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How to Deal With Alcohol Cravings in Early Recovery

therapist and patient discussing alcohol cravings in early recovery

Alcohol addiction is complex and multifaceted, and the recovery process can be equally nuanced. Dealing with alcohol cravings in early recovery may be one of the most challenging parts. These cravings can range from mild urges to intense compulsions and pose significant barriers to successful recovery. However, one can successfully manage and overcome the nature of these cravings, recognizing their triggers and developing effective coping mechanisms.

Understanding Alcohol Cravings in Early Recovery

Alcohol cravings in early recovery are a natural part of the recovery process. When an individual has been dependent on alcohol for an extended period, the brain becomes accustomed to its presence and adapts accordingly. When alcohol is suddenly removed, the brain's biochemical balance gets disturbed, leading to cravings.

Cravings and Neurochemistry

Alcohol dependence alters the balance of various neurotransmitters in your brain, impacting the brain's reward system. When alcohol is consumed, it triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to these increased dopamine levels and adjusts to this "new normal." This adaptation process is why, when alcohol is suddenly removed from the system, the brain experiences a dopamine deficit, which can trigger cravings.

In addition to dopamine, alcohol also affects GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) and glutamate, neurotransmitters responsible for inhibitory and excitatory signaling in the brain. GABA slows down brain activity, leading to feelings of relaxation, while glutamate speeds it up. Regular alcohol consumption suppresses glutamate and enhances GABA function, contributing to the sedative effects of alcohol. During withdrawal, this balance is disrupted, causing hyperactivity in the brain's neural networks, often manifesting as anxiety, restlessness, and agitation.

Physical Cravings

Physical cravings are your body's response to the absence of alcohol. The physiological changes that occur as a result of alcohol dependence lead to a range of withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption is stopped. These symptoms can include tremors, sweating, nausea, insomnia, and in severe cases, seizures, and hallucinations. These symptoms can create a physical craving for alcohol as the body seeks to alleviate these unpleasant experiences.

Psychological Cravings

On the other hand, psychological cravings stem from the mind's association of alcohol with positive emotions or relief from negative ones. Alcohol can become a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, or other emotional distress. As a result, your mind may start craving alcohol in situations where you previously used it to cope. For instance, you might start craving alcohol when you're feeling stressed or when you're in a social setting where you previously used to drink.

Identifying Triggers

A crucial step in managing alcohol cravings in early recovery is identifying what triggers them—advise Archstone Behavioral Health experts in addiction treatment. Common triggers can be stress, social pressure, exposure to alcohol, or even certain places and people associated with drinking. Once you understand what sparks your cravings, you can take proactive steps to avoid these triggers or develop strategies to deal with them effectively.

Developing Coping Mechanisms

Here are some effective strategies to cope with alcohol cravings:

  • Mindfulness and meditation: Mindfulness is about staying present and acknowledging your thoughts and feelings without judgment. This can help manage cravings by recognizing them as transient feelings that will pass.
  • Distraction: Engaging in a different activity can often alleviate cravings. This could be a hobby, exercise, reading, or even just a walk in the park. The key is to shift your focus away from the craving.
  • Support networks: Friends, family, and support groups can provide much-needed support during times of intense cravings. Don't hesitate to reach out for help when you need it.
  • Healthy eating and exercise: Maintaining a balanced diet and regular exercise can reduce cravings by promoting general health and well-being.

Building Resilience

It's important to note that dealing with cravings is not just about surviving each individual episode. It's about building resilience over time. The more you face and overcome these cravings, the stronger you become in your recovery journey. You're not just trying to get through the day; you're learning and growing, becoming better equipped to handle future challenges.

Practice Self-Care

This goes beyond just eating well and exercising. It also involves taking time for yourself, getting enough sleep, and managing stress. When you're feeling good physically and mentally, you'll be better equipped to handle cravings.


Keeping a journal can be therapeutic and a great way to track your progress. You can write about what you're experiencing, any triggers you've noticed, and how you feel about your recovery.

Positive Visualization

When a craving hits, take a moment to imagine the negative consequences of drinking. Then visualize the benefits of staying sober, such as improved health, better relationships, and personal growth.

Establish a Routine

An established daily routine can help prevent cravings. Structured days leave less room for boredom or aimless thinking, both of which can lead to cravings.

Replace Old Habits

If drinking is a part of certain activities, try to replace those habits with new, healthier ones. For example, if you used to enjoy a drink after work, you could replace that with a walk or a fitness class.

Try Different Therapeutic Approaches

Various therapeutic techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are effective in managing cravings. Remember that the right treatment is essential, so look into all your options and find what fits your specific needs. These therapies help you understand and change your thought patterns, leading to better control over your behavior.

Seek Professional Help

If your cravings become overwhelming, it's crucial to seek professional help. There's no shame in needing assistance, and numerous resources are available for those in recovery. This can include therapy, counseling, or medication to help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Remember, recovery is a personal journey, and what works for one person may not work for another. Don't be discouraged if something isn't helping you. Try different strategies until you find what works best for you. And most importantly, be patient with yourself. Recovery takes time, and each day you are making progress, even if it doesn't always feel like it.

Conclusion on Dealing with Alcohol Cravings in Early Recovery

Cravings can come unexpectedly and be very powerful. But with understanding, determination, and the right tools and support, you can successfully navigate through alcohol cravings in early recovery. Remember, every moment you spend resisting a craving is a victory on your recovery journey. Each victory, no matter how small it may seem, brings you one step closer to your goal of a healthier, alcohol-free life.