Exploring a few changes in your relationship with alcohol?
Maybe you want to:
- cut the amount of alcohol you drink each week in half
- limit yourself to no more than two drinks per week
- give up alcohol completely, for a set period of time or permanently
But in spite of your goals and no matter how committed you are to changing your habits around drinking, avoiding alcohol might prove a little more difficult than you expected.
Once you make the decision to drink more mindfully or stop drinking entirely, you might find yourself experiencing some pretty powerful cravings — particularly in places or situations where you’d typically grab a beer, pour yourself a glass of wine, or take your shot of choice.
“Alcohol cravings can be very intense, especially in early recovery,” explains Ruby Mehta, licensed clinical social worker and director of clinical operations for digital recovery platform Tempest.
“The good news is, they only last for a short period of time. If you can distract yourself or sit through them, they’ll typically pass.”
Below, we’ll explore why cravings happen and offer a few tips to manage them, from in-the-moment techniques to long-term coping strategies.
Cravings won’t necessarily affect everyone who cuts back on alcohol. Still, they’re pretty common, especially if you drink regularly or your alcohol use falls into the “heavy drinking” category (binge drinking 5 or more days in the last month).
As for what causes cravings? Experts have suggested a few different explanations.
Changes in brain chemistry
Over time, alcohol use begins to affect the neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, in your brain.
These changes can lead to tolerance, or a need to drink more in order to feel the same effects. They can also leave you more sensitive to alcohol’s effects and raise your risk of withdrawal symptoms.
When not drinking, you might begin to notice feelings of anxiety or other emotional distress, along with strong cravings for alcohol.
Alcohol can affect your brain in other ways, too.
People often begin to use alcohol regularly because drinking leads to positive feelings or helps improve their mood:
- A drink after an unpleasant fight with your partner might help you feel calmer.
- A drink after a challenging day at work might help you relax.
- A drink at a party might help you talk to people more easily.
The pleasant euphoria you experience when drinking becomes a reward, one that reinforces your desire to drink in certain situations. You might eventually start craving that reward in new situations.
“Cravings often happen as an automatic response to a trigger, which could be a memory of something associated with alcohol or an emotion such as stress,” Mehta explains.
Most people who experience cravings notice a mix of internal and external triggers.
Internal triggerstypically involve memories, thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations that prompt the urge …….