Coping with Alcohol Cravings

coping with alcohol cravingsCoping with cravings is the key to tackling alcoholism. If you can manage to not give in to your cravings, or you can adapt so that you don’t get so many cravings in the first place, then there is no more addiction is there?

How you view your own cravings will determine how much power they have over you. If you believe that a craving won’t naturally go away once it has started, or if you think that the only way to deal with a craving is to drink, then of course you will be fairly powerless over them. This is the cognitive component of your addiction.

Making yourself aware of what things in your life tend to give you cravings, and therefore how you might avoid those situations, becomes a vital skill. For those ‘triggers’ that you can’t avoid, you can learn how to deal with them differently.

Lets say there are four types of cravings:

  • a reaction to withdrawal symptoms
  • escaping from unpleasant feelings (boredom, depression, anxiety etc.)
  • a response to a learnt association (people, places etc)
  • enhancing a positive mood

Each type requires a different approach to deal with it. And each person’s approach will be unique to them.

There are six recognised methods for dealing with cravings when they occur:

  • distraction
  • imagery
  • rational responses to automatic thoughts
  • activity
  • relaxation
  • coping flashcards

Distraction – the goal of these methods is to move a person’s attention away from negative internal thoughts or uncomfortable feelings, towards a more neutral external focus. They seem simple, but can all be effective -

  • concentrate on your surroundings and describe them to yourself in detail, this can be quite ‘grounding’ when you feel like you’re losing it.
  • talk to someone, anyone. A trusted friend, relative, your counsellor or even a total stranger if need be. It can help you get away from that loop running in your head.
  • change the scenery – go for a walk, a drive, a bike ride, just get away from wherever you are right now.
  • oddly enough, cleaning or other household chores can be perfectly distracting if you’re craving, and you might feel some sense of achievement too.
  • video games (or indeed the old fashioned kind) can require enough concentration and challenge to take your mind off it, and of course, you can play them alone.
  • I’m sure you can think of some other things to do which are distracting and enjoyable.

Imagery – there are a few different types of imagery which can work -

  • command your craving to STOP (see a big stop sign), then refocus on a relaxing location of your choice – a favourite peaceful spot.
  • if you start remembering good times when you were drinking, then replace that image with the bad times, your lowest ebb when you felt ashamed and disgusted, do you want to end up back there?
  • if it’s negative, depressing images that are giving you cravings, then imagine an optimistic view of your near future, with friends or family, having fun without a drink (or any other positive image).
  • if you know you’ve got an event coming up which will give you cravings – try rehearsing the image in your head of you dealing with it appropriately. Run through the feelings you’ll have so you are not caught off-guard by them.

Rational Responses to Automatic Thoughts – whenever you feel a craving, ask yourself “what thoughts are going through my head right now”. Many of the thoughts you are having will themselves be responsible for your craving. It becomes a matter of responding to those thoughts in a more rational way.

  • look for evidence to back up or contradict your thought and ask yourself:
  • can I look at this situation differently?
  • if what I’m thinking is true, what really are the consequences?
  • what is likely to happen if I carry on thinking like this?
  • what positive action can I take to solve this problem?

Try not to make such catastrophic predictions about your cravings, like “there’s no way I can stand this, so I might as well just drink and get it over with”, “I keep having cravings, so I must be an alcoholic, I can’t beat this…” etc. Cravings usually subside fairly quickly anyway, so just ride it out if need be.

Activity – if you’ve had an addiction to drink for a long time, then you’ve probably not got many hobbies left. In fact quite often, drinking is the only activity you actually do for fun. So when you try and stop, boredom is the biggest hurdle. There’s no way around it – you’re going to have to try some new activities.

When you’ve found a few that you like, make sure you schedule them in every week:

“On Tuesday I’m going swimming, on Thursday I’m going to the cinema with Sally, on Saturday I’m getting out to the countryside for a walk with my partner.”

It will feel weird to some to plan your week this way, but in the early stages of recovery from addiction, it’s essential.

RelaxationAnxiety, Anger, Frustration and Stress are amongst the biggest triggers for cravings. So learning some relaxation techniques can be a life-saver. If you’re not so tense, you’re less likely to act impulsively. And if you’ve been using alcohol to relax for years, then you are going to have to learn some other methods. Try these:

Simple Relaxation
More Relaxation Techniques
BBC – Relaxation

It will take a while to learn these new techniques, as with any new skill, but keep at it and you’ll be floating around on a cloud of calm like the best Buddhist masters – well, hopefully…

Coping Flashcards – when you’re in the grip of a strong craving, it’s hard to think rationally and remember all the things you’re supposed to. So writing yourself some instructions on a small index card can be useful. (This helps tremendously for people with anxiety too). The priority is to convince yourself that you can cope with this situation. Here’s a few examples of things you might write -

  • things are going well with my partner right now, I don’t want to mess it up
  • this craving will pass if I just give it time
  • I’m not helpless here, what action can I take?
  • what are the pros and cons right now?

