Some days you just want to tear your hair out. You’re doing the work. Every morning you meditate and do some journaling. You’re exercising three times per week. AND YET. Here you are, still battling alcohol cravings.
Cravings are sneaky little bastards and good at catching us unaware. Having a plan for handling your triggers is key, but what are you supposed to do when they pop up anyways?
Here’s a list of things you can do when none of the usual stuff has worked. Some may seem silly or inapplicable to your situation and that’s fine. Hey, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.
We do what we can to survive the day.
1. Set sobriety reminders for yourself.
You know yourself best and can somewhat predict when cravings are going to show up.
I like to get proactive. If heading to the fridge reminds you of grabbing a cold one, then put a big note on your refrigerator to remind yourself why sobriety is the best thing for you.
Place a sticky note on your bathroom mirror or anywhere else you frequently look. Write something useful to help you get back on track.
Effective frequency is what advertisers use to get us to buy all the stuff we don’t need. And it works. It’s the number of times we must be exposed to a message in order to elicit a response.
Baked into that is the idea that the more we are exposed to a message or opinion, the likelier we are to adopt it.
By using your living space as a billboard for sobriety, you’re building a mental fortress against cravings. Within reason, that is. It’s not a magic bullet solution and you don’t certainly don’t need to wallpaper your home with sobriety affirmations.
But give it a shot.
I like to set notifications on my phone to remind myself why I’m not drinking diet soda anymore at times of the day when I usually want one. Sometimes just anticipating the craving and heading it off with a gentle reminder of why you are no longer about that life is enough.
2. Excercise fights alcohol cravings.
I’ve used this with cigarette cravings several times. If you’re at home and driving yourself mad with ideas of drinking again, find space and do some push-ups (or sit-ups, whatever exercise you prefer).
Get yourself good and tired.
You’ll find that once your arms give out, your heart rate is up, and you’re a bit sweaty that you feel better. Your brain feels clear and the craving has settled if not disappeared altogether.
Once you give your brain a little reset, it’s easier to manage your alcohol craving. And that’s what it’s all about.
When cravings become so loud and disorienting that you can’t seem to focus on anything else, that’s when you need to start over.
Exercise is a wonderful way to do that. It increases blood flow to your brain and helps you think and learn more clearly.
You could just as easily head to the gym (if possible) or grab your coat and go for a brisk walk. Give it a try!
3. Play the tape forward.
One of the most effective tools I have found to combat alcohol cravings (or any craving, really) is to play the tape in my mind of what will happen if I DO cave.
Every single thought, feeling, and physical experience that will happen as a result of your caving should enter your brain like a movie.
I’ll give you an example.
Let’s say I’m having a major craving because my friends are out at some all-inclusive party and begging me to join them. I know if I go that I will drink and part of me REALLY wants to go and drink.
Here’s how I’d play the tape.
If I go, I’ll show up and have to wait in a long line. People will be half drunk by the time I even get there. I’ll have to pay for a cab and the entry fee which means I spend my weekend money in one night.
The entire time I’m there, I’ll be feeling guilty about drinking or not drinking. I probably won’t even have fun because it’s all I’ll be thinking about. Then I’ll get the drink and at first, I’ll feel nice and buzzed but also guilty as hell.
By the third drink, I won’t care anymore and I’ll be out of control. I might say something embarrassing or try to emotionally unload on my friends. Maybe I’ll give my number to some random guy.
Eventually, I’ll probably end up in a disgusting bar bathroom puking, sitting in God knows what mess on the floor. My friends will be trashed and we’ll all be sweaty with makeup smeared all over our faces. And then we’ll keep drinking.
I’ll get home and scarf down about 1500 extra calories I don’t need. When I try to go to bed, the room will start to spin. I’ll get emotional.
It’s likely I’ll end up sleeping in the bathroom in between puking sessions. The next morning I will wake up with a monster hangover, terrible anxiety, and feel like the worst person in the world because I broke my sobriety. And for what? I barely remember the night.
Why playing the tape works.
Once you go on that emotional journey to the future, drinking doesn’t seem so appealing. You can see the night for what it will be and decide whether it’s worth it. (The answer is no.)
Play that tape as far into the future as you need to in order to break free of the alcohol craving.
I might drag that story out by acknowledging that I’ll probably be depressed that weekend which might lead to more drinking. Then I’ll be right back where I started.
