The road to recovery doesn’t end after completing a recovery program. Depending on the severity of someone’s addiction, a person in recovery may continue to struggle with alcohol use disorder for the rest of their life. When cravings hit, there are several ways to combat these urges so they do not interfere with the lifelong recovery process.
Five ways to manage alcohol cravings include:
- Plan ahead to stay in control
- Incorporate alcohol monitoring into recovery
- Recognize triggers
- Avoid high-risk situations
- Attend meetings and get continued support
Anyone who has dealt with alcohol abuse or addiction knows that when they stop drinking or significantly change their drinking habits, it is common to have urges or cravings for alcohol. However, with time, these tend to become less intense, and if healthy responses are practiced, they may lose their strength altogether.
Incorporate Alcohol Monitoring
When alcohol monitoring is incorporated into everyday life, it can significantly increase an individual’s chances of remaining sober. When cravings hit, people with alcohol use disorders can sometimes feel powerless to control it and may relapse. Alcohol monitoring, such as Soberlink, can help inform recovery resources that the individual is struggling and help them get back on track sooner rather than later.
In general, there are two types of triggers: external and internal. External triggers can include people, places, things or times of day that offer opportunities to drink or reminders to drink. Internal triggers can be more complicated because the urge to drink seems to happen very rapidly. Becoming more aware of when and how a person individually experiences cravings, what triggers them and ways to avoid or control them can help someone maintain their sobriety.
Avoid High-Risk Situations
For most people, their best bet is to avoid situations in which they are more likely to experience cravings if at all possible. This can be difficult, particularly when someone is newly sober and has to determine new social outlets. If a person feels guilty about declining an invite or not hanging out with friends, they should remember that this is not a permanent situation.
Attend Meetings and Seek Continued Support
Like any long-term illness, alcohol use disorders often require extensive treatment that goes beyond the typical 28-day treatment program. Research indicates that individuals who continue to participate in recovery groups or meetings have fewer instances of lapse or relapse caused by alcohol cravings.
Coping with Unavoidable Alcohol Cravings
Despite their best efforts, some people may still encounter situations where they will experience alcohol cravings. As it is not always possible to avoid these situations, there is a range of steps someone can take to handle urges to drink.
- Remember why you made the change in the first place. Carry the top reasons why on a note card that you can keep on your person, such as in your wallet, purse or on your cell phone.
- Talk about it with someone you trust. Have a friend or sponsor on standby for potential phone calls or bring them with you to help navigate the high-risk situation.
- Challenge the thinking that sparks the craving. Learn to ask what is and isn’t true about what you’re telling yourself. Wait awhile and breathe through it while considering the consequences of drinking in your mind’s eye.
- Leave the high-risk situation with speed and grace. It helps if you can plan your escape route in advance.
Alcohol Abuse and Addiction Relapse
A lapse is a single instance of drinking while in recovery, and a relapse is a return to problematic drinking behaviors. However, relapse is not a single event but a process that is connected to recovery. Three stages can classify relapse:
- Relapsing through thought. When someone starts to think about drinking again, they may experience thoughts such as, “I have been sober for a long time, just one drink couldn’t hurt.”
- Relapsing through behavior. After the thoughts of drinking become more common, many people will begin to put them into action and participate in taking that “one” drink.
- Relapsing through “controlled” use. Those who experience relapse may find that they reassure themselves they are still in control by claiming they are using alcohol in a controlled manner. Also, they believe their continued use of the substance is a positive thing.
Understanding Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
Fortunately, most urges to drink are short-lived and predictable. However, individuals who continue to struggle with cravings—especially after completing a recovery program—may need further assistance with their recovery process. With the proper tools, like alcohol monitoring and the right treatment program, individuals can regain control over their lives and begin to live an alcohol-free life once more.
- Rethinking Drinking Alcohol & Your Health: Handling Urges to Drink — National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
- Alcohol Facts and Statistics — National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
About the Author
Brooke Powell joined the editorial team at Addiction Campuses as a content writer in 2017. She has a passion for breaking the stigma around addiction and mental health issues with informative and reliably sourced content. When she isn’t creating content, she loves to get lost in a good book or puzzle.