Giving up alcohol: dealing with a craving
Even if you're not suffering from a full-blown physical addiction, it is not uncommon to use alcohol to deal with uncomfortable feelings and for some, this may tip into an emotional dependence.
Wherever you are on the scale, it can be hard to resist the desire to drink, so here is a list of useful tips and suggestions (although it is by no means comprehensive), that may help if you are trying hard not to drink, but are finding that you want to.
Make a plan
It can help to have a plan for when a craving hits: make a list of things that might help, and carry it with you or put it somewhere easily accessible to you for when you want to drink. For example, if you usually drink at home alone, you could leave it in a drawer, or if you're a pub drinker, you might want to have it on you so you can look at it when the thought or feeling hits.
Know your danger zones, when do you usually want to drink. Include this in your plan.
For example, we are creatures of habit; if you always have a drink when you sit in your favourite chair in front of the telly after a long day at work, when you do sit down at the end of the day in that chair, you'll probably want a drink. Shake it up; sit somewhere else, call someone instead of watching television, read a book, do out to dinner with a friend, ask someone over. Just changing the pattern can help disrupt the desire to drink.
In the moment:
Get busy! Clean something (even if it's only your shoes), go for a run, a brisk walk, do something creative, do your accounts. Anything, as long as it gets you out of yourself.
Call someone safe – choose someone who is supportive of your desire to not drink, and who doesn't trigger difficult feelings in you.
Eat something sweet. There's a lot of sugar in alcohol so sometimes this can help.
Think of the craving as a wave. And just like a wave, when it is at it's strongest is usually when it's just about to break.
Remember: The feeling will pass, whether you drink or not.
Just don't drink today. If you can't do that, just don't drink this hour, this ten minutes, this minute, this second.
If you can't just not drink, can you put it off? Can you promise yourself that if you still want to drink this intensely in an hour, later that day, or tomorrow, that you will have one? Usually the feelings will have passed by then, and you'll have another day under your belt.
Have a physical reminder of why you are not drinking to help you ride the wave: a photograph, a diary entry, write yourself a list of consequences/costs/things you want to achieve by not drinking. Anything will do, as long as you can take it out when you're feeling the desire to drink.
Connect/re-connect with the things that drinking prevented you from doing. Build something in alcohol's absence that is worth hanging on to.
Notice how much money you're saving by not drinking. If you can afford it, treat yourself to something nice.
Build a network of supportive people around you, even if 'just' online. You will have moments of weakness, that's normal and to be expected, so you need your network.
Don't beat yourself up if you do slip; analyse what went wrong, and what you might do differently next time.
Look for patterns
You can look for emotional patterns: trace back to what happened in the moment you started to want to drink, look for thoughts and feelings that seemed to trigger or coincide with the desire to drink. These can be uncomfortable, like anger, fear or sadness, or happier feelings; excitement, connection and joy. You may want to hide from a feeling, or make it stronger or stay longer.
It might be that you need to take action: to set a boundary, make an apology / amend your behaviour, do something that you've been putting off. Or it may be that you need to sit with yourself while you feel that uncomfortable thing that you've been avoiding.
Longer term work
Is there anything longer term that you need to tackle? Some people really struggle in social situations without alcohol, for example, or lack confidence or self-esteem. Some people find intimacy difficult, or are in an unhappy situation that they are drinking to avoid facing. If so, this might be where therapy could be useful, to help you find your way forward and to give you support as you do.
If you are really struggling, either drinking again and again when you don't want to, or finding yourself really adrift once you've stopped, it may be that you need other help. If you've experienced trauma, for example, you might find this resurfacing when you stop drinking or using, which can be really hard to deal with alone.
There are plenty of low cost charities across the country that provide support to those struggling with alcohol and substance misuse. Your GP can be a useful resource too, as can the anonymous fellowships, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Therapy can also be a useful source of support.
Note: if you are physically addicted to alcohol, it can be dangerous to go through physical withdrawal and you should seek medical advice and supervision for this. If you're not sure whether you're physically addicted but suspect that you might be, please do go and see your GP.
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.
About Jo Baker
An experienced UPCA registered psychotherapeutic counsellor, Jo specialises in individual therapy for women. She has worked with survivors of domestic and sexual violence for a number of years in various projects. She now works from her private practice in Lewes, East Sussex, and also for a low cost counselling service in Brighton.