How to Stop Alcohol Cravings

For people living with alcohol use disorder (AUD), ending the cycle of dependence and quitting drinking alcohol for good is a more complex process than simply stopping.

If you or a loved one has ever tried to stop drinking on your own, it is incredibly likely that even if with the clearest, most resolute intentions, what followed was a struggle against physical withdrawal symptoms, societal pressures, and one of the most powerful opponents of addiction recovery: cravings.

For people in the process of healing from a substance abuse disorder, it can be hard to talk about cravings. The people around us may understand cravings as simply something like a normal ‘want’ or desire. It can be hard to get people who have never experienced cravings on this level to empathize with what can be a deeply distracting, overwhelming, nearly obsessive thought pattern that’s pushing us to undo all of our long, hard, recovery work. It doesn’t help that they often come on the strongest when we’re already stressed out and looking for ways to cope.

It’s not as simple as not acting on cravings. Addressing cravings, learning to cope with them, and modifying behavior before they happen are all fundamental parts of a successful recovery journey from AUD. In some cases, medication assisted treatment (MAT) can support clients in handling urges to start drinking again.

Alcohol Abuse in the Brain: What Causes Cravings

Long-term alcohol abuse inundates our brains with unnatural concentrations of dopamine and glutamate, rewiring the neural pathways in our brains associated with rewards, emotions, and stress. This simultaneously dysregulates our functioning when our brains are on alcohol in ways that challenge our lives, while also creating pathways in our nervous systems that light up in extreme ways when we are reminded of alcohol after our last drink.

A craving for alcohol is therefore a direct product of a neurotransmitter imbalance, but for the most part, these cravings are brought on by implicit reminders of drinking, or ‘cues’. Consider what’s going on in the present moment when we experience the urge to drink: it is generally most intensely triggered by three factors:

  • Alcohol itself
  • Environmental/situational drinking reminders (external cues)
  • Unmanaged stress

Alcohol cravings themselves are understood to be one of the lead factors that differentiate between individuals who successfully recover from alcoholism and individuals who relapse and get recaptured by alcohol addiction. Teaching coping and planning skills that manage the urge to drink in healthy ways is a determining facet of any successful AUD treatment plan.

9 Steps to Stop Cravings

Recovery from alcohol addiction is a long-term journey. Experiencing occasional desires to drink and learning how to handle those urges is key to avoiding relapse and making this process work for you long-term. Here’s our comprehensive guide on what to do both before and after a craving for alcohol occurs.

Commitment

If you’re here, you’re probably feeling ready to put the work in to stop alcohol cravings and prevent relapse, but let’s start at the very beginning. Remind yourself why you want to quit drinking.

Are you doing this because you want to reclaim your physical and/or mental health? Do you want to rebuild cherished connections with friends and family members? Did your job, finances, and relationships suffer due to your alcohol dependence? Remind yourself exactly why you don’t want to relapse in clear terms. Realizing the consequences of ‘just one more drink’ and internalizing what it could put at risk is a grounding part of the journey to cope with and stop alcohol cravings.

Know Your Triggers

If you want to relieve cravings, you need to know what is causing them in the first place.

Being around alcohol itself is, of course, a trigger for alcohol cravings, but it doesn’t stop there. Common triggers for alcohol cravings are:

  • Places: Bars and nightclubs, restaurants, the homes of particular friends
  • People: Individuals with whom you used to drink alcohol, or who glamorize heavy drinking themselves
  • Situations: Vacations, events, concerts, festivals – there are a lot of situations that involve drinking, which in turn can cause alcohol cravings.
  • Visual cues: Cravings can occur simply from seeing an alcohol ad, or watching a character in a film or television show have a drink.
  • Emotions: Many people begin drinking heavily as a way to self-medicate stress, anxiety, or other negative feelings, bringing on alcohol cravings whenever they’re feeling anxious. Alcoholics Anonymous encourages checking in with these feelings with a useful acronym: HALT (standing for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired).

