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How to Stop the Urge to Drink Alcohol

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

March 5, 2024

Table of Contents

For some people, the desire for alcohol can strike unexpectedly, at any moment of the day or night. Initially, cravings may feel insurmountable, but urges to drink are usually fleeting.

Learning how to avoid the urge to drink alcohol involves becoming aware of the root causes of cravings, identifying personal triggers, employing strategies to counteract these desires, contemplating the potential repercussions of drinking, and keeping sight of your sobriety goals. Read on to learn more about alcohol cravings and find out how to engage with compassionate care for alcohol addiction.

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What Causes the Urge to Drink Alcohol?

There are three main reasons why reducing or ceasing alcohol consumption might lead to experiencing cravings:

  1. Physiological withdrawal: Regular consumption of alcohol leads to the body developing tolerance, meaning that increased amounts are required to achieve the desired effects. This adaptation makes you more prone to withdrawal symptoms when you cut back or quit, including anxiety, irritability, nausea, headaches, and strong cravings for alcohol.
  2. Emotional and environmental triggers: Cravings can be sparked by specific situations or emotional states. For instance, being in a familiar bar where you used to drink, attending social gatherings, or vacationing can trigger the desire for alcohol. Similarly, emotional triggers like stress can provoke cravings, seeking the relaxation once obtained from drinking.
  3. Established habits: Habits, especially those formed around alcohol use, such as drinking to unwind after work or to celebrate the weekend, can be difficult to break. These habitual actions can serve as cues, prompting cravings at times previously associated with drinking.

Alcohol influences the brain both as a depressant and stimulant, prompting the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s associated with pleasure and reward-seeking behaviors, and affecting the glutamate system involved in learning, memory, and brain adaptability. The disruption of these systems alters brain function, making alcohol seem necessary for pleasure.

Beyond this, dopamine not only signals enjoyment but also motivates action, helping people pursue their goals effectively. Research indicates that dopamine plays a role in motivating both positive pursuits and avoidance of negatives, essentially rewiring the brain to interpret drinking as a rewarding experience. Consequently, this leads to a cycle where alcohol consumption alters the brain’s reward system, creating a false belief of alcohol being essential for pleasure and driving the compulsive urges known as cravings.

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How to Control the Urge to Drink Alcohol

Fighting the urge to drink alcohol involves understanding triggers, implementing coping strategies, and planning ahead. Here are some effective methods to help you stay in control:

  • Recognize triggers: Identify both external triggers (social events or certain places) and internal triggers (emotions or physical sensations) that prompt the urge to drink.
  • Avoid tempting situations: Whenever possible, steer clear of environments or situations where alcohol consumption is likely. Keep little to no alcohol at home and suggest alternative activities when socializing with friends.
  • Cope with unavoidable triggers: Develop strategies to handle urges when they arise, including reminding yourself of your reasons for cutting back or quitting, seeking support from a trusted friend, distracting yourself with healthy activities, challenging unhelpful thoughts, and riding out the urge without giving in.
  • Plan ahead: Utilize tools like urge-tracking forms and coping strategy planners to proactively manage and prepare for future urges.

By employing these techniques and remaining committed to your goals, you can gain control over the urge to drink alcohol and make positive changes in your life. Remember, seeking professional help is always an option if you find yourself struggling to manage urges effectively.

What if I Can’t Control the Urge to Drink?

If you find yourself unable to control the urge to drink, acknowledging the difficulty in managing cravings is the first step toward seeking effective strategies and support to overcome them. Here are some steps and considerations for when you’re finding it hard to resist the temptation to drink:

  • Seek professional help: Consulting with a healthcare provider or addiction specialist can offer you personalized advice and treatment options. This may include therapy, medication-assisted treatment, or enrolment in a rehabilitation program designed to address both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction.
  • Support groups: Joining a support group like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or SMART Recovery can provide you with a community of individuals who understand what you’re going through. These groups offer a platform to share experiences, challenges, and successes, fostering a sense of belonging and mutual support.
  • Identify triggers: Understanding what triggers your cravings to drink can help you develop strategies to avoid or manage these triggers. This might involve changing your routines, avoiding certain environments, or practicing stress-reduction techniques.
  • Develop healthy coping mechanisms: Replacing drinking with healthier activities or coping strategies can be beneficial. This could include exercise, hobbies, meditation, or spending time with supportive friends and family. Find alternative ways to deal with stress, boredom, or emotional distress.
  • Make a plan: Having a plan in place for when cravings hit can make them easier to manage. This might include having a list of reasons why you want to stop drinking, activities to distract yourself, or people you can call for support.
  • Consider medications: There are medications available that can reduce cravings and help manage dependence. Discussing these options with a healthcare provider can provide you with additional tools to aid in your recovery.

Recovery is a process that requires time, patience, and self-compassion. Acknowledge your progress, even if it’s not linear, and treat yourself kindly during challenging moments. Struggling with cravings doesn’t signify failure and reaching out for help and utilizing available resources can significantly increase your chances of overcoming the urge to drink and moving toward a healthier, sober life.

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Get Help Quitting Alcohol at Renaissance Recovery

If have been questioning whether you’ve been drinking too much and you don’t know how to stop the urge to drink alcohol, we can help at Renaissance Recovery Center in Huntington Beach, CA.

We can connect you with medical detox facilities in California if you require assistance withdrawing from alcohol safely. Once you have addressed the issue of physical dependence, you’ll be ready to engage with outpatient treatment at our beachside rehab.

All alcohol addictions are unique, meaning that there so single treatment is universally effective. At Renaissance, you can access a highly targeted range of therapies that include:

If you want to stop drinking, call 866.330.9449 for help from detox to discharge.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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