How I Confront Alcohol Cravings In Recovery

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.

Navigating sobriety or moderation for men

Men face a unique set of challenges in navigating sobriety and moderation. Join the discussion about gender-specific topics such as recognizing our feelings, encouraging vulnerability, and beyond. All expressions of male identity are welcome.
Check out the Schedule

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 an online alcohol 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.

How I Got Through ‘Day One’ (And You Can Too)

I’ve had so many Day Ones that I’ve lost count. They’ve followed inconsequential wine tastings and compromised career opportunities, fights with friends, and even times spent meandering my way through near-death experiences like an intoxicated Mr. Magoo.

I’ve always been terrified of confronting that first day sober. It doesn’t matter what happened to finally initiate the desire to change. Navigating Day One is essential to achieving success in your new relationship (or lack thereof) with alcohol. After all, in order to make it to Month One and Year One, you’re going to have to make it through Day One, and that’s a lot of pressure to put on twenty-four hours.

There’s always a sense of reckoning: Why do you drink, and why can you not continue to drink in the ways that you do? Questions like these can create cracks in the identity you’ve maintained. The void caused by the sudden absence of a chemical placeholder may overwhelm you with spurts of anxiety and waves of depression. It might feel like you’re reliving not just the previous day’s regret, but also that of every moment that ever led you to question your drinking. Trust me, I’ve been there.

But then there’s elation, too, and motivation and newfound confidence. A change is on the horizon, and it’s exciting. Perhaps doing the dishes unexpectedly transports you to a childhood memory you didn’t know you had, or a glance in the window’s reflection encourages you to see your face in a new way. And you have the clarity to recognize it.

Yeah, there are feelings on Day One. Lots of feelings.

I could tell you about accepting your emotions without judgment and forgiving yourself unconditionally, but that might feel like a tall order. Even practical advice (“Exercise!”) can fall flat. It often seems that on Day One, all your mind can really do is think about how much time there is left in eternity.

But here’s my secret to Day One: the only way to really get through the day is to not think about the future and what it might be like to never drink again. You must actively try to stop counting what day it is. Here applies the old adage, “One day at a time.” Avoid grand declarations of sobriety and visions of the future, and focus only on getting through this one day without alcohol, on a moment-to-moment basis. Hold on however you can, just to get through today, and you’ll see. You will.

One exercise to help get through Day One is giving yourself a sort of existential free pass. Take whatever unpleasant thoughts happen to be inundating your mind, and consciously tune them out until tomorrow. Take a break, and consider it a sort of vacation day. If you can literally take a vacation day, even better. I once took a day off work to go to the movies, and something about that experience was enough to soften the day. This little break isn’t really an act of avoidance or denial inasmuch as it is an act of recalibration. Doing something seemingly unconventional, like going against the instinct to be hard on yourself, is a wonderful symbolic gesture for the inner shift you’re initiating. It’s a conscious effort to tell yourself that you’re about to take on life from a new angle.

Here’s another secret: every day is Day One.

Every day spent deliberately choosing to not drink is a day I choose to live a healthier, fuller life. In that sense, I’ve learned to redefine just what the big, bad “Day One” really means. When you’re committed to recovering from alcohol abuse, every day is Day One. Every day has the potential for ups and downs and unexpected feelings, and every day will be an adventure.

If you’re here with me on this journey, too, I’ll say Welcome to Day One. It doesn’t matter if it’s been twelve hours or twelve years since you last drank. This day has the capacity for immense beauty and discovery. “Welcome to Day One” should be exciting and inspiring. It’s another way of welcoming you to the rest of your life.

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.