It’s important to take note of what’s going on around you whenever you feel alcohol cravings come on. Not every trigger is going to be avoidable; for example, some people have situational cravings that occur after meals. Do not stop eating. Knowing what is causing your alcohol cravings can help you triage which situations you can stay away from, which ones require habit replacement, and which ones you have confident coping skills for.

Your decision to stop drinking is your own, and you don’t need to explain it to anyone. However, if you’re suffering due to a lot of external triggers in your life, but the people around you aren’t aware of it, consider how they could help you. Talking about alcoholism is hard, but anyone who cares about you will be on board to help.

Our homes can be full of environmental cues, so speak to the people you live with about your efforts to stop drinking if you haven’t already. Explain your triggers, and keep in mind that it is reasonable to ask that alcohol and drinking be kept out of shared spaces.

If someone else in your close circle is sober, you may want to suggest buddying up and looking out for each other at social events. You could do this either by going together or by checking in with one another. If you want to skip a high-risk situation entirely, you and your sober partner can support each other by planning other activities, and engaging in a shared interest together.

Audit Your Routines

When you are embarking on a sober life after a long period of alcohol abuse, you’re making a profound and fundamental change to the way you relate to yourself, your own health, and the people around you. Realistically, your new life isn’t going to be the same as the old one minus the ethanol, so don’t expect sobriety to perfectly fit into the routines and habits that you had before.

That said, it’s very easy to let your guards down before you’re ready and slide back into the same routines you had pre-recovery – inviting triggers and subsequent alcohol cravings. To avoid this, you’ll want to take stock of the situations, people, places, and behaviors that used to trigger your drinking, and assess which of these you can healthily remove yourself from.

Look at the big picture. For example, it’s not only the existence of Friday night work drinks that triggers a person who craves heavy drinking at the end of the week. This person also needs to think about how their routines and behaviors are stressing them out in the days before, bringing them to this point.

This doesn’t mean you have to up and move to a cabin in the mountains to get away from triggers but be prepared for your routines to change pretty noticeably in recovery.

Reframe

You’re probably still going to feel cravings from time to time, especially in the first six months after you quit drinking. AUD is understood as a treatable, chronic disorder with no set time limit for when its symptoms fully resolve. Stress comes and goes, and you live in a culture that unfortunately normalizes drinking alcohol to unhealthy degrees.

An alcohol craving is not something to feel guilty about or a death knell for relapse. It is just a sign that you’re in recovery. What matters is how you handle the craving when it comes.

Urge Surfing

Strong cravings are very intense, consuming experiences, and it’s not always possible to distract yourself. The good news is that they are also short-lived.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to become aware of the urge to drink when it occurs, and let yourself feel your own cravings without acting on them. When an alcohol craving comes on, withdraw yourself from any immediate access to alcohol, and then ride it out.

Pay attention to both where your thoughts go and what your body feels like. An alcohol craving may manifest as something like an itch, or you may feel a hot flash or a headache. All of these symptoms become more manageable and less scary when they’re demystified. Cravings happen, but they also stop.

Mindfulness

There are very good reasons why mindfulness is such a ubiquitous idea in the recovery community. The emotional and physical sensations associated with cravings of any kind can quickly knock us off our feet if we aren’t good at witnessing them when they happen. Mindfulness offers an easy, accessible way to build up and sustain your connection with yourself, your body, and what you’re feeling at any given moment.

When you’re being mindful, you’re drawing your attention inwards to your experience in the present, witnessing and validating what you feel without passing judgment on what it means. This skill is a muscle that you can build up in an easy, accessible way through mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness is a mindset that supports a lot of behaviors associated with successful recovery, including:

  • Knowing our triggers
  • Engaging fully with healthy activities and hobbies
  • Reframing our lived experiences of cravings when they occur non-judgmentally
  • Pursuing urge surfing

It also helps us get the most out of all the good parts of recovery. Alcohol abuse numbs us to much of life’s happy experiences, but as it leaves the system, the fog starts to roll back. Mindfulness is a practice that promotes all the positive feelings in our brains and bodies that come with recovery simply by bringing our awareness to them.

