Alcohol Cravings

Alcohol cravings are a risk of relapse for those struggling with alcohol addiction. Understanding cravings and avoiding triggers is crucial for recovery.

Recovery from alcoholism can be difficult and requires mental and physical support. Alcohol use disorder is the most common substance use disorder in the United States, with 14.1 million people over the age of 18 diagnosed in 2019. Alcohol cravings can occur when someone addicted to alcohol stops drinking, and it is a risk for relapse. Understanding alcohol cravings and avoiding triggers is crucial for recovery from an alcohol use disorder.

Table of Contents

What Are Alcohol Cravings?

Alcohol cravings occur when someone is addicted to alcohol. Alcohol cravings are described as a powerful urge to drink alcohol coupled with constant thoughts about getting and drinking more alcohol. According to research, alcohol cravings play a large part in the continued abuse of alcohol. 

Why Do I Crave Alcohol?

Alcohol cravings can happen due to external and internal triggers. External triggers include situations, people, or places, while internal triggers are linked to someone’s emotional state, such as anger or sadness and physical symptoms related to alcohol withdrawal.

The strongest trigger of alcohol relapse is alcohol cravings. Alcohol use can trigger the reward center of the brain, making someone feel happy or content while drinking. This can lead to the brain “craving” alcohol when it is not being used, to recreate those happy feelings. 

How Long Do Alcohol Cravings Last?

There is no set timeline for the length of alcohol cravings. It is specific to each person who is working towards recovery from alcohol use. During alcohol withdrawal, cravings can occur frequently and with high intensity. Withdrawal symptoms, including cravings, can begin as soon as a few hours after the most recent drink. 

Alcohol cravings come and go and depend on many factors, such as:

  • Length of abstinence from alcohol
  • Presence of alcohol
  • Stressful life situations
  • Presence of support systems

How to Stop Alcohol Cravings

Alcohol cravings can be hard to manage, especially during the early phases of abstinence from alcohol use. Some techniques and interventions can help reduce alcohol cravings and maintain abstinence from alcohol. 

Outpatient Treatment & Support Groups

The early phases of recovering from alcohol abuse are some of the most crucial to overall recovery. Environments like outpatient treatment or support groups can be helpful in reducing and managing alcohol cravings.

Outpatient treatment options can include:

  • Rehab
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Medication management

Participating in a support group like Alcoholic Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or Al-ANON are all beneficial if you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol abuse and alcohol cravings. Support groups provide people and their families a place to receive consistent encouragement from those who have also had an alcohol use disorder. 

These services are meant to help someone who is suffering from alcohol cravings identify their triggers, manage symptoms and have support to stay in recovery. Outpatient services and support groups address mental and physical addiction symptoms of alcohol abuse and provide long-lasting support. 

Identifying Triggers for Alcohol Cravings

One of the best ways to help reduce alcohol cravings is to identify situations that may increase the risk of craving alcohol. Alcohol cravings can be triggered by many different things, including physical, mental and emotional situations, including: 

  • Emotional distress, like being happy or sad
  • Places that you used to drink
  • Positive or negative experiences, like a job promotion or being fired
  • People you drank with
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms
  • Lack of support
  • Physical or mental health

Being aware of the triggers for alcohol cravings is the best way to avoid situations that increase the likelihood of drinking. Therapists, doctors, friends and family can all help support someone who is actively working to avoid triggers of alcohol cravings. 

Supplements for Alcohol Cravings

For those who want to supplement their recovery with natural remedies, certain supplements may be beneficial in regaining health and reducing alcohol cravings. 

Herbs such as milk thistle, dandelion and kudzu have all been used to help reduce alcohol cravings and heal the body from the effects of alcohol abuse. People who are addicted to alcohol are often nutrient deficient and can benefit from taking vitamins as well. Vitamins A, B, C and amino acids have been recommended by doctors for those who are in treatment for their alcohol abuse. 

Foods That Stop Alcohol Cravings

Nutrition can be a critical aspect of recovery from alcohol addiction and controlling alcohol cravings. Creating a wholesome food routine can help those who are recovering from alcohol addiction physically and mentally. 

Avoiding sugar can help reduce alcohol cravings. When alcohol is metabolized by the body, it is turned into sugar and can cause blood sugar fluctuations. When someone consumes food or sugar as a substitute for alcohol, it can cause the same ups and downs in blood sugar, which can mimic the same effects as an  alcohol sugar imbalance.

Reducing caffeine, increasing protein and whole foods and eating at regular times are all helpful in healing the body after continued alcohol use and in reducing cravings associated with alcohol recovery.

Medications For Alcohol Cravings

For those who need additional support managing alcohol cravings, certain medications have been shown to help reduce alcohol craving symptoms. There are three common medications prescribed by a physician or psychiatrist to help manage alcohol craving symptoms:

  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone is most effective when it’s combined with counseling and after any medically acute treatment, such as during withdrawal. It may help reduce the craving for alcohol and help prevent drinking. Naltrexone works by blocking receptors in the brain that make you feel alcohol’s effects. 
  • Acamprosate: Acamprosate helps reduce alcohol cravings by working to restore the brain’s chemical balance. This medication is most effective when used in combination with counseling. 
  • Disulfiram: Disulfiram discourages someone from drinking by causing nausea and vomiting when alcohol is consumed. This medication can be helpful when first abstaining from alcohol as it may help deter someone from drinking. 

Alcohol Cravings and Relapse Risk

Alcohol cravings can make recovery from alcohol use disorder difficult. The number of people, places and situations that can trigger alcohol cravings could feel endless, and this is especially dangerous in the early phases of recovery when a strong support system and coping mechanisms may not be in place.

Someone who is in the earlier stages of recovery is at higher risk of alcohol cravings and relapse due to withdrawal. Due to the intense nature of alcohol cravings, it may feel impossible for someone to ignore cravings. They may continue to drink to satisfy that craving and ease withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment And Rehab

There are a lot of different options for people who are suffering from alcohol use disorder and alcohol cravings. Treatment centers like The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper have a few different treatment options to treat alcohol addiction, including:

The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offers a full continuum of care for those looking for substance use treatment. Their inpatient and outpatient services include:

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol cravings or alcohol addiction, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper has licensed medical professionals and certified support staff that can help. Reach out today to learn more about coverage for treatment and what options are available to you.

Get Help

If you or someone you love is facing an alcohol use disorder, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper can help. We offer medical detox and comprehensive rehab programs that are tailored to suit your needs.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.