Remember – It’s just a craving, it won’t kill you. But drinking might…

Read more ways to cope with alcohol cravings

2,023 Responses to “Coping with Alcohol Cravings”

  1. yvonne says:

    Hi every one, just to let you know that I have still not had a drink of alcohol since the 10 March 40 days, I feel so proud of myself. However, I wish others around me showed it, they seem to take it for granted that I can go with out a drink, especially when they don’t seem to put any effort into changing themselves. I have noticed how others (my hubby) is very good at pointing the finger at me but does not recognise his own faults he a TV addict. He gets me down, he knows how I feel, I often feel like having a drink to kill the boredom, but really I would be doing it out of spite and I would only hurt myself. Well now I have got that off my chest I will carry on with my day. I do hope are working out for you all, I know it is difficult. x

  2. Aaron says:

    Hey Bruce, dude I’m about to go to bed I read your text and it made me feel happy. I relapsed tonight again. Without these meds I’m not sure I would make it. I got all kinds of calls from people who love me. I draw 100% and believe me that took a long time. But I’m out in the middle of the desert and I cannot get normal medical care so I have to be my own dr. I know all about trashing around at night,wanting a drink when I ran out. I know the sickness of withdraw. I know the depression the anixiety, I know the pacing around the wierd nightmares at night. I know the withdraw chain smoking because of the anixiety. What makes it even worse for me is I’m still rehabiliting from fracturing my leg because of getting drunk. I DO NOT WANT TO DRINK NO MORE. The doctors at the v.a. Have told me many times I will die if I keep doing this. If you want to join me on my daily recovery I would like that. I will show you how to get 90 days if you want. I will also show you how to quit smoking. If you and I do both of those things out depression and anxitiy will diminish. But it’s going to be a bitch dude for the first 3 days for sure. Actually for the first 30 days. The v.a. Will give you patches and nicorette gum. Get it ASAP . Ok Bruce it’s up to you. Let’s try to get 30 days. What do you say brother. When you email me I will give you my telephone number. If you feel like drinking call me and vice vesa. Hope to hear from you dude. Let’s start slowly getting out of this.

    • Aaron says:

      Bruce, this is a very good video to watch. Type in Richard Burton drunk. It should show a photo of Dick Cavette on Utube. He explains very eloquently the horrors of drinking to much. I think he died from it. Amazing how he came up with that from the top of his head. It has helped me. Of course he was a very famous actor in his day. I lived in Holland for 3 yrs and I was told you Americans party so much. But I think it was we were young in another country. This is a U.K. Website I wonder what they think about us their American cousins that live across the pond.

  3. Aaron says:

    Hi Bruce, sorry but when I relapse so Many times I get drinking and sobrity days confused. I once thought I had drank for about a week or 10 days and my brother told me it was 3 weeks. In any case I’m not sure I could do that again without going to the E.R. And that was just a year ago. For me it’s catching up pretty fast. I think I have a week. My last drunk lasted half a day and all night. I was having cravings like now that last for hours. I live in a small town and went to A.A. for years, it did help a lot until the gossip just got so bad I had to stop going. The good thing abt it was I was very liked expect for the fact I got a reputation as a relapser. I to when I’m trying to withdraw have extream anxitiy and smoke a lot which makes me worry more. Obviously I’m not much help for you because I’m in the same boat. I too am do for tests by the V.A. again. Believe me I know the feeling of being on a binger and I could not stop the cravings were unbearable. That’s when I had no choice but to go to my brothers and that was hell in itself. I hope I stay sober today good luck keep trying.