Explore Your Hobbies

Drinking alcohol stimulates the systems in our brain that deal with dopamine and pleasure, so with it gone, you need to find new healthy paths to activate those processes. This is a necessity in building a sustainable recovery and keeping alcohol cravings at bay, but it’s also one of the most rewarding parts of the journey.

Sobriety is a great time to tap into your inner child and let yourself feel excitement and enthusiasm. Reflect on the activities you used to love, the things that used to excite you, or hobbies that always inspired you but you never really put aside time to try out.

It can feel like there’s not much time to engage with activities you love nowadays, but when you cut heavy drinking (and long hangover recovery periods) from your life, you’ll find that your schedule really opens up.

Medication for Alcohol Cravings

Cravings themselves stem from a chemical imbalance left behind in an individual’s nervous systems by heavy alcohol use. In individuals who experience intense cravings, or who are not able to extract themselves from situations that trigger the desire to drink, medications can work in various ways to address these chemical imbalances in safe sustainable ways.

Research has shown that five medications can be helpful in reducing the desire to drink in individuals in recovery from alcoholism:

Acamprosate: works mildly to reduce cravings, but has the added benefit of reducing the volume of alcohol an individual drinks if they relapse. This reduces the acute health risks of drinking with a lowered tolerance.

Baclofen: A muscle relaxant with the moderate ability to reduce cravings.

Disulfiram: does not significantly alleviate cravings prior to relapse, but works by making individuals who do give in to the urge to drink severely ill, rewiring the brain’s rewards system with negative feedback and reducing cravings long-term.

Naltrexone: Available as a once-monthly injection, tablet, or implant, this medication was originally developed for opioid addiction treatment but has the promising ability to stop cravings in many types of substance use disorders in low doses.

Topiramate: an anticonvulsant medication that interacts with GABA and reduces the pleasure associated with alcohol consumption. Can be prescribed in low doses to relieve alcohol cravings.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

NP Addiction Clinics is a state-of-the-art residential addiction and mental health clinic serving clients in Port St. Lucie, Florida. We offer a full scope of evidence-based therapies and treatment modalities administered by leading specialists in holistic mental health, alcohol, and drug abuse.

If you’re ready to stop substance use for good, but are concerned about the risks posed by cravings, as well as external and internal triggers, we are uniquely poised to support your recovery. For more about our therapeutic program for alcohol abuse, treatment facilities, or to book an assessment, call us today at (888) 574-3506.

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Samantha Kelly​

Director of National Business Development & Admissions Coordinator

I am a dedicated and passionate professional with extensive experience in business development Admissions and marketing. I have an incredible passion for showing others that there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel if someone truly wants it.
Being in recovery myself I understand the struggles of addiction and alcoholism. I Started this Career path in 2009. With multiple years of experience, I bring a multi-faceted approach and am always seeking new ways to make a difference in the lives of those I work with.

Kim L. Buckner

Facilitator

As a Substance Abuse Motivational Speaker, Pastor, Peer Advocate, and Facilitator. Kim helps clients avoid relapse by understanding their triggers. Those people, places and things that can cause craving, as well as internal triggers like feelings, thoughts, or emotions. Kim also clients with identifying and building healthy relationships now that they’re clean and sober.

Kim’s background includes extensive experience as a motivational speaker and work in faith-based organizations helping youth and adults alike. He says he is motivated by giving back to the community, understanding, and not judging who she comes into contact with. Kim’s favorite quote is by Dr. Raymond Johnson: “The respect given to others rebounds to the giver to deny the scared in the Other is to deny it in oneself.”

Caty Burns

Clinician

Caty graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and minors in Counseling and History. Throughout her undergrad, she worked at the local CASA program, supporting volunteers advocating for children who had experienced abuse and neglect. Caty worked for seven years at a community mental health center (CMHC), partnering with children, adults, and families.

