Coping with cravings

Lauren Booker | January 2018 | 7 minutes

After the initial high of the first few days off the booze, when the first flush of motivation starts to wear thin, you might start to feel cravings for a drink.

This doesn't mean you've got a problem, it's just a normal reaction to change. At first we're focused on the task at hand and brimming with enthusiasm and confidence and then, at some point, it's just the normal daily routine but with something missing.

Cravings are often not about the booze itself, but about a particular moment, trigger or emotion. When we’re stressed or upset or bored, we seek comfort. That’s natural, and if alcohol has been there for us through the hard times, then, bingo, that’s what we think we want when the going gets tough. The point is, the association with alcohol becomes just that: an association. If we can replace it with something else, then we can get through our tougher life moments and avoid the downsides that come with alcohol.

What is a craving?

Wanting a drink and having a craving are different things. If you just want a drink it’s easy to make the conscious decision to do something else. A craving, however, can be a powerful beastie, all fangs and claws, and once it gets a grip on you it can feel nigh on impossible to wrench yourself free from its clutches. At times it can feel as though you have no choice but to give in.

The good news is that you can overcome any craving. The not-so-good news is that you’re going to have to figure out for yourself what works for you. Overcoming cravings is one of the biggest tasks you need to accomplish when going dry for a month, and doing so will set you up for cutting back on your drinking longer term if you want to – so don’t shirk this task, embrace it!

Luckily, there are a few suggestions here (even more can be found in the book) to help you crush those cravings. So, read on!

How to deal with cravings

Cravings don't last forever

The more concentration and energy we give to them – thinking about how much we want a drink, what it’s going to taste like, how terrible it is to be suffering a craving – the longer cravings will last.

Here’s a brilliant fact: the average craving lasts for just six minutes. If you can find a distraction for that time, your craving will diminish.

Urge surfing

Urge surfing is a sort of mindfulness exercise. Think of the craving as a wave: it starts slowly then builds in intensity to a crescendo before falling away quickly.

When you feel the desire for a drink, don’t fight it. Think about the feeling, rather than the desire for a drink. Sit quietly and focus on how it feels, literally, in your body. What do you notice about the feeling? Keep bringing your awareness back to your senses – how each part of your body feels – and your breathing. Notice when the feelings increase and when they subside – and in a few minutes the urge should start to drain away.

Make a switch

Pick something else that you’re going to have or do when you get a craving. It has to be something fun or interesting though. The idea is to break the connection between the craving and the drink by replacing it with something else. If you can always respond to a craving with, say, a chai latte, you’ll start to associate the craving with that new thing and not the booze.

A final word on cravings

Do you want a drink? Do you really want a drink? Do you? Really, really?

Well, have one, then. No one’s stopping you. Own it and move on.

Have you failed? Nope, you’ve just had a drink.

Dry January is about more than a few weeks without booze; it’s about reviewing your whole relationship with alcohol and challenging your preconceptions about how necessary it is for a full and happy life. If you want a drink, go ahead and don’t beat yourself up about it. Maybe this is the exception that proves the rule. If you can work out how to conquer cravings and make conscious choices about when and how much to drink, you’ll feel amazing.

Here's another technique for getting over that craving for a drink, it's called urge surfing and it's a sort of mindfulness exercise. Think of the craving as a wave. It starts slowly then builds in intensity to a crescendo before falling away quickly. When you feel the desire for a drink, think about the feeling rather than the desire. Sit quietly and focus on how it feels, what you notice and keep bringing your awareness back to your senses - how each part of your body feels, your breathing. Notice when the feelings increase and when they subside and in a few minutes the urge should start to drain away.

If you’d like to read more, you can buy Try Dry: The Official Guide to a Month Off Booze.