So you quit drinking alcohol (or you are trying to) and you keep having thoughts and cravings about taking a drink.
First, cravings are perfectly normal. Expect them.
Your mind might be telling you that you have been doing so well in abstaining, that just “sneaking one drink in” will not hurt anything.
Or, your mind might be telling you that you deserve to “reward yourself” with a drink or two.
Why you need to stop the cravings and thoughts for alcohol
Now the truth of the matter is that if you have a serious problem with alcohol, then the idea of just sneaking in one or two drinks is ridiculous.
Sure, you might get away with it for one day. And, you might go back to being sober the next day.
But rest assured, if you sneak a drink in–even just one–your brain will NOT forget this. If you sneak a drink in and nothing bad happens and everything goes well, that is a COMPLETE DISASTER. Why?
Because now your “disease” has some leverage to work with. Now it has a victory. You took a drink, maybe two, and nothing bad came of it! Why not try the experiment again?
When it comes to addiction and alcoholism, relapse can happen very slowly, and thus catch people off guard. Someone might slip up, take a single drink, and then go for days or even weeks without touching alcohol again. But, the seed is planted. The mind will not forget that you gave it a taste of alcohol, and that everything turned out OK. And so eventually, the experiment continues, and the cycle starts all over again.
So yes, if you want to remain alcohol-free, then you have to find a way to deal with the cravings and the thoughts that keep popping up. It is normal to get them, but you have to take action against them. If you do not, eventually it is likely that you will drink again. This is why you need recovery.
Techniques to overcome alcohol cravings
I have 4 suggestions for overcoming chemical cravings:
1) Follow conventional wisdom and suggestions.
2) Engage in vigorous exercise.
3) Tell someone about the craving.
4) Use the zero tolerance policy.
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Conventional wisdom and suggestions
Conventional wisdom regarding alcohol cravings suggests that you:
1) Eat a healthy diet, reducing sugar, junk foods, and caffeine intake.
2) Get plenty of sleep.
3) Drink plenty of water.
4) Use the power of distraction.
5) Use positive thinking.
In my opinion, doing all of these conventional suggestions will have only a marginal impact on your cravings, if any. But they are all positive suggestions on their own, even if you are not trying to stop drinking. So I would still suggest that you try to put them all into practice regardless. But read on to find out much higher impact techniques you can try.
Exercise is highly underrated in recovery, in my opinion. However, people can be lazy and therefore do not typically want to push themselves to work out.
My argument is that only vigorous exercise is helpful in reducing cravings. This makes for an even harder sell.
If you are craving alcohol, right now, one way to say NO to that craving is to simply move your body. Get up, walk out the door, and keep walking. Fast. Don’t stop until the craving is gone.
You might feel silly doing this. You might feel like a stammering 5 year old child who is trying to be defiant by running away from a problem.
Do NOT allow yourself to feel this way though. Force yourself to keep walking, fast, until your craving is gone. It will go away.
Exercise is effective for several reasons. One, it is a powerful distraction in itself. Two, you are altering your body chemically with feel-good endorphins. Three, you are engaging in a form of meditation when you exercise.
Remember, the exercise must be vigorous.
Do it every day as a habit and you will reap even greater rewards for your efforts.
But like I said, this is a hard sell. Most people want easier solutions. They do not want to work up a sweat or make an effort. But, this is what I have found to be hugely effective at combating cravings.
Tell someone about the craving
This is traditional wisdom as well, but it is so effective at times that I have to stress it here.
“Call your sponsor.”
“Call another recovering alcoholic.”
“Go to a 12 step meeting and talk about your craving.”
If you have been around the block a few times, you have heard all of this before. That’s because the suggestions do work.
Reach out to someone and talk about your craving. It takes guts to tell on yourself, to share a secret, to confess your “weakness.” (You are not weak for having cravings though!).
Just having a few close friends who are in recovery may be enough.
If you have a craving, tell someone about it. It may not make sense to you as to why you should do that, but you need to do it. Always tell on your cravings.
The zero tolerance policy
The “zero tolerance policy” is a mental trick.
It is an exercise in mental discipline.
Ultimately, it is a decision that you make.
Make a pact with yourself that you will not allow yourself to indulge your cravings (mentally or physically), EVER.
So when you have a thought of drinking, you shut it down instantly. Do NOT allow yourself to dwell on it, or imagine drinking in greater detail, and so on.
Yes, this is a choice. You can choose to focus your energy on a craving and make it worse, or you can choose to say “no” to that line of thinking.
Your mind should “recoil from the idea of a drink like your hand recoils from a hot flame.”
Make the decision, right now, that you are going to treat thoughts about drinking with this sort of reaction….that you will recoil in horror at the idea of taking a sip of alcohol.
If you have any additional suggestions on how to overcome cravings, come let us know in the discussion forums.