During those seven years, she taught life and coping skills as well as behavior management, provided case management and peer recovery services, and facilitated treatment teams that included the client, family, providers, and community members. I have also worked at an IOP providing group therapy services. She is currently working towards my Master of Social Work.

In her free time, Caty enjoys reading, especially historical fiction, spending time outdoors and having movie nights with her family. Disney World is her happy place, and she dreams of living among the elephants.

Madison Knowles

Mental Health Therapist

My name is Madison Knowles, I am a Mental health therapist at NPAC. I am a single-mother of two and I have a daughter who is globally delayed and has been diagnosed with autism. I have been in this industry since I was 16 years old, as I was fascinated with human behavior. I obtained my masters in applied behavioral analysis and started off working with people with disabilities. I then found my love for counseling when I worked with juveniles who had mental health and substance use issues. I then decided to go back for my mental health therapy license after that and working in a forensic treatment center. I went on to obtain my therapy credentials and since 2017, I have also been working on my PhD in forensic psychology in which I am currently working on my dissertation. I am inspired by change and how resilient people can be. My favorite inspirational quote is “Some will, Some won’t, So what, NEXT!!!” This quote has inspired me to try, try, and try again no matter how hard life gets, someone will give you a chance eventually. As a therapist at NPAC, I have been given the opportunity to work with diverse populations such as in substance use and mental health and I am known for my work with people on the schizophrenic spectrum as well as with other clients with other severe conditions including personality disorders.

Megan Carmona, LMHC

Lead Therapist

Our Lead Therapist, Megan, is a bilingual Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in working with adults who struggle with addiction, anxiety, depression, and trauma. As Lead Therapist, she provides individual, family, and group therapy sessions to our clients.  Megan says “I am very passionate about therapy, especially about supporting my clients in exploring their strengths and identity. My goal is to provide individuals with the tools that can help them achieve independence in coping with their challenges and facilitating personal development.” In her free time, Megan enjoys watching docu-series and playing video games with her family. Her dream is to own acres of land so she can care for vulnerable animals, especially old dogs, cats, and horses. 

Kristen Bensley

Primary Clinician

As Primary Clinician, Kristen works with all aspects of our clinical team, from case management to primary therapy.  She has broad experience working in the mental health field. Prior to joining our team at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic, Kristen was part of the team awarded the Evernorth Behavioral Health Center of Excellence Designation by Cigna. She says her motivation is to help people rediscover who they are and become excited about the future and all the possibilities life offers. Kristen’s favorite quote is: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

Ronn Daigle, MSW

Therapist, Utilization Review Clinician

Ronn Daigle services as a Therapist and Utilization Review Clinician at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic. He has been working in the field of substance use disorder treatment since 2011, with experience in all facility-based levels of care. Ronn earned, both an Associate of Arts in Psychology (2013) and Bachelor of Science in Human Services, with an Addiction Studies Concentration (2015) from Indian River State College. 

Ronn additionally earned a Master of Social Work degree in 2021 and is a current Registered Clinical Social Work Intern working toward licensure (LCSW). He describes himself as detail oriented, and solution focused.

Ronn says: “There is nothing more fulfilling than working with someone who doesn’t believe in himself or herself, and being there in the moment with them when the belief begins. We work with individuals who come to us at a point and time in their respective lives where they do not believe that change for others is possible; let alone for themselves…throughout the process they eventually come to a point where they realize that change is not only possible, but achievable.”

Erika Melecio, LMHC, MCAP, CEI

Assistant Clinical Director

Erika Melecio, LMHC, MCAP, CEI is the Assistant Clinical Director at Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic who specializes in the treatment of LGBTQ, addiction, as well as mental health disorders ranging from depression and anxiety, to Bipolar Disorder, trauma, personality disorders, psychotic disorders, and eating disorders. Erika utilizes a number of modalities including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Mindfulness amongst others. Erika has been in practice for close to a decade and has earned her license in Mental Health Counseling, as well as being a Master’s Certified Addiction Professional. Erika has worked with many individuals including couples counseling and family therapy, and is fluent in Spanish.
 
