After the initial high of the first few days off the booze, when the first flush of motivation starts to wear thin, you might start to feel cravings for a drink.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t make you weak-willed and this doesn't mean you've got a problem, it's just a normal reaction to change. At first we're focused on the task at hand and brimming with enthusiasm and confidence and then, at some point, it's just the normal daily routine but with something missing.
What triggers cravings?
The urge to drink is often not about the booze itself, but about a particular moment or physical sensation, trigger or emotion. Some of these triggers may include a difficult day at office, a fancy dinner out with friends, a fight with spouse, or stress. When we’re stressed or upset or bored, we seek comfort. That’s natural, and if alcohol has been there for us through difficult times then, that’s what we think we want when things get tough. The association with alcohol becomes just that; an association. If we can replace it with something else, then we can get through our tougher times and avoid the downsides that come with alcohol.
Learning to manage alcohol cravings can be challenging, especially when external situations trigger these cravings. Here are some essential tips and coping skills to help you quit drinking and lead a more satisfying life...
Tips on controlling cravings to drink alcohol...
1. Know your triggers
During your daily activities, keep a journal with you and take notes of when you notice any cravings, regardless of whether they are mild or strong. Try to figure out what it was (e.g. a place, a person, a situation and so on) that initiated this craving for alcohol. This will help you to anticipate cravings and plan how to deal with the triggers. For instance, if you know you’re going to be around people who are drinking, know what non-alcoholic drink you’ll order ahead of time, have an exit strategy and keep in mind anyone you can call for support.
2. Keep busy
You may find that your cravings are strongest when you’re not busy. This may be because you associate boredom with a need to drink. Regardless of the reason, being busy with fulfilling activities can help keep you distracted from urges to drink. Spending time with family and friends and engaging in hobbies and personal pursuits can also stop alcohol cravings. This is because you are finding enjoyment and passing time in activities that don’t involve drinking.
3. Distract yourself
Once you experience the urge, distract yourself with something that takes your attention. Then check back in with yourself in, say 30—45 minutes and see if the urges intensity has changed. And if the first distraction isn’t helpful, try another. Or use another strategy altogether.
4. Question the urge
Think of the urge as a cue, a signal. This signal is telling you to have a drink but it’s not controlling you. While having an urge can be uncomfortable, it won’t hurt you. With practice the urge can become a signal to use an urge coping strategy.
5. The DISARM Method
Another strategy is to “DISARM” your urges. It’s both popular and widely used in SMART Recovery®. Here are the steps...
i. Name the Urge
Destructive self-talk is not you, it’s your enemy. Name the urge as if it were another being. Pick a name for your urges that’s imaginative, strong, and meaningful to you. That little voice in your head that badgers and coaxes you. Label it. Some call it “The Inner Brat”, “The Alcohol Salesman”, “The Lobbyist”, “The Whiner”, "The Monkey's" or just “The Enemy.” Pick a name that fits your experience with it.
Develop the early warning habit. Learn to recognise the urge when it first comes calling. Discover your earliest red flag signals. Don’t be caught off guard. Nipping temptation in the bud is easier than stopping it when it’s got a full head of steam.
Immediately, firmly refuse. Don’t even consider the possibility as a choice. You have already made your decision not to drink. You’ve made it your top priority. On general principle you don’t have to reason it out yet again. Whenever you get the idea to resume drinking, you can tell that idea to go to hell. You don’t need debate.
6. Countering the urge
Talk to yourself. Out loud if possible. What are your reasons for changing? How good will you feel later if you’ve been successful and not given into the urge?
Consider how giving into an urge keeps it alive while not giving into the urge slowly kills it. While you can’t make the urge go away, you can see it for what it is. It is all that remains of your relationship with alcohol.
Sometimes you can use the urge to help identify a problem. Is something going on in your life right now that’s creating some negative feelings?
7. Practice mindfulness and meditation
It’s okay to have cravings, so long as you don’t blindly give in to them. The purpose of mindfulness and meditation is to help you be aware of unhealthy impulses, without engaging in them. The practice encourages you to simply notice urges to drink, without feeling that you have to satisfy those urges.
You can also try listening to audio to help with with meditation. Here is a link offering free to download audio tracks for mindfulness and meditation.