How To Stop The Craving For Alcohol

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To stop the craving for alcohol:

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Avoiding Cravings vs Resolving Cravings

Avoidance and distraction techniques, or urge surfing (observing and describing urges without reacting) are commonly suggested to avoid cravings [2]. 

Whilst this may help resolve short-term cravings, this is not a long-term resolution and can lead to: 

  • Unhelpful self-talk
  • Associations to triggers that reduce ability to overcome cravings in the future

This is especially true when dealing with intrusive cravings.

Dealing With Triggers In The Short Term vs Long Term

Continual short-term avoidance of known triggers is not viable in the long term as:

  • Continual conscious attention to triggers can exacerbate anxiety associated with them
  • Consciously overcoming triggers using affirmations or reinforcing beliefs is time and labour intensive
  • Practically, avoiding triggers is not always possible during day-to-day life activities

Whereas, taking action to resolve triggers for the long term means:

  • The need to consciously react to trigger situations is eliminated
  • Day to day life is no longer consumed by fears of being triggered
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Stopping Emotional Cravings vs Physical Cravings

Emotional cravings are the result of psychological associations and conditionings that occur during periods of drinking [3].

Whereas, physical cravings are created as a result of withdrawal symptoms and deficits in neurotransmitters and receptor sites in the brain [4].

Differentiate between the two types before attempting to resolve either.

Physical cravings cannot be overcome alone, professional assistance to detox is required [5].

How To Stop Emotional Cravings For Alcohol

Separate Intention From Behaviour

Where the trigger involves another person:

  • Identify the trigger situation in the external world
  • Identify and emotionally separate, the behaviour that you saw in the external world, from the intention the individual had
  • Question any negative assumptions held - is it really likely or true that the individual had a negative intention? [6]

Separate Meaning From Events

Where the trigger involves a situation, or circumstance:

  • Identify the trigger situation in the external world
  • Identify the conclusion or meaning you arrived at, which ultimately causing cravings
  • Consider whether this conclusion is really true
  • Anything existing in the outside world has a colour, shape, and location in space. Consider where in the world is your conclusion? What colour is the conclusion?
  • Is it clear that  the meaning you gave the event is NOT in the outside world, and therefore does not exist?
  • Remember that an event in the outside world means nothing about you as a person [7]

Recall Negative Consequences

  • Recognise consciously that the craving is occurring
  • Consider that alcohol is just one of many possible reactions to this issue
  • Consider the short term negative consequences that arose, when giving in to alcohol cravings in the past
  • Consider the very long term negative consequences and knock-on effects, as a result of deciding to drink in the past
  • Turn to a more suitable resource, to deal with the trigger situation more appropriately
  • Improve and add to this more positive resource, for future triggers.

Understand That Alcohol Did Not Fix Anything

  • Acknowledge that whilst alcohol may have functioned as an escape in the past, it did not fix any issues
  • Consider whether drinking really fixed the underlying situation
  • Consider whether drinking helped overcome or resolve your responsibility in the situation
  • Consider whether drinking was useful in this situation [8]

Identify Your Why

  • Write down - in detail - bigger picture reasons and rationale for quitting drinking
  • Recall, visualise, and relive these reasons when experiencing cravings

Find An Alternative Way To Address The Need/Stressor

Plan ahead to find alternative ways to overcome triggers, without using alcohol as a coping mechanism:


Underlying Issue

How to Resolve

Negative association

Recurrence of previous negative events - leading to alcohol relapse

Collapse underlying beliefs and meanings attached to previous events

Positive association

Trying to recapture positive feelings from previous alcohol use

Challenge the positive meaning attached to previous experiences with alcohol

Environmental cue

Being at parties, bars etc where alcohol is normalised

Consciously recognise craving. Remember that drinking doesn't fix issues. If unable to tolerate, leave.


Previous drinking paired with specific environments or times - causing cravings at those times/places.

Plan ahead of time or environment. Be aware of triggers and implement positive coping mechanisms [9].


Association to old trauma being re-triggered 

Recognise trauma is causing craving. Separate trauma from the conditioning/meaning attached via CBT [10].

Identify And Resolve The Underlying Beliefs

When considering a previous occasion of feeling triggered to drink, write down:

  • What is the feeling that's not there, that then appears, when you did decide to drink?
  • What is the feeling that's not there, that then appears, when you decided NOT to drink?

For both versions, look for beliefs about self, that surface, e.g. I'm good enough, I'm worthy, what I say matters, etc.

If having a drink results in feelings of "I'm good enough again", or "I'm important now", is it clear that these point to underlying beliefs of "I'm not good enough" and "I'm not important"?

And is it clear that if these beliefs were resolved, there would be no need to turn to a coping mechanism, like alcohol?

This is what we help our clients identify, every day, in our Scotland and Gloucester clinics.

Always address the core underlying beliefs with professional therapeutic assistance.

How To Stop Physical Cravings For Alcohol

  • Acknowledge that cravings resulting from physical withdrawal/dependence on alcohol are more dangerous than emotional cravings, due to brain normalisation of neurotransmitter levels [11]
  • Be aware that professional help must be sought for physical cravings, and that these must never be tackled without professional assistance

Aftercare Plan vs Cravings Plan

The differences between an aftercare plan, usually done when leaving rehab, and a cravings plan are:

  • A cravings plan could be considered to be a mini aftercare plan, that tackles only cravings
  • A cravings plan replicates the same approach as an aftercare plan (including identifying a personal need for alcohol, setting up supports in advance and creating a long-term plan) but addresses only cravings

Being confronted by a situation initiating cravings compromises clear thinking, and our ability to access help, in that moment.

Therefore, a cravings plan should be as detailed as possible to make it easy to follow through at the point of crisis, and describe:

  • Clear directions of what to do when experiencing a specific craving for alcohol
  • Previously successful coping mechanisms
  • Telephone numbers for relevant support channels



Long Term Plan

Contact from social services re access to children - fear they will be taken away

Contact therapist, sponsor or in-person/ online parents in recovery groups [12]

Demonstrating sobriety to improve access to children - using a drinks diary and keeping contact with ADP key worker

Manager unhappy with work quality - fear of losing job

Therapy, self-help CBT worksheets or employee counselling

Breaking old associations and beliefs through therapy - remembering work was not the problem, alcohol was

Previous drinking habits and routines - drinking associated with specific times or places [13]  

Contact sponsors or therapists - self-help worksheets to identify triggers

Changing environments or using distraction techniques at specific times/ places until habits and routines are broken


Persistent Cravings Over Time

When emotional or psychological cravings have persisted over long time periods, consider:

  • Seeking professional therapeutic CBT or counselling
  • Using self-help worksheets or CBT/DBT to challenge the beliefs, conditions and associations of cravings [14]
  • Seeking private addiction specialist treatment
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About the author

Harriet Garfoot

Harriet Garfoot BA, MA has an Undergraduate degree in Education Studies and English, and a Master's degree in English Literature, from Bishop Grosseteste University. Harriet writes on stress & mental health, and is a member of the Burney Society. Content reviewed by Laura Morris (Clinical Lead).

Last Updated: September 27, 2023