Any alcoholic who has sobered up knows that the cravings for alcohol can be very challenging. The whole idea of recovery is that you want to change your life, stop drinking, and live healthier. But how can you do that when you are constantly having thoughts of self medicating with your drug of choice?
I stayed stuck for a number of years because I could not believe that my cravings would ever go away completely. I was terrified that I would always be unhappy and constantly craving alcohol and other drugs. When would I ever have fun again? This is what kept me stuck in denial for many years.
Will my cravings for drugs and alcohol ever go away completely?
I can remember this moment in my recovery because it was so incredibly shocking to me. This day was like a total slap in the face. I was dumbstruck when I realized that my alcohol cravings had gone away completely.
I had perhaps 5 months sober or so. I was living in long term rehab at the time. I had got a job and I was also going back to college. I talked about addiction and recovery with my peers nearly every day. I went to 12 step meetings on a regular basis. A large part of my life was focused on recovery.
I was so amazed when this happened because I had believed that it was entirely impossible up to this point. The idea that I could go through an entire day without any alcohol cravings whatsoever was just laughable to me. It was unthinkable. Anyone who suggested that my cravings might go away completely was crazy, because obviously they did not know me or understand me! I was a real alcoholic. I was always going to crave alcohol and other drugs. That’s just how I was wired.
Or so I thought.
But reality proved me wrong, thank goodness. I am grateful that it proved me wrong. And I was absolutely shocked to learn that my cravings had faded away. It was a miracle to me. It still is. I can hardly believe it happened. And at this point it happened over 13 years ago. What a miracle! To finally be free. To be free of the obsession, the constant thoughts about wanting to get drunk or high all the time. What a relief.
So the short answer is “yes, your cravings will go away.” This is in spite of the fact that you may not even believe it. This is in spite of the fact that you may think that you are different, that you are unique, and that you love alcohol or other drugs so much that your cravings will never disappear. Even in spite of all that, your cravings for alcohol will, in fact, go away some day.
And it won’t take all that long, really, if you are willing to do the work. For me it was only about 5 months or so, and I honestly thought that it was impossible, that it would never happen in a million years.
And yet here I am today, completely free.
So that obviously begs the question:
How do you do it? How do you kill your cravings once and for all?
The path to eliminating alcohol cravings starts with abstinence and support
The first step in eliminating your alcoholic cravings is to get started on a program of complete and total abstinence. That means you have to abstain from alcohol and other addictive drugs completely. If you deviate from this simple idea then you can erase all progress that you may have made up to this point and start over from scratch. In other words, take one sip of booze and you are right back to total and complete chaos.
Alcoholics tend to the extremes. So you are either working on recovery, or you are knee deep in relapse. There is no middle ground. If you think you have found a middle ground, then congratulations! You’ve cured alcoholism. This is not a likely (or even possible) outcome though for real alcoholics. You are either doing well in recovery or you are headed for trouble. No in between.
So the path to eliminating your cravings starts with total and complete abstinence. Because there can be physical danger involved in alcohol withdrawal, I would suggest that most people who are struggling to get sober should seek professional help. I tried this 3 times and the third time that I went in to a detox center I managed to stay sober finally. It did not work the first two times that I attempted it because, quite honestly, I was not yet ready to surrender fully to a solution. I had surrendered to the fact that I was alcoholic on the first two attempts, but that is not enough. You must go further than that and surrender to a new solution in your life as well.
This is critical because in the past I had rejected attempts to help me through support, such as AA meetings and long term treatment. I rejected those solutions because I was still in denial and because I was scared. I was afraid to sit through AA meetings. I was afraid to live in rehab and actually do something about my problem. It was fear that kept me stuck. It was fear that held me back from taking action.
But before I could get to a point where I had eliminated my alcohol cravings, I had to ask for help and accept some form of support in my life. I could not do it alone. I had to have outside help. I think this is a key point because so many of us in addiction have a problem with pride and with asking for help. We don’t want to appear weak to others. We want to figure it all out for ourselves if we can in order to save face. But I found that this was not an option in my own journey. I had to surrender, I had to ask for help, and I had to accept a new solution in my life. So I went to rehab.
