How I Confront Alcohol Cravings In Recovery

By Matt Maraynes, writer and filmmaker

I’m sitting about twenty feet from some beer. What might be inconsequential to the average person is, for someone who has struggled with alcohol abuse like me, like being in the lion’s den. Drinking poses a serious risk to my wellbeing, and being around alcohol ignites one of the most unpleasant psychological states someone like me can endure: craving. When cravings to drink flare up, it can feel like my mind has been covered with metaphorical poison ivy. It burns interminably, but it’s essential that I don’t give in. And I won’t. But how?

Sometimes there’s an overt cause for craving, like the smell of whiskey and beer wafting out of a bar, or a character in a movie unwinding with a glass of wine. Often, though, there isn’t a tangible trigger other than my own inner world and its host of usual suspects — restlessness, anxiety, boredom, and loneliness, to name a few. It’s emotional pain, and I want that pain gone as swiftly as possible. One brief thought of drinking quickly multiplies. Every cell in my body anticipates how a drink will extinguish the inner torment with exceptionally swift efficacy. That is, of course, until it inevitably makes things worse. So, here’s how I crush the craving.

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I remember why I don’t drink

Acknowledging the likelihood that I will regret drinking can be a strong deterrent. If you have made a conscious decision to change your relationship with alcohol, then surely your drinking leads to unwanted consequences. How many more times do I want to have a talk with my parents about why I drove drunk, or review a slew of ill-advised text messages from the night before? How many more exorbitant bar receipts do I want to find crumpled and buried in coat pockets? Can I remember that alcohol always (always) exacerbates my depression and leaves me feeling worse than I did before I picked up the bottle?

Someone with longer sobriety than I put it best when he told me that he never woke up after a night of drinking and felt glad that he had done it. Though it can be painful, remembering those regrets is a powerful tool in my ‘I won’t drink today’ toolkit.

Crossing The Street

I stay busy

Distraction is also crucial. I like to write, and always have a journal within reach. When the cravings descend, I write about my experience, how discontented I feel, and how badly I want to drink. I don’t sugarcoat my feelings or try to run from them. Often I just write the same word over and over again (like “Wait,” or “Don’t”). It doesn’t really matter what I write; the pages fill, and I don’t drink.

Going for a walk, a run, or bike ride works well; a change of scenery is often enough to recontextualize your desire. You could attend a support group, or call a friend who understands what you’re going through. Take a class, or take up a hobby. Play a game. Volunteer and listen to music. Nap. Watch a movie, clean your apartment, and read. If you’re able to and interested, attend therapy. Drink some tea and chug water. Lots of water. Journal about your cravings, write out how you feel. Cook yourself a healthy meal, or indulge in some sweets. Search the internet for tips on how to manage cravings (and wind up here!); I always find a sense of catharsis and camaraderie in knowing how many other people are on this journey with me.

Chew gum and hug a loved one. Hug a stranger. Hug yourself. I imagine you get the point: when in the throes of a craving, there is a near-infinite array of activities and exercises you can dive into instead of drinking. Plan these for your “witching hour” when cravings usually sink in. Get ahead of the cravings. You are more powerful than them.

I give myself a important reminder

While a full schedule can be incredibly helpful in warding off cravings, it doesn’t always do the trick. And the reality of managing cravings is that there’s no silver bullet. Cravings can feel like moving targets or viruses that evolve and adapt in step with your growth, with no permanent vaccine.

Here’s the important reminder: this too shall pass.

Ocean Waves

When it comes to cravings, the common denominator to all of this advice is the experience of passing time, of waiting. Cravings come in waves and in the end, they are just feelings like any others. Start by waiting for one second, just one, and then give yourself another. Count if you have to, like you’re counting sheep. No matter what you’re doing instead of drinking, even if you’re lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, that second will become minutes, and minutes will become an hour. Sooner than you think, the waves will subside. Time suffocates cravings.

I was craving alcohol when I started writing this article. I took my own advice, for sure, but when push came to shove, I simply had to wait and weather the storm’s waves. I wrote, did something that turned me away from the craving long enough for it to pass. And when the waves went flat, as they always do, I was left standing alone with the most beautiful view. I’d describe it for you, but words wouldn’t really do it justice. If you’re struggling with a craving, give it some time. You’ll see for yourself.

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

About the Author

Matt MaraynesMatt Maraynes is a New York City-based writer and filmmaker. He is also in recovery, and hopes that sharing his story will help others feel a little less alone as they work to cultivate meaningful lives without alcohol. His personal work can be found at mattmaraynes.com
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