What Are Alcohol Cravings?

Alcohol Cravings After Quitting – How To Cope With Urges and Triggers

Navigating the path to sobriety is a journey marked by challenges. Alcohol cravings often emerge as a persistent hurdle for many. These cravings can surface during recovery and present both physical and psychological battles.

Recognizing and effectively addressing alcohol cravings is crucial for those dedicated to maintaining their hard-won sobriety. This article provides a thorough exploration of these cravings, shedding light on why they happen and offering practical steps to manage them successfully.

What Are Alcohol Cravings and Urges?

Alcohol cravings and urges are strong desires to drink alcohol that can occur when someone is recovering from alcohol addiction or trying to quit drinking. Cravings and urges are both normal and common when quitting drinking. An alcohol craving is an intense desire to consume alcohol, while an alcohol urge is an impulse to give in to the craving and drink.

Cravings and urges occur because the brain has become dependent on alcohol. When alcohol use stops, the brain experiences an imbalance in neurotransmitters and hormones. This chemical imbalance leads to cravings as the brain tries to restore balance and homeostasis. Common symptoms of alcohol cravings include:

  • A strong desire or need to drink
  • Difficulty thinking of anything else except alcohol
  • Feeling restless, irritated, or anxious
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Physical symptoms like nausea, sweating, or shaking

Alcohol cravings can be psychological or physical in nature. Psychological cravings are mental desires for the pleasure, relaxation, or escape that alcohol seems to provide. Physical cravings are caused by changes in brain chemistry and involve uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that drinking would relieve.

Why understanding and coping with cravings is important in recovery

Learning to manage and cope with alcohol cravings and urges is vital for maintaining long-term sobriety after quitting drinking. Cravings and urges can come on suddenly and intensely, especially early in recovery. Giving in to cravings and urges can lead to relapse.

It takes time for the brain chemistry to normalize again after heavy, prolonged drinking. Cravings can still occur months or years into sobriety when recovering alcoholics are triggered by stress, emotions, or environments associated with past drinking. Understanding craving patterns and having coping strategies in place helps recovering alcoholics get through temporary cravings without relapsing.

Coping with cravings and urges prevents falling into the abstinence violation effect, where a small slip leads to abandoning sobriety completely. Learning to manage cravings shows recovering alcoholics that they can overcome the urges and makes them feel empowered in their sobriety.

Common Craving Triggers

Understanding the common triggers for alcohol cravings is a pivotal step in managing and ultimately overcoming them. These triggers can vary from individual to individual, but some are almost universally experienced by those on the journey to sobriety.

By being aware of and prepared for these triggers, one can better navigate moments of vulnerability and stay committed to their recovery path.


Stress is one of the most common triggers for alcohol cravings and urges to drink. It causes the brain to release cortisol and adrenaline, which activate the brain’s reward pathway that was hijacked by alcohol addiction. To seek relief from stress, the brain starts craving the dopamine release once provided by drinking alcohol.

Common stressful situations that can trigger alcohol cravings include:

  • Pressure at work
  • Fighting with family or spouse
  • Financial problems
  • Health issues
  • Major life changes

Learning healthy stress management techniques like meditation, exercise, talking to a friend, or journaling can help minimize cravings when faced with stressful situations.


Boredom and lack of fulfillment are other common craving triggers in recovery. Drinking alcohol was likely a major pastime before getting sober. Boredom can make recovering alcoholics crave the escape and instant gratification that drinking seems to provide.

Ways to cope with boredom without alcohol include:

  • Picking up a new hobby like exercise, art, music, reading, crafting, etc.
  • Making new friends and social connections in recovery programs
  • Planning activities and keeping a busy schedule
  • Volunteering or helping others in need

Social situations

Being around other people drinking alcohol is a well-known craving trigger. Social pressure and the desire to fit in with old drinking buddies can create strong urges to drink. Alcohol cravings may spike at parties, bars, concerts, sporting events, or other social gatherings where drinking is occurring.

Ways to cope with alcohol cravings in social situations include:

  • Avoiding drinking environments in early recovery
  • Bringing a sober friend for support
  • Having an escape plan if cravings get strong
  • Ordering mocktails or non-alcoholic drinks
  • Focusing on others instead of drinking

Strategies to Cope with Alcohol Cravings and Urges

Dealing with alcohol cravings and urges can be tough, but having the right strategies can make a big difference. These methods give you practical ways to handle cravings when they hit. By using these tools, you’ll be better equipped to stay on track with your sobriety goals.

Avoiding triggers

The best way to cope with alcohol cravings is to avoid known triggers whenever possible. This may mean making major lifestyle changes to remove drinking cues and situations.

Strategies to avoid craving triggers include:

  • Avoiding bars, parties, and drinking buddies
  • Changing daily routines and habits associated with drinking
  • Removing alcohol from home and limiting access
  • Asking friends/family not to drink around you
  • Taking a different route home that doesn’t pass liquor stores

While triggers cannot always be avoided entirely, minimizing exposure helps decrease temptation and alcohol cravings over time.