Throughout my years of practice, one of the things I enjoy helping people find is inner peace. Whether you are in the deepest parts of depression, overrun by your anxiety, controlled by your addiction, or there are certain issues in your life that are negatively impacting your ability to function, and have a happy, healthy life, maybe now is the time to talk about it. I am a big believer in empowerment, working hard in therapy, and utilizing different techniques to help you regain that inner peace that may have been lost along the way. I want to work with you as a team because with two people, absolutely everything is possible. I want to be there as a therapist, to help build you up, support you, but also help you be honest with yourself and accountable. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, my biggest goal for you is going to be simple….for you to no longer need my services. Why? Because if you no longer need my services, it means that you have regained your peace, you have regained your strength, you have regained your confidence. It means that you now have the tools to address any issues that try to derail you, and best of all, you will have the insight to overcome and thrive. So let’s begin this journey together, and get you to the place you want to be, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, and in your sobriety.

Aurelio Ayuso, MSW, LCSW, CAP, ICADC

Clinical Director

Aurelio has worked with those that suffer from the disease of addiction in adults and juveniles alike for over 10 years, beginning in the United States Navy where he proudly served for 20 years, working with those that were succumbed by addiction due to trauma and continuing his passion for helping those in need locally in Central Florida.

He specializes in both Addictions and Trauma, he has worked first as a therapist then as the clinical supervisor to both the Juvenile and Adult Drug Court programs in Brevard County. Aurelio has been instrumental in developing substance abuse treatment programs directly tailored to help those that also suffer from complex trauma due to their addiction. He has been recognized by several organizations for his forward thinking and ability to tailor treatment to individuals in the most restrictive environments.

Mr. Ayuso received his Graduate Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as Certified Addictions Professional in the State of Florida, and Internationally Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor. Aurelio specializes in the treatment of Addiction, Trauma, and Abandonment using strength based strategies deeply rooted in Solution Focused, and Mindfulness Therapies. At the Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic he passionately develops holistic curriculums that foster the belief that through addressing the mind, body, and spirit together, the Disease of Addiction can be addressed successfully.

Robert Lehmann, MHSA

Chief Operating Officer

Bob Lehmann is the Chief Operating Officer at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic. He has a Master’s Degree in Human Services Administration with a concentration in Mental Health Administration and over twenty-five years of experience as a senior executive at addiction and mental health treatment facilities.

One of the reasons for his commitment to excellence in addiction treatment was his experience related to family members who suffered from the disease of addiction. Bob has been actively involved in community organizations throughout his career. Recently he was one of the founders of the Florida Addiction Treatment Coalition (FATC) and is its present Vice President. FATC was designed to bring together treatment executives in Florida to advocate on behalf of treatment facilities and the clients they serve adhering to a foundation of integrity and service excellence.

Jose R. Toledo, M.D.

Medical Director

A well-rounded and accomplished individual, Jose R. Toledo, M.D., is the Medical Director of Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic.

Dr. Toledo is a neurologist with 25 years of experience and has been in private practice since 1991 on the Treasure Coast of Florida. He completed his neurology training at the State University of New York and his Fellowship training at the University of Pittsburgh in Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology.

He also completed 24 months of acute inpatient psychiatry at the Western Missouri Mental Health Center, University of Missouri in Kansas City. In 2008, Dr. Toledo participated in and was certified in the continuing medical education activity entitled “Buprenorphine and Office-Based Treatment of Opioid Dependence” from The Medical University of South Carolina during which began his quest to found and head Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic.

Dr. Toledo is a brain specialist with particular competence in addiction medicine and out-patient detoxification treatment and integrates the fields seamlessly. He is certified to prescribe Buprenorphine (Suboxone). He incorporates his background in neurology into the addiction field. Dr. Toledo is member/fellow of The American Medical Association, The Florida Medical Association and The American Society of Addiction Medicine