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How to Manage Alcohol Cravings While Quitting Drinking

Woman laying her head down on a table and staring at a coffee cupImage via Aleksandra Sapozhnikova/Unsplash

If you’re questioning your relationship with alcohol, it’s likely that the idea of quitting has come up. You might have started running through the pros and cons of giving up alcohol in your mind, and it’s possible that the idea of managing cravings while quitting drinking is weighing on your mind. 

After all, giving up alcohol is a pretty big lifestyle change in and of itself. The idea of managing cravings might feel like too much of a burden. If this is one of your concerns when it comes to letting alcohol go, it makes total sense. Also though, it’s important to know that cravings can absolutely be managed, and science breaks down how. Here are some solid examples.

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Get Moving Throughout the Day

According to research, sitting in one place for an extended period of time is dangerous to your overall health. Because of this, the Mayo Clinic suggests standing every thirty minutes and incorporating movement into your daily routine. Additionally, breaks can help improve relaxation, restore concentration, and curb workplace injuries.

But what does any of this have to do with alcohol cravings and getting sober? Basically, everything. 

Breaks can be used as a way to check-in with yourself throughout the day. Setting aside a few minutes to partake in a grounding activity can be especially effective in curbing cravings. Feelings of guilt may come about if you aren’t used to taking good care of yourself by taking regular breaks, but let those emotions pass.

Getting moving, even if it’s just for a quick walk for a 10-minute stretch session boosts the feel-good hormones in your body, which can help curb cravings. 

Learn Your Triggers and Plan Around Them

A trigger is any kind of stimulus that brings about the urge to drink. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), there are two kinds of triggers that are responsible for alcohol cravings: internal and environmental.

Internal cravings happen within us. The NIH states that “the urge [to drink] may have been set off by a fleeting thought, a positive emotion such as excitement, a negative emotion such as frustration, or a physical sensation such as a headache, tension, or nervousness.”

If you’re the type of person who loved to drink to celebrate, then celebrations might be an internal trigger. Likewise, if you drank to feel more comfortable in a social situation, any scenario that brings your social anxieties to the forefront of your mind could be an internal trigger. 

Environmental triggers, on the other hand, are all about the place. The NIH describes them as, “people, places, things, or times of day that offer drinking opportunities or remind you of drinking.”

If you drank in a bar, chances are meeting coworkers at a bar for happy hour will likely be an external trigger. If you have a friend that you always call when you want to drink and the relationship with that person revolves around drinking, then trying to hang out with them while not drinking might be a trigger. 

When you know what your environmental triggers are, you can plan around them. Consider passing on the company outing or choosing to give yourself a little distance from the friend you always drank with. 

Internal triggers might be a little trickier to figure out so that you can avoid them, which is why it’s important to learn how to name them first. When we can identify the feelings that set off cravings, we can work through them rather than giving into alcohol when we don’t want to. 

Practice Mindfulness with Regularity  

Studies show that mindfulness-based interventions are a beneficial way to treat substance use disorders. Not only that, research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology concludes “mindfulness-based therapy is a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems in clinical populations.” 

To sum it up: mindfulness can help manage the feelings that may trigger cravings.

Mindfulness isn’t just meditating or doing yoga—though those are great options—it’s more about being fully present right where you are. If you’re driving or sitting at your desk or even playing with your kids, see if you can get out of your head and immerse yourself in the present moment. 

A great way to do this is to use your five senses. At your desk, take a look around and mentally note the contents around you. One by one, just name what you see. Then move your attention to your body in your chair and really hone in on how it feels to be sitting. After you’ve spent some time on this, see if there are any smells in the air and mentally note them. What can you hear? Do you have coffee or tea or water at your desk? What does it taste like? What’s the temperature as you drink it?

You can apply this technique to any situation. The key is to really focus on what’s in front of you right now rather than ruminating in your mind. 

Before you know it, the craving loosens its grip and you’re fully immersed in whatever is going on around you. 

Practice Intentional Gratitude 

Listing out what you’re grateful for in life has long been a practice adopted by many different recovery practices. At Tempest, it’s something we hone in on in membership, and not just as a feel-good practice. There’s definite science that points to the benefits of an intentional gratitude practice. 

According to Harvard Health, research in the positive psychology field asserts that “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

Recently, scientists have become curious about how a gratitude practice relates to recovery. A 2017 study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that “theoretical and empirical evidence support the supposition that gratitude positively reinforces addiction recovery once recovery is underway.”

The research points to gratitude leading to longer periods of time without drinking and as life improves without alcohol, recovery actually leads back to gratitude. 

Diving into an intentional gratitude practice might have the power to help curb cravings. Once you’re able to see all there is in your life to be thankful for, it’s possible the craving will dissipate. 

What is an intentional gratitude practice? Different from just rattling off a few things in your mind that you’re grateful for, an intentional practice is the act of really taking account of the positives in your life and feeling into them for a moment. 

You can do this by writing a physical list in a journal or notebook and then spending a couple of moments really considering each individual item on your list. You can also think about one item and then let your mind wander into all that went into making that item possible in your life. 

Here’s an example: Let’s say you’ve written down that you were grateful for a great meal at dinner tonight. Close your eyes and picture the meal in your head. What did it take for that meal to get to you? You might be thankful for having the time it took to prepare that meal. But how did that food get to your kitchen? You might then find gratitude for the money and the resources to get to the grocery store. But how did those ingredients get to the grocery store? You might find gratitude for the suppliers who brought that food to the store, and the people who picked or prepared the ingredients, and the land from which those ingredients were grown. 

When we think about gratitude in this way, it becomes much bigger than that one thing written down on our list. And when you make this intentional practice regular, cravings become less powerful. 

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Generally speaking, many of us are in the midst of stressful times. The world is changing in ways we didn’t see coming and everything is in flux. And amid it all, you’ve decided to make one of the best decisions possible for yourself—you’ve given up alcohol. That’s something to find gratitude in for sure! Anxiety, depression, and cravings may come about, and that’s okay. That’s normal even. But when you take some time to work with those feelings and your cravings and lean into the practices that can help you move past them, each alcohol-free day gets a little easier. 

Additional reporting by Nicole Slaughter Graham, Staff Writer at Tempest.

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