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What Do Alcohol Cravings Feel Like, and How Do I Overcome Them?

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There is a concept in 12-Step recovery known as the “three-fold disease” or the “three-part illness.” It is the belief that addiction can be broken down into three parts. One is the “physical cravings.” Two is the “obsession of the mind.” Three is what is known as the “spiritual malady.” Many believe that all three of these parts also make up the whole of alcohol cravings.

What Exactly Are Alcohol Cravings?

Alcohol cravings are pretty straightforward on the surface. They represent an individual’s need for alcohol when they don’t have any. Of course, as with any aspect of addiction, it is much more complex than that.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and their Rethinking Drinking program, “The words ‘urge’ and ‘craving’ refer to a broad range of thoughts, physical sensations, or emotions that tempt you to drink, even though you have at least some desire not to. You may feel an uncomfortable pull in two directions or sense a loss of control.” This is important because it points out that cravings are not solely physical. However, the physical aspect of alcohol cravings should not be overlooked either.

Understanding the Physical Aspects of Alcohol Cravings

It is recommended that in early recovery we should keep something sweet on us at all times. This is because our physical body is so used to the extreme amount of sugar and calories that are in alcohol. Many people do not realize how many carbohydrates are in alcohol, and the newly sober body can feel very depleted without them.

Our bodies have also become dependent on the ethyl (chemical) component of alcohol. So, when that goes away, we are also going to feel a significant amount of discomfort. Luckily the physical cravings tend to dissipate early on in recovery.

However, our mind is very cunning. It can make us feel as though we are having a physical craving, simply by thinking about alcohol. It is a Pavlovian response because we have habitually used alcohol for so long. This is also part of the “obsession of the mind” aspect of alcohol cravings.

Understanding the “Obsession of the Mind”

Many people believe that the most prevalent part of alcohol cravings is the mental aspect. This is because we often think about a drink long before we ever take one.

But, what exactly is a mental relapse? According to the peer-reviewed write-up, alcohol Relapse Prevention, “Signs of a mental relapse include craving a substance, thinking about people/places/things associated with their use in the past, exaggerating the positive aspects of past use and/or minimizing the consequences of past use, lying, bargaining, trying to plan ways to use while still maintaining control, seeking opportunities to relapse, and planning a relapse.”

It is the mental obsession that causes many people to believe that a relapse happens long before the first physical drink ever happens. Then the physical part of the disease kicks in, because, with addiction, “one is too many, and a thousand is never enough.” This is why we need some tools to overcome the mental obsession before it becomes too strong.

Tools to Overcome Alcohol Cravings

Perhaps the best tool we possess to combat alcohol cravings is the telephone. When an alcohol craving comes up, it is best to call someone else in recovery and tell them about it. Doing so often helps the cravings dissipate because our minds must focus on the conversation. This is also why having a strong sober network is so important.

Another important tool for managing alcohol cravings is the acronym H.A.L.T. This stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. When we H.A.L.T., we stop and go through this list to see if we are struggling with any of these issues. Usually, it is one, some, or all of them. Then they are broken down so we can address them. If we are hungry, getting some calories in us for example.

The final tool for managing alcohol cravings is working with another person in recovery. The primary text of 12-Step recovery (known as the “Big Book”) tells us that “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.” When an alcohol craving comes up, helping someone with their problems often helps us to forget about our problems (in this instance, the problem of a craving).

Healing “One Step at a Time” With Lantana Recovery

When it comes to recovery and alcohol cravings, it is important to take it “One step at a time.” Yes, many people push back against this truism of 12-Step recovery because they feel it is overused. But, the thing about a truism is; that it is true!

Here at Lantana Recovery, we know that alcohol cravings can be tough, but we also know that they will pass if we take action and do the next right thing. Recovery is within reach. We can help get you there.

Cravings for alcohol can seemingly creep up out of nowhere. This is especially common in early recovery. It is important to remember that cravings are natural in recovery and that they will pass. There are also certain tools and exercises that can help when cravings strike. These include pausing, eating (especially some sugary calories), getting some sleep, and calling a “fellow” in recovery. If you are struggling with cravings or any other issue of addiction or mental health, we can help you on your road to successful long-term recovery. For more information on alcohol cravings and how to overcome them, please reach out to Lantana Recovery today at (866) 997-2870.

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Charleston South Carolina

Charleston South Carolina

Located on the historic peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina, Lantana Recovery takes a modern approach to Substance Use Disorder treatment, offering intensive clinical care while also immersing our clients in local Charleston culture.