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

2,069 Responses to “Coping with Alcohol Cravings”

  1. dean says:

    Hi Dean, Oh, I didn’t take your remark as being rude at all, or a smart alec……I guess since I mostly talk to you, this site must have made us like FaceBook friends…which if fine with me!! I replied to you earlier, but not sure where that was posted or if this might be a doubt reply!! Your story impressed me from the first day I read it, I guess have told you that before! Again no offense was taken by your remark! Have a blessed birthday….Margaret

  2. dean says:

    Dean, I did not take your remark as being rude, or a smart alec at all……..since I really only chat with you, I guess this site has made us “FB” type of friends :), which is fine with me………Your story so impressed me as I have said before! No offense was taken at all!! Have a very blessed birthday! Margaret

  3. dean says:

    Posted on my facebook page yesterday. Dad told me that Darian was really proud of me getting sober and staying sober. Most of you know I moved in with my grandma about a month and a half of my sobriety date. She has alzheimers disease, and I took care of her 24/7 for 2 years and 8 months. She is in longterm care at Richfield nursing facility now. I had days that would drive a normal person to drink. I went through multiple stints in detox between 2000 and 2011. I lived in a rehab facility for 30 days and completed a 30 day program during that span of time. I’ve been in after care a couple times, committed myself to the hospital on occasion because of my alcoholism. Darian knew what I came out of and I think he was really surprised that I stayed sober for the period of time that I did. I reached the point that one day sober was a miracle for me. When I first got sober, the first 13 months I tried to read atleast an entire book of the New Testament in the Bible everyday. Somedays I read more, some days less. I began to pray daily and develop a relationship with God and His only Son Jesus. Somewhere along the line, He took the desire for alcohol (and even drugs) away from me. Darian passed away this past Feb. unexpectedly. We were identical twins, 18 minutes apart. He was born first. Through it all, no matter what, I’ve yet to pick up a drink or even get high. Still today, the first prayer I say everyday, I thank my Heavenly Father for another day sober, for giving me the strength, desire and wisdom to stay sober, and for taking the desire for alcohol and drugs away from me in Jesus name. I’ve not had as much as one sip of alcohol, nor have I smoked any pot or done any drugs in this time. I’ll celebrate my first birthday this weekend without being a twin in this world. This post is for you Darian. I made it another month. I am 3 years 2 months sober. Happy Birthday bud

  4. dean says:

    Dean, August 19th, just checked to see if you had posted today!! I now have 4 weeks behind me without drinking any wine! I don’t drink anything other than wine! at 70 it’s hard to change your ways! I think it’s wonderful to see so many younger ones trying to change their ways! I am sure your story has or will help many! Hope things continue to go well for you! God bless, Margaret

    • dean says:

      Margaret, congratulations. Your post is under my name :) did you notice that ?

      • dean says:

        Dean, yes I did notice that my reply was under your name! I am so sorry to hear of your twin brother passing away, that is a tough one. My daughter had a very dear friend pass away a few months ago also a Twin, occasions are very difficult for him since he and his brother did so much together. You have been faced with lots of situations that could have weakened you, faith and strength be with you! Have a nice birthday, just know that your Brother is watching over you and celebrating from above! Have lots of ice cream and cake….Best Wishes, Margaret

      • dean says:

        Magaret, I wasn’t trying to be a smart alec when I was saying your comment was under my name, I was just asking if you knew it. It doesn’t bother me. Just want to let you know I wasn’t trying to be rude :)

  5. Jessica says:


    You are not alone in your struggle. My dad also drinks 6 beers or more a night & struggles with depression. I am always worried that he might try to hurt himself, but similar to you I think he has had suicidal thoughts but is scared to follow through. I encourage him to quit drinking but I know it is extremely difficult. However alcohol is a downer & it will make you feel worse about yourself. If you already battle with depression alcohol enhances that feeling of being alone, of no one caring, & that you are a disappointment. But I guarentee you that someone out there does care about you & that you have not disappointed them as much as you think you have. & I also know that those people you think would get over your death in a month’s time, won’t. When I think of the state of depression my dad battles with when he drinks it makes me sad because I know that he loves me but it’s like the alcohol prevents him from realizing how much he means to me. He is not a burden to me, but a blessing! & I know he wishes he could quit drinking cold turkey, but he has taken great strides to cut the amount of beers he drinks each night in half. & that makes me proud! I know quitting can’t happen overnight, it is a process & it took me a long time to understand that. But by cutting back 1 beer every couple weeks, it tells me he is trying & that I am worth him trying to quit so that he can prolong the amount of time he can spend on this earth with me! So I write this to encourage you. If you think no one cares about you, I am a complete stranger & I care, so how much more do you think your own family members or those closest to you must care. You are not a coward for not wanting to commit suicide, it just shows that you have things you still want to live for. I think those people & things that prevent you from wanting to die can also be your inspiration for wanting to quit or cut back on drinking. Whether you want to develop a better relationship with your spouse, you want to be around to watch your grandkids grow up…whatever it is that you care about (& you will know what you care most about because it is the things you feel most guilty about when you drink), use that as your motivation! I hope it helps to know someone who doesn’t even know you cares & am glad that you were brave enough to admit how you felt on here. Keep progressing…even baby steps are forward motion! I am praying for you!

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