Finding replacement habits

Replacing drinking behaviors with new healthy habits helps fill the void left by alcohol. Positive replacements provide an alternative to giving in to urges and cravings.

Examples of replacement habits include:

  • Exercising when a craving hits
  • Calling a sober friend when lonely or bored
  • Going to a recovery meeting when stressed
  • Drinking flavored sparkling water instead of alcohol
  • Taking up yoga or meditation for relaxation

Exercising regularly

Exercise is a healthy replacement habit that can directly help reduce alcohol cravings. Exercise naturally increases dopamine, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals. It serves as a healthy distraction and stress reliever. Aerobic exercise and strength training are especially effective.

Going for a brisk walk, run, swim, or bike ride when a craving hits can help the urge pass. Consistent exercise several times a week helps stabilize mood and manage stress.

Seeking help from a support person or sponsor

Reaching out for help when experiencing alcohol cravings can help you avoid giving in. Many recovering alcoholics have a sober friend or sponsor they can call anytime for craving support.

Talking through the craving with someone supportive helps relieve the intensity. They can offer coping suggestions, encouragement, accountability, and help talk you through the urge without acting on it. Social support provides motivation to stay strong and resist temporary cravings. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous also provide 24/7 craving support from fellow recovering alcoholics. Calling your support system when cravings hit helps reinforce that you don’t have to face them alone.

Specific Methods to Cope with Cravings

When alcohol cravings strike, having specific methods to turn to can be a game-changer. These are tried-and-true techniques that many have found helpful in pushing through the toughest moments. By mastering these methods, you’ll have a set of tools at your disposal to face cravings head-on and stay committed to your sobriety journey.

Deep breathing techniques

Taking slow, deep breaths is an effective way to calm down intense alcohol cravings. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety.

To use deep breathing for cravings:

  • Inhale slowly through your nose for 5 seconds
  • Hold your breath for 2 seconds
  • Exhale slowly through pursed lips for 5-7 seconds
  • Repeat for ten breaths or until the craving subsides

Distraction techniques

Distraction helps take your mind off the alcohol craving so it can pass. Effective distraction techniques include:

  • Going for a walk or changing locations
  • Exercising – Try pushups, jumping jacks, or squats
  • Calling or texting a sober friend or sponsor
  • Reading a book or listening to a podcast
  • Taking a shower or bath
  • Playing a game or working on a hobby
  • Watching a funny show or movie

The key is to fully shift your focus elsewhere and disrupt the craving thought pattern. Distraction works best when you engage your senses – get up and move, look at something new, listen to music, call someone, etc.

Encouragement and Motivation

Staying motivated and encouraged is essential when facing the challenges of alcohol cravings. Positive reinforcement and a strong support system can make a significant difference during tough times. By tapping into sources of encouragement and keeping your motivation high, you’ll find the strength to persevere and stay true to your sobriety goals.

Reinforcing that cravings are normal

It helps to remember that cravings are a normal part of recovery. Almost every recovering alcoholic experiences cravings. Having a craving does not mean you are weak or that your hard work has been undone.

It simply means your brain is still healing and rebalancing. Cravings are temporary and do not last forever. Each craving you overcome makes you stronger and more resilient in recovery.

Highlighting the temporary nature of cravings

When in the grip of an intense alcohol craving, it is hard to imagine the urge ever going away. But it’s important to remind yourself that cravings peak and always pass. Each one typically only lasts 5-10 minutes. Riding out the wave without giving in allows the craving to subside.

Keeping your focus on getting through just the next few minutes can help. Tell yourself, “Just get through the next 5 minutes” until the intensity decreases. Reminding yourself that cravings are only temporary and you have the power to outlast them is motivating.

Sharing success stories and motivational messages

Reading stories of others who have successfully overcome alcohol cravings can provide inspiration and hope. Many people share their craving coping strategies and victories over urges to drink.

Seeing that it’s possible to get through even the strongest cravings helps you believe you can do it, too. Positive affirmations are also helpful for motivation, such as:

  • “This craving will pass if I don’t give in.”
  • “I am stronger than any urge to drink.”
  • “I can choose to rise above this craving.”
  • “I accept this craving and let it go.”

Repeating empowering mantras helps reframe cravings as temporary events you have the power to overcome. They help boost willpower and determination to push through the discomfort until it passes.

Embracing Resilience in the Journey to an Alcohol-Free Future

Tackling alcohol cravings and urges is a pivotal step in the lifelong journey of sobriety. Recognizing and mastering your unique triggers is essential, and armed with effective strategies, you’ll be better equipped to face and conquer these challenges.

Remember, the road to recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. Your continued patience, dedication, and reliance on a strong support system will not only help you combat cravings but will also pave the way for a brighter, alcohol-free future. Every resisted urge is a testament to your resilience, propelling you towards healthier choices and the rewarding life you deserve.

MCA Staff
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