    • Bruce says:

      Hi Aaron,
      You help me a lot Dude. I am going through strong cravings today but am not going to pick up a drink. I will try to email you later. I didn’t sleep well at all last night. This morning my left side hurts but not that much. I feel sick but won’t pick up any alcohol. That is not going to do any good for me to do that. I hope you are able to stay sober. I just have to remember times like now when I feel this bad next time I want to drink. -

  4. B says:

    I am here because I abuse alcohol. I relapsed twice this weekend and I’m feeling horrid about it. I’ve been struggling with alcohol for a few years. I have PTSD and anxiety…. I’ve started therapy for help and always end up quitting. Convincing myself ill be fine. My rationalization is extreme. Ill convince myself I don’t want to quit and its all my partners fault I feel like I should quit. Its becoming unbearable to deal with anymore. A rehabilitation clinic is out of the question..i have two little girls full time. I just wish I could wake up one day and just never drink again. :( I see no light at the end of the tunnel. The things I do when I drink are devastating and detrimental to my everday life. Its a no brainer to quit…:’( why can’t I jus walk away from it?..

    • Bruce says:

      Hi B,
      I also had problems during the weekend where I kept picking up booze and drinking. Sunday I again vowed to not pick up a drink and after an AA meeting and Church, I again rode my bike to get beer and vodka. I then passed out at about 630 and slept until 230am when I ate some dinner. Yesterday I made it a point to again try abstinence from booze and I was successful. What I did was use my AA phone list and called people until I got someone and talked of my cravings. I then took the bus to an AA meeting and after the meeting I walked to Pro Act to attend an NA meeting. Narcotics are not a big part of my story but it is still a 12-step program and I got phone numbers and talked to people. I did smoke pot before so I could introduce me as an addict and alcoholic but just boozers can go to this meeting. They say in ‘How it works’ that alcohol is a drug so they do welcome just alcoholics. Basically what worked for me is to STAY BUSY, attend the meetings, and tell them all I am struggling with booze and need help. I know I have 1 day sober but also know if I do the same today, I should have 2 days by the end of the day. I will keep you posted because I like you keep relapsing to the point where I just choose to drink and don’t have enough time to be of much help now. I will try to stay on the same path to see if I get continuous sobriety. We are here to help each other. I also have PTSD and am disabled Vet.

  5. Aaron says:

    Hi Bruce, I’ve had a one day relapse for one night in the past 3 weeks I think. Woke up afterwards thinking how sick I was. That was last week. All I can say is mentally I feel much better that dealing with a hang over. What I have found out is quitting is much harder than it was just a year or 2 ago. Now I’m having urges that last for hours everyday. I know I drink now because of depression and boredom, it’s like a need a escape for awhile and be happy. But what I’m depressed about mainly is my drinking and what it’s doing to me and I turn around drink not to think about it. It’s totally crazy thinking. I’m sure it’s my PTSD. It’s Friday and tonight I really feel like drinking. And of course I’m never going to do it again just like I’ve said the past 500-1000 times. This is my email Take care.

  6. Scott says:

    Hello to the group! I wanted to encourage those who have a desire to stop drinking to go for it! I’m 34 and after 20 years, I decided to put away the bottle for good on March 13. After 29 days, everything I have read on other websites seems to be coming true. These first few weeks have been filled with situational triggers, cravings, insomnia, irritability, and everything else no one bothered to tell you about when you decide to stop drinking. On top of this, my mood swings have made me a JOY to be around (sarcastically)… I was always a happy drunk and I found myself thinking that the “sober” me is actually a monster… who wants to be around that kind of person? As time goes on and the days pass, I have been able to have more control over my mood – so it does get better. Also, I used to be able to get a “second wind” at night by drinking and stay up late and get up early (although, very hung over). Now I find myself exhausted at 19:00! This is such a mental battle, like when there is an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. I have found it to be a lot easier to objectize my alcoholism, this way I can tell my cravings and that “devil” on my shoulder to take a hike. By no means is this an easy process. I had no clue how dependent I was until I tried to stop nearly 30 days ago. Please, anyone who has a desire to stop, stick with it!

    • Bruce says:

      I gave into my cravings once again. Scott, yesterday I went to therapy for my alcoholism and followed that by getting a pint of vodka. Came home and got beer. All night I had God-ugly strong cravings. At one point I woke up and screamed I wasted 20 bucks on booze Friday. Today 4/12 I want to stay sober. My left side hurts (not much) and I know I have to go for a liver I/V on May 5th which I am totally scared of. I live alone and wind up drinking because I get bored. I usually walk outside my house and smoke continuously only because I am bored and don’t have any activities to occupy my boring time. I need to get busy with something. I like to read but get anxious and can’t concentrate. I don’t drive and ride my bike to get the 40oz beers and 1/2pts of vodka. I don’t know why I do this. Today I am going to AA at 1030. Until then I am drinking coffee and smoking only because my cravings are so strong I can’t sit still. Please help with any suggestions. I am suffering emotionally physically mentally and want today to be my 1st day without any booze. Please anybody support me in your prayers. This has to be it for booze for me.

