What is Craving?
Along the road to recovery, it’s important to remember that alcohol cravings are a real and navigable part of this journey. Of course, that does not mean they will not be a frustrating and disconcerting part of the process, especially if a craving emerges after a long period of sobriety. When faced with an alcohol craving, it’s essential to understand that we are not to blame for our cravings for alcohol consumption; they are an intrinsic part of the disease of addiction.
Craving can look and feel different for different people, but it will always present itself as a form of expectation when we feel the urge to drink and our bodies respond by anticipating this relief. An alcohol craving can be a sign of withdrawal, or otherwise simply caused by environment or desire. The physical symptoms of cravings are subjective, so it’s important to be able to identify the signs of craving for you when they present themselves. It’s also important to know how and when to seek help, and what first steps can be taken.
Timelines of Recovery
It’s always important to remind oneself that the recovery process looks different for many different people. Often the most difficult stages of recovery are the first few months, and it is in this period that cravings can be most prevalent and dangerous. Generally, inpatient treatment lasts for the first three months of recovery, after which point patients might decide to continue with outpatient treatment to maintain stability. Most recovering alcoholics experience strong cravings and temptation during this first phase of the recovery process. Many steps can be taken to maintain a true course, but it is particularly important to establish a physical wellness plan with a healthy dietary routine early on to foment strong mental health and ensure that cravings do not become overpowering.
After one year, these healthy habits should be mostly ingrained in one’s lifestyle, but that does not mean that cravings will not still return. In such cases, it is important for individuals in recovery to keep a strong community around them, both in terms of a supportive block of friends and family and a support group of fellow peers with whom they might meet weekly.
Learning to Cope
Given that alcohol cravings are a natural part of the recovery process, it is important to learn coping behaviors that can help deal with them as they arise. Early on in the recovery process, one may be prescribed MAT including Naltrexone, Vivitrol, or Acamprosate for craving suppression. Beyond these prescriptive measures, the process of learning to cope becomes much more personal.
One first step that can be taken, as a coping mechanism, is to try to avoid high-risk situations. These situations can be any triggering or tempting memories or associations with consumption, which can include certain types of socializing—at bars, clubs, etc. or even the memory of a great night out with friends. Avoiding high-risk scenarios is not about cutting yourself off totally from your past—some associations will be too strong to avoid. Begin by making a list of those behaviors so that they can become recognizable.
On the individual level, it’s imperative to learn other methods for relaxation and stress relief than consumption. Learning to manage one’s stress levels is an essential part of responding to the depressive episodes which may accompany the more difficult passages of recovery.
While by no means comprehensive, this should serve as a valuable guide to the first stages of dealing with alcohol cravings while on the road to recovery. It’s important to remember that cravings are a natural symptom of the disease of addiction and that there’s hope; recovery is real and manageable.
If you’re looking to seek help for alcohol addiction, Caron is here to help, with a range of inpatient and outpatient treatment options, aftercare planning, support services, and other counseling.