If you are in recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you know that being clean and sober is an ongoing process and that getting help for an addiction disorder is only half of the battle. After completing substance abuse treatment, the challenge becomes dealing with alcohol cravings without relapsing or falling back into old, unhealthy patterns of alcohol use. If you believe you may be at risk for alcohol relapse, the addiction recovery experts at Behavioral Rehabilitation Services can help you determine the best course of action for your situation.
What are Alcohol Cravings?
An alcohol craving is a strong urge or consuming desire to drink. When an individual begins to develop cravings for alcohol, it typically means a physiological or psychological dependence has developed, and these cravings can be extremely difficult to resist. Alcohol cravings can be prompted by physical, emotional or psychological “triggers,” or stimuli that result in drug-seeking behavior, and cravings are typically at their strongest during the first 30 days of recovery, when the addict is still getting used to being sober in the real world. It is especially challenging for a recovering addict to return to the environment that triggered the initial substance abuse, but by having a realistic plan in place for recovery, addicts can significantly improve their chances of long-term sobriety.
For recovering alcoholics, drinking is an old, unhealthy habit or behavior, and the trick to breaking free from addiction once and for all is replacing this old habit with new, healthy ones, which is where mindful meditation comes in. Mindfulness is defined as a non-judgmental form of observation that involves deliberately focusing your attention on the present situation and gently bringing your focus back to the present any time your thoughts begin to wander. Mindfulness can improve self-awareness and self-acceptance, while reducing feelings of stress and anxiety, ultimately allowing recovering addicts to acknowledge alcohol cravings and other unpleasant feelings or emotions and experience them safely. Training in mindfulness strategies can aid in the treatment of alcohol disorders, and according to research published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology in 2017, a brief 11 minutes of mindfulness practice may be enough to make even heavy drinkers cut back on alcohol use.
How to Reduce Alcohol Cravings
Perhaps the hardest thing about replacing old, unhealthy behaviors with new ones is retraining yourself to make the new behavior stick, and research has shown that practicing mindful meditation can be a useful supplementary technique in reducing alcohol cravings and avoiding relapse. In one randomized controlled trial conducted by Dr. Aleksandra Zgierska, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and a practicing physician with a special interest in addiction medicine, researchers reported that “meditation could teach people new skills to cope with life challenges and create an emotional and intellectual ‘platform’ to tackle not just drinking by itself, but also other problems that may increase relapse risk,” like anxiety, depression, stress and other potential triggers for a return to substance use.
Knowing how to reduce alcohol cravings is key to lasting recovery, and for many people, mindful meditation is a helpful tool in avoiding an alcohol relapse. One effective mindful meditation technique called “urge surfing” teaches alcoholics healthy, mindfulness-based coping mechanisms that can take the place of their old, unhealthy coping mechanism, which was drinking. While meditating, the person visualizes a craving or urge to drink as an ocean wave that begins small but gradually builds, and, using the awareness of their breath, imagines “surfing” the urge by allowing it to rise and then fall without giving in to it and being “wiped out.” Successfully “surfing the urge” enhances healthy coping skills, Zgierska says, and, over time, weakens addictive conditioning, thereby reducing the risk of relapse.
How to Stop Drinking
It is common for recovering alcoholics experiencing strong cravings to return to drinking as a means of comfort, but there are ways to develop healthy coping mechanisms that serve the same purpose, both physically and emotionally, without the need for alcohol. As a supplement to traditional models of addiction recovery and relapse prevention, mindful meditation can help alcohol-dependent individuals become abstinent and reduce their risk of relapse, by teaching them how to be present in the moment and be conscious of what triggers their cravings to use, and then how to deal with these cravings in a healthy way, without automatically reacting to them by turning to alcohol.
7 Signs of an Impending Relapse
The circumstances of an alcohol relapse can vary depending on the individual, and it may not always be easy to see a relapse coming. The following are seven warning signs that you or a loved one may be heading toward a relapse:
- You start romanticizing the days when you were drinking
- You stop doing what you need to do to stay sober (going to therapy or getting treatment for a mental health disorder)
- You start thinking that just one drink wouldn’t hurt
- You start acting the way you did when you were drinking, even though you aren’t
- You seek out old friends from your substance-using days
- You become defensive when anyone brings up the changes in your attitude and behavior
- You begin removing the elements from your life that keep you balanced and anchored
If you are recovering from an addiction to alcohol, and you do relapse, it doesn’t mean your recovery is over. Learning to embrace your relapses as mile markers on the road to lasting sobriety is the key to a successful recovery.
Contact BRS Rehab Today for Help
While it can feel like an utter failure, relapse is a normal part of the recovery process. Statistics show that roughly 47% of recovering addicts relapse during the first year after rehab, and 61% of those who relapse do so more than once. Learning how to quit drinking isn’t easy, especially for those who have developed a dependence on alcohol, but getting professional help at a substance abuse rehab facility can help tremendously. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol cravings in recovery, contact Behavioral Rehabilitation Services today at (877) 476-8320 to speak to a certified addiction recovery counselor about the benefits of mindful meditation.