How to Manage Alcohol Cravings

Reaching a state of recovery after being actively addicted to alcohol is a major accomplishment. It is important to remember that remaining in recovery, however, is a life-long responsibility that requires a great deal of patience and focus. One of the most difficult challenges that many people face during recovery includes experiencing cravings for alcohol. Learning how to deal with these cravings is critical, as they can seemingly come out of nowhere and be triggered by factors as simple as being hungry, tired, or lonely.

This page will take a deeper dive into what alcohol cravings are, how to deal with alcohol cravings, and types of alcohol aftercare and treatment options are available for those ready to start their recovery journey or continue to maintain it.

What Are Alcohol Cravings?

Alcohol cravings are composed of several thoughts, physical sensations, and/or emotions that increase the urge or desire to want to drink, even if a person does not want to drink. This can result in individuals experiencing an internal battle between wanting to and not wanting to give in to cravings, which can be stressful and upsetting.

Craving themselves often develop as a result of one or more triggers. Some of the most common triggers that people experience while in recovery from alcohol addiction include:

  • People, places, or things previously associated with their use.
  • Increased levels of stress.
  • Negative emotions.
  • Physical pain.
  • Social gatherings.

Cravings are response patterns that can be induced by these and other triggers. Although sometimes cravings may appear to simply come out of nowhere, they are usually the result of a situation, feeling, or memory that one has about former alcohol use. They can be visceral in nature, meaning that a person may actually experience the reinforcing effects that they used to receive from drinking alcohol, causing them to forget the negative issues that resulted from such use.

How Long Do Alcohol Cravings Last?

There is no fixed rule as to how long alcohol cravings will last. For some, they pass quickly, while for others, it takes a longer for them to resolve. Much of this is dependent on factors specific to the individual, such as how severe their alcohol use disorder was and how long it has been since they have engaged in drinking. Therefore, the most important thing a person in recovery can do to curb alcohol cravings when they strike is be prepared to utilize positive coping skills, such as distracting themselves, reaching out to a loved one, leaving triggering environments, and more.

Medication for Alcohol Addiction

Medications for alcohol addiction can help curb cravings by affecting the actual physical process associated with the craving and then eliminating the strength of it in the person. There are numerous medications that have been used to address alcohol cravings.

Some of the major medications are outlined below.

  • ReVia (naltrexone) is a drug that was originally designed to address cravings for opiates but has been shown to be effective in addressing cravings for alcohol.
  • Campral (acamprosate) has been used to address cravings with alcohol but is more successful in reducing the amount of alcohol one drinks once when one has started drinking.
  • Anticonvulsant medications like Topamax (topiramate) have been successful in reducing cravings for alcohol.
  • Gablofen (baclofen) is a muscle relaxant that has been used to control cravings for alcohol.
  • Antabuse (disulfiram) may actually reduce cravings for alcohol if a person using the drug drinks alcohol. When a person who has taken Antabuse drinks alcohol, they become violently ill. This reaction may reduce the experience of further cravings in some individuals.

Behavioral Interventions for Alcohol Addiction

Medications can only address the physiological issues associated with alcohol cravings and reduce them. Medications do not address issues dealing with cues and triggers in the environment that can lead to cravings. Instead, behavioral interventions that do not use medical management techniques can be used to address triggers and to also directly reduce cravings in both their intensity and number. Behavioral interventions attempt to help individuals recognize triggers, change the feelings associated with triggers, and learn to reduce the intensity of any cravings they may experience.

Some of the more effective behavioral interventions include:

  • Helping a person to understand and recognize the types of triggers that typically result in cravings in everyone in recovery.
  • Helping the person to understand their own subjective personal triggers that prime their own cravings for alcohol.
  • Psychoeducation that instills the notion that cravings are actually a normal occurrence in recovery and do not represent signs of failure.
  • Continued psychoeducation on the vulnerability of cravings to techniques such as distraction, meditation, and time.
  • The development of formal personalized coping strategies to deal with cravings when they occur, often involving focus on the negative aspects of alcohol use as opposed to the positive feelings that alcohol gave them (urge surfing).
  • The use of mindfulness meditation techniques that allow individuals to focus on their feelings in the moment but not act on them.
  • Recruiting support from others to assist them during periods of vulnerability.

Typically, the best source to learn behavioral interventions on how to deal with alcohol cravings is in formal substance use disorder therapy. There are numerous different techniques that can be utilized for different individuals to deal with cravings and reduce the risk of relapse. Therapists can instruct individuals in progressive muscle relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing that can be learned rather rapidly, and these can become tools to deal with cravings. Individuals can then focus on the more complicated aspects of cravings, such as learning about how to fight alcohol cravings, using distraction techniques, understanding triggers, etc. Individuals can also benefit from a combination of medication and behavioral interventions to address their cravings.

There are other important strategies that can be useful in dealing with cravings:

  • Recognize that cravings are time-limited; they do not last forever. Cravings will typically go away within 15-20 minutes after they appear if a person can resist them.
  • Distraction is one of the most successful approaches to dealing with cravings. Exercise, meditation, and socializing with friends are excellent ways to deal with cravings.
  • Become involved in activities that have a higher purpose, such as going back to school, mentoring someone, training for a new job, etc., to reduce cravings.
  • Learn stress management techniques (e.g., relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing) to address one’s reaction to perceived stress, which is one of the most common generalized triggers that produce cravings to drugs and alcohol.
  • Engage in a healthy lifestyle, such as paying attention to one’s diet, remaining hydrated, getting plenty of exercise, socializing, etc., to reduce the effects of triggers and environmental cues.

Types of Alcohol Addiction Treatment 

Alcohol cravings are not just a challenge for those who have ended their active addiction to alcohol, but also for those who are struggling with an alcohol use disorder and who want to stop craving alcohol. Depending on the severity of one’s alcohol use disorder, there are various levels of alcohol addiction treatment available, including:

Participation in one or more of these levels of care can help an individual access the care they need, allowing them the opportunity to develop a strong foundation for recovery. During that time, they can begin learning about relapse prevention strategies, such as how to manage alcohol cravings, and then expand upon it through additional programming.

Outpatient treatment and alcohol aftercare programs are both ideal options for those who are looking to strengthen their ability to effectively manage alcohol cravings, among many other things. Research has shown that continuing care is an important component of effective treatment for substance use disorders, especially for those individuals with severe cases. Additionally, evidence also shows that continuing care for longer periods of time (such as through an outpatient or aftercare program) can produce several positive results, including a decreased risk for experiencing relapse.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Mississippi

If you or someone you love is struggling with an alcohol use disorder or cravings that are compromising recovery, reach out to our inpatient drug and alcohol rehab in Mississippi right now. We can connect you to one of our compassionate rehab admissions navigators who can answer all of your questions, including those regarding rehab insurance coverage, paying for addiction treatment, and much more.

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