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Coping with the Urge to Drink

Posted in Relapse Prevention

Maybe it’s that time of the afternoon when you reach for a drink – or several. It’s happened so often that your drinking pattern has become a habit. After all, if it makes you feel good and forget your troubles, it must be okay, right? An occasional drink consumed by an individual who is not an alcoholic, alcohol dependent or an alcohol abuser – and of legal age – and consumed under appropriate circumstances (for example, not before driving a vehicle), is more than likely just fine. One sign that your drinking has become a problem, however, is when you feel compelled to drink, a strong and undeniable urge to consume alcohol. This is a time when you need help coping with the urge to drink.

Tips to help you cope with the urge to drink

  1. Remove all alcohol from your surroundings – If there’s no alcohol in the house, or at your workplace (like in your desk), and none in your car, shed, garage or other hiding place, it’s a bit less likely that you’ll pour yourself a drink. Sure, you could get in your car to go buy some, but that involves more effort. Simply removing the alcoholic beverages from your environment will go a long way toward curbing your actual drinking. No alcohol present means there’s no alcohol to drink. You may still have the urge, but you won’t have the alcohol.
  2. Engage in physical exercise – Go for a hike, get in a workout, mow the grass, weed the garden, clean out the garage, wash windows – anything that occupies your physical energy and concentration is a good coping mechanism to help you avoid the urge to drink. This is a means of distracting your consciousness from the urge to drink and replacing it with a healthier alternative. Another benefit of physical exercise, especially strenuous exercise, is that it releases endorphins in your brain, chemicals your body produces that help you feel good – without any consumption of alcohol!
  3. Meditate or listen to music – Calming your mind, silencing those little voices in your head that whisper you need a drink, is not easy to do, especially if you’re a practiced drinker with an ingrained habit. Meditation or listening to music may help put your mind at ease. The more time you spend emptying your thoughts, just concentrating on your breathing in meditation or yoga, or appreciating the melody of the music, is more time that you are free of the urge to drink. Don’t think of this as a chore. Just give yourself the opportunity to rest your mind. Start with 10 to 15 minutes. You may be amazed at how great you feel afterward. The urge to drink may completely disappear, at least for now. And that’s what we’re after here, finding ways to help you cope with the urge to drink.
  4. Call a friend or support person – If you belong to a support network, you already have a person or sponsor you can call when you feel the need to drink. If you are not a member of a group like Alcoholics Anonymous, you may have a trusted friend you can talk with to keep your thoughts away from drinking. Reach out and communicate with these individuals. You don’t have to say you’re trying not to drink, if you don’t feel that’s appropriate (especially if the person doesn’t know about your urges to drink). What’s important is the act of conversing with another, listening to their small-talk, getting outside you and your own troubles and urges. Friends are truly a lifeline to anyone trying to cope with a craving for alcohol.
  5. Get creative – There’s nothing like preparing a special meal, involving yourself in the creative process, to take your mind off drinking. Be sure your recipe doesn’t involve alcohol, however, or you’ll defeat the purpose. The act of creation engages the part of your brain involved in artistic design, preparation and execution. It takes mental effort, and the rewards are substantial. The pride you feel in your accomplishment is similar to the release of endorphins from physical exercise. A sense of pride is also good for your overall psyche. Chalk up another in the plus column in your list of coping mechanisms.
  6. Order an alternative – If you’re out in a social situation where alcohol is served and someone offers you a drink or asks what you’d like to drink, order an alternative to alcohol. If your friend questions why you’re not drinking, practice being able to say you’re watching your caloric intake (alcohol is high in calories), you’re driving, you just feel like something different, or you just don’t want a drink. It may be difficult at first, but you’ll soon find the words just roll off your tongue. After all, being with friends and having a good time is not dependent on alcohol.
  7. Leave the trigger situation – Often it’s an external trigger that prompts the urge to drink. Learning to recognize these external triggers will help you better avoid succumbing to the compelling need to consume alcohol. If the situation is a bar, and you find you can’t just say no comfortably, leave the bar. If you’re at a friend’s home and everyone’s drinking and urging you to join in, say you have an appointment, you’re meeting someone for dinner, whatever you feel comfortable saying – and just leave. When you remove yourself from the trigger, the urge and the opportunity to drink will be less compelling.
  8. Avoid trigger situations altogether – A better coping strategy for trigger situations is to completely avoid them. Just don’t put yourself in the position of being uncomfortable, of taxing your coping mechanisms that may just be starting to be effective. Instead of meeting friends in a bar, arrange to do something else – fishing, volleyball, touch football, going to a movie or concert – but be sure whatever you do and wherever you go, you’re not tempted by the presence of alcohol. Again, if alcohol is presented, have your exit strategy well planned in advance. Just leave.
  9. Remind yourself why you choose not to drink – You may find it helpful to have words printed on a small business card you keep in their wallet or purse, words that remind you why you choose not to drink. What’s on the card is not important so long as the words are motivators to help you stick with your resolve not to drink.
  10. Give it time to pass – Recognize that urges to drink are temporary, predictable and controllable. Don’t fight the urge, but understand that it is part of who you are at this moment, not who you are becoming. In other words, ride it out, give it time to pass.