Self-care and self-awareness are two key components for coping with alcohol cravings and navigating your life in recovery. By taking better care of yourself and becoming more aware of your own behaviours, you can avoid returning to previous problematic coping strategies.
In early recovery, you will face situations and experience feelings that might trigger your cravings. The most important thing to remember about cravings is that they will pass.
There are a few things you can do to prevent them and help you cope as time goes on.
In early recovery the word HALT is a handy acronym for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. When in doubt you should pause and ask yourself “am I experiencing any of these feelings?” This short word can be a powerful reminder to keep your system emotionally and physically regulated.
Hungry: When was the last time you ate something? Hunger is a physical and sometimes emotional need. This may seem obvious but sometimes you need a gentle reminder to eat regularly. This will help regulate your system and meet your nutritional needs, allowing your body to function its highest level. This hunger may not be related to nutrition, but emotion. Having the right people around you can feed your soul and ease emotional hunger that you may be feeling, hunger for connection or even just human contact. In the past, you may have turned to alcohol to ease this feeling, however, it’s important to remember that doing so won’t fulfil the emotional emptiness that you’re feeling. Instead, find something wholesome to eat with a good friend or loved one.
Angry: Intense feelings and emotions can be the biggest trigger in returning to use again. Whilst anger is a healthy emotion to experience, when agitated, pause before acting. You may be experiencing a build-up of resentment which may in turn trigger alcohol cravings. Channelling this emotion into a healthy expression such as a creative project, meditation, writing, singing, can be a great way to expel the intense energy. Seeking outside help from someone objective can also help to right-size the situation and give you options you may not have thought of.
Lonely: the opposite of addiction is connection. It is vital in early recovery to build and strengthen connections with people who support your recovery. These people may be family, loved ones, and hopefully others who are also in recovery. Having a support system is crucial for when you find yourself feeling down, anxious, overwhelmed. Isolation is often a huge trigger for many people, and once alcohol cravings kick in, you may find it harder to resist the urge to drink.
Tired: Being tired can take its toll on our mind, body and spirit. Running low on energy will compromise your ability to think clearly and make sensible decisions. It’s hard enough being early in recovery, so ensuring you are well rested, and rejuvenation is key to physical and emotion wellbeing.
Meditation and mindfulness are two incredibly valuable tools to utilise when in recovery. Practicing these techniques can help reduced alcohol cravings and the urge to act out. Both methods are great for maintaining a sense of calm in stressful situations. Being aware of your actions can help you recognise cravings as thoughts and use mindfulness to allow cravings to pass without action. These techniques can be used when you are having alcohol cravings, or to help you learn to deal with future cravings.
- Positive Action
Having a plan of action that can be referred to at any stage of your recovery will always be helpful. Your plan could include:
- Reminding yourself that cravings only last, on average, fifteen minutes
- Doing something, however small, as soon as you first become aware of the craving. This could be a phone call with someone in recovery or a walk to clear the mind.
- Use simple thought-changing techniques such as listing things you can smell, see, touch and hear.
- Challenge these alcohol cravings. Ask yourself what emotions you’re really experiencing. Are you upset? Bored? Angry?
Action is crucial; you should never allow yourself to sit with the craving and hope that it will just go away. It won’t.
- Keeping Track
Keeping track of where and when you get the urge to drink will help you identify your triggers in future. By doing so, you will know which situations to avoid and what to expect if you do find yourself getting cravings.
By tracking these cravings, you will soon come to realise that they don’t occur as often as you think they do. What many people fail to realise is that thinking about drinking during early recovery is perfectly normally. Going through treatment won’t remove these thoughts, and while they might cause you some anxiety and emotional discomfort at first, you shouldn’t fear them. If you keep track of every time your thought becomes a craving, you might realise it’s actually a pretty rare occurrence.
Alcohol cravings in early sobriety can be very hard to overcome. Taking the time to plan your response by learning some simple techniques, to help you cope with alcohol cravings will make all the difference.