  7. YVONNE says:

    Hi Amy, well done, we are all in this together. All I can say to you is stay strong, it is a battle in your head that you can win. I know it is hard going, I feel it and fight it too. Think of the positives you want to achieve and look at the negatives that prevent us form these goals. There are other ways to deal with stress we just have to re-learn how to do this, let me know how you are doing.

  8. Amy says:

    I’m on day ten! I am having terrible nightmares, tired and although I have had cravings have been able to stave them off, I am to the point this evening I’m really wanting to justify drinking because I haven’t and ice had a series a stressful news this week! any suggestions pls

  9. YVONNE says:

    Hi Mellisa, how did you cope with your cravings? I hope you remained strong x. I do not want you to take this on a negative note, however, I blamed everything on my drinking, this happened that happened, I couldn’t take it, then I truly had a deep look inside of myself and discovered, they were just excuses for me to justify my drinking. I am not saying this is how it is for you, please understand this. I realised, no matter what crap life throws my way, if I turn to the booze it is my choice, my doing. These thoughts have made me a little stronger, I still get the urge to have a drink, then I look at the negatives and why I want to stop drinking. It does pass and it is difficult, but you know Mellisa, we can do it, we are worth it, we are stronger, it is a battle of the boozy brain. and I like to win. I have not had a drink in 22 days, a first for me, I keep patting myself on the back, especially, like you life is not easy, crap hits the fan so to speak. I need to learn to cope with these situations without turning to Mr Smirnoff and a bottle of re wine. Let me know how you are coping x

  10. YVONNE says:

    Hi Bruce, so sorry to hear of your loss, I cannot imagine your sorrow. I have read back on some of your postings Bruce, I can only say how I deal with the cravings. I take it one moment at a time, I imagine having to prepare alcohol as you would crack or heroin, heating it over a spoon, and injecting it into by blood stream, cos that’s what we are doing, putting a drug into our body, this image does help as I do not do drugs and I do not judge those who do. You are worth every inch of the struggle you suffer Bruce, I am sure your lovely wife would not want this for you. I don’t mean to make you feel bad or guilty Bruce, but, only you can do this, you must try to be stronger than that urge, weigh up the positives against the negatives Bruce each time that boozy brain steps in. I hope the scan on the liver goes ok for you, let me know how you are coping, we are all in this together, you have my support and are in my thoughts. x

    • Bruce says:

      Thanks for your advice Yvonne,
      I am having trouble staying away from booze and I plan to stay sober today no matter what happens. Please pray for me I am here for you. I gave into my urges yesterday Sunday because once again I listened to my boozy mind telling me it was okay to get beer and 1/2pt of vodka. I went to sleep at about 630 pm and only woke up at 230am to eat. I then went back to sleep. Today I am going to AA this morning. They have a clubhouse I can hang out at during the day. That will keep me with sober people. Tonight I will go to another AA meeting by my home. I am so scared that I will drink but have to put that fear behind me because I want to be sober much more than I want to die from drinking. I want to live a healthy life without booze. God I hope I can do that. I have phone numbers of AA people. I need to use them and call people when I feel like drinking.

  11. Aaron says:

    Hi Bruce, I hope you get this. I am doing better 5 days without drinking. But I’m anything but happy. I read abt your ultrasound being abnormal size and you will do a liver biopsy. I can tell you with mine they said I had a alcoholic fatty liver that would go away in 8 mos if I stopped drinking. My liver blood tests were good and my ultrasound showed no fluid or acitices or chirrois. I now see a liver specialist. It good it showed no masses that would indicate a tumor. I liver specialist told me from the ultrasound she thinks in in F-1 or F-2 fibrosis. Only a biopsy would know for sure. If yours is larger that’s a good sign maybe fatty liver or inflation. I will tell you one thing Bruce at this time I have it. One day at a time. As you know I live completely alone too. What’s working for me right now is I don’t care how lonely, depressed or miserable I feel I’m not picking up a drink. I know what’s going to happen when I do. I scared of going to the v.a. Doing those tests and being on pins and needles. I always expect something bad. Right now I am taking my full dosages of anti depression medication. I’m there for you brother I think your test will not be so bad. Proberly a wake up call. P.s. My wife died of ovarian cancer years ago. She was 31 I have my only child by her. Keep in touch. I will check this daily. I can also give you my email address.

