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I Need a Drink! Why Do I Crave Alcohol?

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Have you ever thought to yourself, “Wow, I could really use a drink right now!” If you regularly drink alcohol, it is normal to experience occasional cravings. A difficult day at the office, a fight with your spouse, an afternoon spent watching the big game with friends, or even a fancy dinner out can all trigger alcohol cravings.

Intense alcohol cravings can also impact your ability to moderate your drinking. Do you ever find yourself struggling to stop after one or two drinks, even if you told yourself in advance you would limit your alcohol intake? When your body becomes dependent on alcohol, your brain craves more and willpower alone is not enough to stop drinking.

What Happens When We Drink?

When you drink, alcohol triggers the release of endorphins. These brain chemicals bind to specific receptors in the brain, causing feelings of pleasure. For heavy drinkers, the more endorphins that bind to the part of the brain associated with reward processing, then the more intoxicated these drinkers feel.

When alcohol activates the part of your brain responsible for rewards and pleasure, you will crave even more alcohol. This increases the likelihood you’ll say yes to that second, fifth or seventh beer– even if you planned not to drink so much.

What Triggers My Alcohol Cravings?

The word “craving” refers to a broad range of physical sensations, thoughts and emotional desires that can tempt you to drink, even if you do not want to do so. Learning to manage alcohol cravings can be challenging, especially when external situations trigger these cravings.

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People, places, and even a specific time of day can remind you of drinking and trigger a craving. Other times the urge to drink may just “pop up” in response to a fleeting thought or emotion. Learning to recognize and manage these cravings is an important part of the recovery process.

External Alcohol Craving Triggers

External triggers are people, places, things, and times of day that remind you of drinking opportunities. These high-risk situations are fairly predictable and more easily avoided than internal triggers. Let’s say you typically grab drinks with co-workers every Thursday after work. This situation has several specific external triggers you can learn to avoid:

  • Place: Avoid going to the same bar or restaurant
  • Time: Choose a new after-work activity, like going to the gym
  • People: Simply seeing your co-workers walk out of the office could trigger the urge to drink; avoid spending time with them immediately after work or substitute a non-drinking activity to create a new habit

Internal Alcohol Craving Triggers

Internal triggers can be more difficult to manage because the urge to drink may appear to “come out of nowhere.” But if you pause to consider the situation, thoughts and emotions that you are experiencing, you will be able to better identify the cause for these triggers. In many cases, a fleeting thought, physical sensation or emotion can elicit the urge to drink. Feelings of frustration, happiness, tension, nervousness and excitement can all trigger the desire to drink.

Identifying and managing alcohol cravings is not easy. By recognizing the urge to drink and choosing not to, you are taking control of your life. Coping with triggers is not easy. An alcohol abuse treatment program can help you learn effective coping strategies. You can use these strategies to help manage triggers you cannot avoid and reduce the likelihood for drinking.

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  1. Huget, Jennifer LaRue. “Why Do Some People Crave Alcohol?” The Washington Post. 11 Jan 2012.
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Handling Urges to Drink.” Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and Your Health.

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