Inpatient treatment is by no means a cure-all. It has no magic powers when it comes to beating an addiction. But it is still the best solution we have right now. It remains your best bet if you are struggling with addiction or alcoholism.
I had to seek this form of outside help in order to get started on the recovery journey.
Why the holistic path is helpful for reducing your cravings
Now just going to rehab is not going to eliminate alcohol cravings. In fact, going to treatment won’t do a thing in this regard. It is just the first step among many that will hopefully lead you to a life in which your cravings are eventually eliminated.
In order to eliminate cravings you have to actually build the sort of life in which you no longer focus on alcohol and other drugs. This requires a great deal of work.
In my opinion the work can be split into the following two categories, both of which are completely vital to the healing process:
1) Internal work. Eliminating shame, guilt, fear, anger, self pity, resentment, and so on.
2) External work. Avoiding toxic relationships, bad hangouts, places that trigger you, people that trigger you, etc. Lowering stress through lifestyle changes, etc.
So you have two areas of your life that you need to work on and fix. One of them can be called your “life situation,” that is all of the external stuff. Your career, your living situation, your relationships, your job, your finances, and so on.
The other area is all internal….it’s all up in your head. It is the guilt, the shame, the resentments, the fear, the anger, and so on.
Now realize that both of these areas can create problems in terms of relapse. Both of these areas can lead you alcohol and drug cravings if you are not careful.
For example, maybe you work at a job that really stresses you out and causes you to want to drink. That is an external problem. And yet it could still trigger you to want to drink and eventually lead you to relapse if you let it get to you and pile up among other problems.
Or you may have a burning resentment against someone and that might lead you to relapse as well.
If you notice that 12 step programs tend to address the internal problems while ignoring the external problems. Working through the 12 steps with a sponsor will help you with some of the internal stuff, but not really touch on the external triggers. That is left up to you.
The holistic path in recovery is one that treats the entire person, the whole person. The idea is that you need to be healthy in many different ways in order to truly recover. Or put another way, there are a million different ways to become complacent in addiction recovery. In order to avoid this complacency you need to take a holistic approach to your new life in sobriety. You need to be finding new ways to be healthy every day.
For example, at one point in my recovery journey I discovered exercise. It finally clicked for me and I was off to the races (literally). This had a huge impact on my recovery journey that I never could have anticipated. Certain people had tried to convince me to exercise in the past and that it would help me in my recovery, but they could never pin down exactly why it would help or how. It was this vague promise that exercise would benefit me and so I did not get that excited about it. But eventually I gave it a chance anyway and it turned out to have a really huge impact on me.
I noticed that physical exercise could combat alcohol cravings in a very direct way. I could be experiencing a real craving for drugs or alcohol and I could literally run that craving right out of my body. Not only that, but exercising on a regular basis was giving me a much better feeling about sobriety even when I wasn’t working out. There were a lot of far reaching benefits that affected different areas of my life. This was why it was so difficult to pin down the exact benefits, because they were complicated and affected so many different areas of my recovery.
In the same way, other things that you do for your personal growth in sobriety can have a complicated impact. Perhaps you are working on many different things in your recovery journey today such as: Quitting smoking, eating healthier meals, getting better sleep each night, eliminating toxic relationships, and daily exercise. You can’t just point to one of those things in that list and show exactly how it benefits you in recovery. You can’t just point to any one thing on that list and show how much it helps you to avoid relapse. But taken as a whole, the holistic approach does a great deal in terms of preventing relapse and making you stronger in recovery. The reason it is complex is because of the different interactions between the various benefits that you may be experiencing.
For example, you make an effort to sleep better. Eating healthy seems to help you slightly with this. Because you are getting better sleep and putting better fuel into your body, you feel like you have more energy to exercise every day. The exercise that you are doing is helping to give you emotional balance. When you work out vigorously it helps to balance out any emotional upset that might be going on in your life. In doing these things you may find the strength to say “no” to a toxic relationship that is no good for you. Or these things might cause you to reach out and find new connections and healthier people to be around.