    • Bruce says:

      Hi Aaron,
      I am really glad to hear from you. I definitely want your email address so we can write. I am feeling better. I have one day sober (today) and went to an AA meeting at noon. I didn’t have a drink so far today and the day is half over. I relate to you being alone. I also will work on me and not let loneliness or boredom lead me to the bottle. I know it will be hard but I know I can do this. I have to keep thinking, like you, what will happen if I do pick up a drink. I am also afraid of going to the VA because I always think the worst. I go again on Wednesday. I am glad you have it this time. You are an inspiration to me to help me stay and keep sober. Like you said we are in this together and can help each other to stay away from a drink. I will stay in touch-Bruce

  12. Melissa says:

    Hi all. Right now, I having cravings that are on a level of 9, pushing 10. I don’t have them during the day, but when evening approaches, they kick in. I trying really hard to fight these and supposed to go to my first AA meeting in 2 hours and I hope I can hold out. I am also going to the gym afterwards, this way most of evening is tied up with something else.

    I started a recovery program last week and have attended 2 classes, and meetings with a counselor. I had one day of sobriety since starting last Wednesday. I was already a heavy drinker (a liter of wine or at the pub 2-3 Guinnesses and 2-4 whiskeys daily, depending on the day of the week.)

    Then, my husband last year decided we were going to separate and divorce. We live in San Francisco, and I am freelance writer/editor so we are still living in the same flat, but have not done much movement on the legalities, but he does have his own room and a girlfriend and I date. In August, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, she passed away on January 20, 2014. Her birthday was last week. After returning from my Dad’s at the first of February, I threw myself into a heavy project that often requires some days of working 17 hours. When not working, every night I would drink and the drinking increased like crazy and I was starting at 5 PM instead of 7. The night that finally made me decide to enroll in a program, was the night when I drank a half liter of wine, 2 Guinness, and 8 shots of whiskey. I never blackout and I always get myself home from the pub without a problem (a bit wobbly, but I recall everything I do).

    Anyway, the stress of the divorce (mostly it is financial related, the afterwards), the grief is pretty bad (saw my regular therapist this morning), and the stress from work and everythinbg and anxiety are often intense. I do take gabapentin for any withdrawl and my anxiety (which I had before ever starting drinking, just never treated it). Librium made feel too off kilter and I would literally fall asleep sitting up randomly and it was very hard to wake up.

    I guess this is mostly a mind dump so I can make it to the AA meeting instead of buying a bottle of wine. I am fundamentally against the philosophy of AA (I realize that it works for a lot of people), but this meeting is in my neighborhood and I am hoping for a sense of local community. Additionally, I am going to a Lifering meeting tomorrow afternoon and I have 2 courses, an education and a recovery discussion group.

    So, that I don’t continue to write an entire book, any advice would be grand. I’ll let you know if I make it to my meeting tonight.


    • Bruce says:

      Hi Melissa,
      I need help also. I was sober on Monday and listened to my boozy mind on Tuesday and got vodka and beer right after attending an AA meeting and getting phone numbers and support. My cravings are not strong. The problem is that I just challenge the 1 drink I can do it and stop mentality. I need help and would welcome any advise from you. I can quit I know I can but I just choose to drink. I want to stop more than anything. I go for a liver I/V on May 5th and I am so scared. My tummy isn’t big at all which tells me I don’t have a big liver issue yet but know I will get one if I continue. My eyes are still white and not yellow. I need support badly. I lost my wife to ovarian cancer 2 yrs ago and now am alone. Let today be my new sober date and please pray that I STICK TO IT!
      Thanks I am so scared and feel I won’t quit until it is too late. I don’t want to be in that situation.

    • Bruce says:

      I am so sorry to hear about your Mom. She is in my prayers. I lost my Dad in 1999 and he never saw me really sober. Being a freelance writer/editor must be exciting. I have been in San Francisco a few times and love the city. I live about 30 miles north of Philadelphia. I have about 70 AA meetings in my area. I find that it helps to raise my hand at the beginning of the meeting and say that I am struggling with a drink. That way I can get suggestions from everybody in the meeting who want to help me. I wish you well and hope you can get sober. I lost my wife to Ovarian Cancer on Dec 18, 2011 and have been really struggling with drinking since then. She only really saw me drunk during our 32 year marriage and I know I can honor her by staying sober but it is so hard since my son is a heroin addict and my daughter doesn’t talk to me. I am alone to face everything I have to face in life and it is hard for me. Anyway I wish you the very best.

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