dealing with cravings

At any point in your alcohol recovery, you may experience cravings. Such impulses can soon return you to self-doubt and fear of relapse; this is because cravings can sometimes come from nowhere and feel irresistible. Learning to manage impulses is an essential skill that requires you to continue to grow and evolve in recovery. 


1. Find Acceptance

When cravings to drink occur, learning how to accept them helps you understand that cravings are both normal to experience and inevitable. Understand that having a craving does not mean that you are doing anything wrong; deferring to such thoughts when a craving arises will only diminish your resilience. Cravings happen to everyone at some point during their recovery.

When drinking alcohol every day for years, you will likely feel the urge or experience situations that trigger memories attached to your use. Such memories are deceptive and could cause you to start justifying negative thoughts and behaviors. Alternately, trying to suppress urges or push them away will only make the urge stronger. Accept that you are experiencing a craving and don’t feel bad about it. If it is too intense to manage, reach out to other peers or your therapist to help you through the craving.


2. Distract Yourself

It is important to remember that cravings don’t last forever. Oftentimes, a craving does not last for longer than 10 or 15 minutes; however, they can persist if you keep them alive by devoting attention to them. Instead of dwelling in a craving, look for healthy ways to distract yourself. Such distractions might include:

  • Reading
  • Walking
  • Connecting with friends
  • Meditating
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Exercising

You can participate in any healthy activity that requires a significant portion of your concentration. You can’t think about two things at once. Therefore, the solution might be finding something else to absorb your attention.


3. Have an Exit Plan

If a craving for alcohol does not go away quickly, there is likely the chance that something is keeping it alive. You might find yourself in a triggering situation such as a restaurant, bar or social gathering where alcohol is present. You might also be in the company of somebody you used to drink with or a person that causes you stress. Having an exit plan that helps you leave the situation immediately can help you overcome the craving. 

Part of comprising your exit plan is taking time to understand your triggers. While you cannot always predict when or where you might feel triggered, if you know that you cannot be in a setting with alcohol, you can prepare for and avoid entering such a situation. Knowing your triggers helps you avoid them and recognize them when they appear. Driving yourself to social occasions or having a partner to help you out of it are also great ways to ensure you exit a potentially triggering situation.


4. Sit with Your Thoughts

Your thoughts can contribute to worsening what you experience during a craving. When a craving appears, you might think, “How awful; I’ll never be able to resist.” Such thinking only adds to your stress and makes the craving more powerful. Instead, try to sit with your thoughts through mindfulness to discover why you are having this thought. Challenge the thinking that drives the urge. Stop it, analyze the error in it and replace it. When you confront your thoughts, you find out why you feel this way. For example, when you think, “It couldn’t hurt to have one little drink,” challenge that thought. Challenging the idea may look like saying to yourself, “What am I thinking? One could hurt, because I’ve seen ‘just one’ lead to more. I am sticking with my choice not to drink.” Sitting with your thoughts can also help you identify where the stress is coming from that triggers cravings. Identifying and pushing back against cognitive distortions can reduce your stress and make cravings less intense.


5. Play the Tape Through

Often when you experience cravings, your mind starts playing tricks on you. You might begin to reminisce about times when you drank alcohol. You might even try to convince yourself that you have been sober for a long time so you can handle a drink. However, you can counter these mental tricks by “playing the tape through.” Playing the tape through means thinking beyond the satisfaction of having the first drink and imagining what comes next, such as disappointment, letting yourself and others that support you down, or going into a full relapse. Remember why you became sober; this strong image can help counter the seductive thoughts of using again.


If you are currently having a hard time managing your cravings, then the time to seek help is now. At Associated Behavioral Health Care, we offer the security and comfort to help you navigate your concerns and negative emotions attached to your alcohol use. Our approach to treatment includes providing tools and coping skills relevant to your needs that will support you long after treatment. We provide four convenient locations in the greater Seattle area. If you or someone you know needs help, then don’t wait; reach out today. Remember, your recovery always comes first, so take that first step today. Find out more and call us today at (844) 335-7384.