And in doing all of these things you may realize that you are truly grateful in recovery and you notice selfishness slipping away. You are happier.
It all works together. You can’t just take one of those positive changes in isolation and expect for it to have a huge impact on your sobriety. That is not how this all works. Instead, you have to take care of yourself in all of these different ways so that you can be truly health from a holistic standpoint. When it all works together than that is real power.
And this is how I have eliminated cravings and triggers in my life.
With a holistic approach to recovery.
Because when I first started out in sobriety, I was not yet using a holistic approach. I was focusing narrowly on just two things at that time:
1) Not drinking every day, and
2) Spiritual growth.
Now those two things were working, but only up to a certain point. Because even though I was pushing myself to be “more spiritual,” this still wasn’t eliminating all of the triggers and urges that might pop up in my life.
In order to really do that, I had to take a look at my entire life and my life situation. Think: Internal problems as well as external circumstances. I had to look at the whole picture and take action in all of these different areas of my life.
So I had to work on my physical health. I had to eat and sleep better. I had to exercise.
I had to look at my relationships. I had to eliminate the toxic people from my life.
I had to look at my emotional sobriety and my emotional stability. Were my emotions getting out of control and causing me to crave alcohol? I had to find ways to deal with those emotional swings.
I had to look at my spiritual path, and how grateful I was on a daily basis. I had to find ways to practice gratitude every day, so that I did not allow myself to get selfish again.
I had to look at my mental health: Was I obsessing on anything lately? Was I allowing myself to dwell in self pity? How could I get out of my own head and take care of myself mentally?
And so on. I had to look at the whole picture, at my entire person. I had to consider my overall health in recovery, not just my spiritual condition (as suggested in some programs).
Realizing that it does not happen overnight
It is important to realize that this does not happen overnight.
For me, it took roughly 5 months in sobriety before my cravings for drugs and alcohol left me.
This can vary a great deal from person to person. For you, it might not take nearly that long. For other people it might take more than 5 months.
And I can look back and realize that it very much has to do with how intensely you are doing the work in recovery.
You don’t just put down the bottle and magically watch your cravings disappear. Instead, it takes work. You have to put in the effort.
What does that mean, “doing the work?”
It means seeking out help and advice from other people who have meaningful sobriety, and following through on what they tell you to do.
It means working through the steps in AA or going to see a therapist or counselor and working through issues with them.
It means identifying your character defects and then taking action to fix those problems. For me, this meant that I had to figure out and identify that I was very prone to self pity. And so I had to learn how to raise my consciousness so that I could recognize when I was feeling sorry for myself, and then I had to develop strategies to fight back against this (gratitude lists, etc.).
My suggestion is that every new alcoholic and drug addict is probably going to need some help in order to “do the work.” This is what the concept of sponsorship is based on in AA. But you don’t necessarily need a sponsor or even the AA program to get sober, you just need to do the work. You need to figure out what is holding you back in life and then take action to fix it.
Figuring that out on your own is pretty tough for most people. I had to have help in order to do it. Sometimes I still need help in order to do it, to see where I am flawed or where I am screwing up. So it helps to have feedback, it helps to reach out and get help from others. In fact it may be vital.
Waiting for the miracle to happen
You can’t push a magic button and make your cravings disappear. If you could then we would all get addicted to that magic button!
The fact is that it takes work, and it takes time. That is the answer that no one wants to hear in recovery. They don’t want to be told that it takes hard work and that it also takes some time for the results to come to them.
But that doesn’t make it untrue.
The miracle will happen if you continue to do the work. Get sober, ask for help, and do the work. It really is that simple. A shortcut would be nice, but quite honestly, this is the shortcut! This is the path to peace and happiness.
What about you, have you managed to overcome your cravings in recovery? What process did you use to accomplish this? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!