Cravings are temptations that can be very difficult to control and are quite a struggle to resist. But the real question is: will you give in?
Imagine this: A party is in full swing. People are happily chatting away, good music is playing, and alcohol flowing freely. Two angels are perched on your shoulder. One with a pitchfork urging you to take just one little sip of that alcohol. The other with the halo is trying to make you realize the hard work and discipline you’ve had to put it in to reach sobriety. Cravings are temptations that can be very difficult to control and are quite a struggle to resist. But the real question is: will you give in?
Craving is described as an intense, uncontrollable, urgent or abnormal desire or longing. Psychology Today also describes it ” as an overwhelming emotional experience that takes over your body and produces a unique motivator of behavior – wanting and seeking a drug.
Alcohol cravings can turn into very intense and powerful urges, especially during early recovery. However, it is short-lived, controllable, and predictable. Nevertheless, it is always best practice to know your triggers and hatch an effective strategy to extract yourself from its deadly claws.
Triggers can be caused by external and internal factors:
External triggers are defined as ” people, places, things, or times of day that offer drinking opportunities or remind you of drinking.” They are more obvious, predictable, and avoidable.
Internal triggers are spur of the moment. It can be set off by fleeting thoughts and strong emotions like excitement, frustration, and nervousness. Stress, headache, and tension have also been found to trigger alcohol cravings and increase susceptibility to early relapse.
Both internal and external cues are powerful enough to evoke the memory of the euphoric effects of alcohol. This can “set off an appetitive urge, similar to hunger, in the alcoholic. Similarly, the memory of the discomfort of alcohol withdrawal could also produce a craving for alcohol.”
The Brain is the Culprit
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) appeals to the pleasure centers of the brain. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
Alcohol consumption may initiate the process of reinforcement by activating a “reward center” located deep within the brain. The reward center is linked to other brain areas involved in aspects of emotion, learning, and memory. Interactions among these sites could account for the processes by which emotion-laden memories of past positive drinking experiences become associated with cues, and exposure to such cues can activate the reward center in the absence of alcohol, potentially leading to craving during abstinence. The reward center also communicates with brain areas that appear to underlie higher intellectual (i.e., cognitive) functions such as judgment and decision-making. Because of this, heavy drinking may ultimately impair conscious processes that support the ability to cope with drinking urges.
Cravings can also develop because of withdrawal or the presence of a trigger. When we withdraw from alcohol, “the suppression of certain neurochemicals will make the brain demand more alcohol so it can reach homeostasis or its normal state of functioning (where alcohol is now deeply involved).”
Reward chemicals like dopamine are also responsible for alcohol cravings. When drinking, the brain releases happy hormones and these will associate drinking with sensations like euphoria, relaxation, and loss of inhibitions. So when exposed to a cue or stimulus that triggers the drinking memories, the brain will beg for more reward chemicals.
This exposure to cues and triggers ” may also lead to the activation of certain “automatic” cognitive functions, resulting in repetitive, unwanted thoughts about alcohol. These automatic thoughts are the cognitive equivalent of unconscious craving.”
Curb your Cravings
There are several effective ways to curb alcohol cravings or treat alcohol abuse. Depending on the triggers, one can come up with a smart strategy to steer clear of alcohol cravings.
The Sinclair Method has shown wonders, too. According to the Sinclair Method, using naltrexone one hour before drinking blocks the euphoric effects of alcohol and subsequent excessive consumption once drinking starts.
Naltrexone works by ” decreasing the reinforcing effects of alcohol in the neural pathways of the brain by blocking opiate receptors which then block the effect of endorphins.” Over time, the brain gradually learns to separate alcohol from the reward of intoxication, thus effectively eliminating alcohol cravings.
Seeking support groups and professional therapy is also a good place to jumpstart your recovery journey. Your best bet is Heal@Home which is an online therapy program that can help safely manage your alcohol consumption. Heal@Home’s certified counselors and revolutionary approach to alcohol abuse is the winning combination that can ultimately get your life back on track.
There is no one miracle cure. But a healthy dose of therapy programs combined with medication may just be what you need to give recovery a chance.