form and can be hard to break. If you developed a habit of reaching for a drink after a long day at work, or to celebrate the start of the weekend, you might find that you crave alcohol at these times. This is because these scenarios can act like a cue to drink.

“If you’re starting to put in rules and conditions, that in itself is a warning sign that something is going on there, attempts to control. Also when you start to justify it to yourself by saying ‘well that was a bad day’, or ‘it’s getting close to the weekend’.

Pamela Roberts, Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Woking

How to Stop Alcohol Cravings

There are a number of things you can do to help you manage your cravings:

Acknowledge the craving

Knowing that the craving is only temporary and will go away on its own can help you to get through it without reaching for a drink. Acknowledge this natural sensartion and remind yourself that is will subside. 

Distract yourself

It’s a good idea to make a list of things you can do when a craving hits. Distractions may include:

  • Go for a walk
  • Call a family member or friend
  • Make a cup of tea or a snack
  • Read a chapter of a book
  • Listen to your favourite music
  • Have a bath or shower
  • If you have a support network (e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)), call a fellow member and talk to them about how you are feeling

These distractions can help you to focus on something other than the craving, allowing you to get through it.

Learn to manage stress and other difficult emotions

If stress or other difficult emotions are triggers for your cravings, it’s a good idea to learn some stress-busting or anxiety-relieving techniques to help you cope with these emotions. These can include activities like mindfulness, meditation or yoga. If you learn coping strategies to use when you’re feeling stressed, upset, anxious or angry, this means that you’re less likely to reach for an alcoholic drink when you’re feeling this way.

ways to manage alcohol cravings

“Make sure you eat regular, healthy meals and hydrate yourself, avoiding alcohol which can lead to depression and worsen anxiety. It is very easy to engage in unhealthy habits if you become stressed - such as overeating, watching too much TV and not engaging in physical exercise. Keep up with good sleep habits as quality sleep has an incredibly restorative function that many of us marginalise at our peril.”

Dr Natasha Bijlani, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton.

Understand and avoid your triggers

This is especially important if you’re in early recovery from addiction. By recognising and avoiding the places and situations that make you want to drink, you can reduce the likelihood of you slipping up. Steer clear of pubs and bars, plan social activities that don’t involve alcohol and remove alcohol from your house. By planning ahead, you can make sure that you stay in control.

Get professional help if your cravings are due to withdrawal

It’s important to understand that if you’re new to sobriety, or are still drinking small amounts of alcohol while trying to cut back, it’s likely that your cravings are down to withdrawal. This is your body’s physical response to having less alcohol in your system. In this situation, the best thing you can do is seek professional support to help you withdraw safely and under medical supervision. An alcohol detox is an effective way to achieve this.

What if the Urge To Drink Is Too Much?

If you’re struggling with your alcohol cravings and are finding that the urge to continue drinking has become too much for you, you might need specialist support. This isn’t a sign of weakness or anything to feel ashamed about. Seeking help is a brave step forwards.

Your first port of call may be for you to speak to your GP about your cravings and other symptoms. They’ll be able to offer advice and point you in the direction of specialist rehab, if appropriate.

Alternatively, you may wish to contact a private provider, like Priory, directly. Our world class alcohol Addiction Treatment Programmes offer round-the-clock support, helping you to take steps towards a full and sustainable recovery. We offer a free addiction assessment, medically assisted detoxification, one-to-one and group therapy, family support and free aftercare for 12 months. We also offer flexible treatment options, including day care and outpatient addiction treatment if you just need some ongoing support to manage your cravings, as opposed to intensive residential rehab.

Get in touch today to find out how we can help you to beat your alcohol cravings and achieve the healthy, alcohol-free life that you deserve.

What if the Urge To Drink Is Too Much?

If you’re struggling with your alcohol cravings and are finding that the urge to continue drinking has become too much for you, you might need specialist support. This isn’t a sign of weakness or anything to feel ashamed about. Seeking help is a brave step forwards.

Your first port of call may be for you to speak to your GP about your cravings and other symptoms. They’ll be able to offer advice and point you in the direction of specialist rehab, if appropriate.

Alternatively, you may wish to contact a private provider, like Priory, directly. Our world class alcohol Addiction Treatment Programmes offer round-the-clock support, helping you to take steps towards a full and sustainable recovery. We offer a free addiction assessment, medically assisted detoxification, one-to-one and group therapy, family support and free aftercare for 12 months. We also offer flexible treatment options, including day care and outpatient addiction treatment if you just need some ongoing support to manage your cravings, as opposed to intensive residential rehab.

Get in touch today to find out how we can help you to beat your alcohol cravings and achieve the healthy, alcohol-free life that you deserve.

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