Think about the conversations you’ll have with all the people you let down. Maybe you’ve been trying to lose weight and get in shape. What’s this wild night going to do to derail that?
Give yourself the space to think about the consequences of your actions. It will ground you.
4. Recognize the alcohol craving for what it is and shut it down.
There are many names for that pesky inner voice that tries to get you to drink again. I like to call it my inner a**hole. Clare Pooley of The Sober Diaries calls it the Wine Witch.
Whatever you call it, cravings are opportune moments to remember that YOU are not this voice. You occupy the same brain and body, but it’s not who you really are. It sounds strange at first, but it’s actually incredibly liberating.
Once you can see that voice as separate from yourself, you can deal with it differently.
If you have to out loud talk to that voice to escape the emotional vortex, do it.
Let it out.
Hey a**hole, I see what you’re doing here and it’s not going to work. I’ve been doing good and you’re not going to come here and mess up my sobriety and get me to start feeling sorry for myself. I’m not doing that with you, tonight. No ma’am.
It’s incredibly empowering to say, “I recognize that this voice is separate from who I am and I don’t actually have to listen to it.” Doing this also removes the guilt and shame. YOU are not being a wuss right now. Your addict voice is trying to have its way with you. Don’t let it.
Like mosquitos, this self-sabotaging voice is an unfortunate fact of life. Maybe it never disappears completely. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give it a good whack.
5. Talk about it.
If you have someone in your support network you can talk to, reach out to them. Sometimes just talking through your craving is enough to diffuse it.
Depending on your situation, you may need to rely on support from a sobriety network. And that’s totally fine. Sometimes our internet friends give us the best advice.
Right now, the craving is living and growing stronger inside your head. Let it out. Talk to someone, write down everything you’re feeling and thinking into a journal, or reach out to your online sobriety networks.
You’ll feel better.
Access should not be a barrier to help.
6. Go to bed.
Maybe the best thing you can do is call it a night. Obviously, this doesn’t work for afternoon cravings, but if you’ve spent your entire day battling your craving and can’t seem to shake it, go to bed.
Tomorrow is a new day.
It is highly likely that you will wake up tomorrow feeling refreshed and craving-free.
Remember the scene in Forrest Gump when Lieutenant Dan is having a crazed fit with God during a hurricane? They survive the storm and the next day, Lieutenant Dan is at peace and goes swimming through gentle waters.
Cravings can be like that. Some nights are storms you have no choice but to ride out.
Whatever crazy-making happens to you that night, just know peaceful waters are waiting for you in the morning. No amount of frustration from this craving is going to feel worse than waking up tomorrow with a hangover and regret.
It’s also incredibly powerful to say, “Okay, tonight sucks. Tomorrow will be better.”
You’re not allowing yourself to get swept up in the craving. Think of it as a chronic condition. Some days are hard. You sleep it off and the next day, you carry on.
Every day won’t be hard. That’s the important thing to remember.
7. Return to your WHY.
If you’ve been journaling throughout your sobriety, chances are you’ve written down your reasons for sobriety.
Go back to them. Breathe them in.
If you haven’t written them down before, do it now.
There’s a reason you decided to get sober. What made you choose it? Think about the damage alcohol has done to your life, no matter how big or small. Why go back to that?
When you get consumed by a strong craving, it is easy to forget what’s really at stake.
Going back to your reasons is one way to break the spell. Of course, it’s possible that your addictive voice will chime in with reasons why you’re wrong about drinking or sobriety.
Ignore all that.
Refocus your attention on all the wonderful things sobriety can deliver that alcohol could never. Think about your goals. Take a time out from the craving to remember why you stopped drinking to begin with.
It will help.
If this is difficult for you, try watching some Ted Talks or other motivational videos that deal with craving and alcohol addiction. These videos can help you reconnect to your WHY in moments you don’t know where to find it.
Here’s an example of a video you might find useful:
Moving Forward From Cravings
Through all the internal negotiation and exhausting mental battles, it’s easy to forget how incredible it feels to go through all of that and STILL stay sober.
Honestly, what a feat!
Bad days, mega cravings, crazy days – they’re all part of the process. You’re not doing anything wrong if you experience them.
Recognize that cravings are ALWAYS temporary, stay connected to your reasons for sobriety, and actively employ strategies to deal with them. You’ll be fine and we’ll be here to cheer you on the entire way, my friend.