Seven Ways to Control Cravings

Brain active neuronsJust one drink. Just one. Or two. Just a couple of drinks and that maddening voice will shut up and you can get on with your day.

Fortunately, there are a number of healthier responses to the cravings for alcohol.

   .     Thinking differently A big part of addiction and the cravings it leaves in its wake is thinking of yourself as an addict and doubting your ability to stay sober. You need to retrain your brain. Make a list of your reasons for wanting to change and keep it close at hand to remind you whenever cravings hit. Have someone you can talk to whenever you need a sounding board. Argue with yourself: tell your mind to STOP the circular thinking, reply firmly that you have made a commitment to yourself and you won’t be talked out of it.

   .     Support ­ You have a lot to process at this point in your life. It will be very helpful if you can talk to someone who is further along on the recovery process or a therapist or support group or even an online forum. What feels overwhelming (Just one drink!) when you’re on your own loses its steam when you are surrounded by people who want you to succeed. Do not go into this battle on your own.

   .     Keeping busy When you were drinking heavily, you may have abandoned any other amusements. Now that you’re sober and avoiding your drinking buddies, time can weigh heavily on your hands and the drinking voice rings loudly in that void. Now is the time to re-open your world, take a class you had never thought of, join a group that is pursuing interests, go back to old skills and perfect them.

   .     Eating right Food can provide real, physical relief from cravings. First of all, eat. If you become too hungry, your blood sugar will drop and your cravings will shriek for attention. Sugar will likely be top of the list, but choosing complex carbohydrates instead (whole grains, yams, broccoli, zucchini, legumes, milk) will prevent spikes in satiety and an abrupt return to cravings. In addition to sugar, caffeine is another food to avoid, as both have been shown to increase alcohol cravings. Supplements may be beneficial, too. There is evidence that alcoholism creates a deficit in B vitamins.

   .     Exercise Exercise is a great solution for any number of problems, but is especially helpful with alcohol cravings. Exercise causes your brain to release the neuroendocrine transmitter dopamine, producing a brief high similar to that from alcohol. One caution, exercise can also become an addiction so be careful not to overdo in pursuit of the new healthy high.

   .     Medication Three medications are most commonly prescribed to recovering alcoholics. Two of these, Antabuse and Naltrexone (Revia, Depade, Vivitrol) make alcohol consumption unpleasant or unintoxicating and so discourage use. Camprosate (Camoral) does claim to directly reduce alcohol cravings. One study has found that obese patients who have undergone gastric bypass and gastric banding surgery reported a significant drop in alcohol cravings as a result of the surgery.

   .     Relaxation Stress is a great trigger for cravings, as are anxiety and anger. There are several techniques to chase stress away:

Find a quiet, comfortable space and take deep, slow breaths while attempting to keep your mind empty

Make yoga or the slow, smooth movements of tai chi a daily routine

Concentrate on tensing and relaxing one muscle after another, from your toes to the top of your head

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a peaceful place; focus on details.

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