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Alcohol cravings are a physical and psychological side effect of alcohol use disorder (AUD). An inability to manage cravings is one of the most common reasons for relapse during early recovery from alcohol abuse. According to Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, alcohol “craving is associated with severity of AUD [and] relapse to drinking following treatment.” The Redpoint Center uses psychotherapy, prescription medications, and other evidence-based methods to address alcohol cravings during treatment. 

What Are Alcohol Cravings?

No single explanation for alcohol cravings exists. Researchers are still trying to pinpoint what causes cravings and how they may affect a person’s physical health. According to Alcohol Research and Health, “Neurobiological and brain-imaging studies have identified numerous brain chemicals and brain regions that may be involved in craving.” In addition, “Psychiatric conditions that affect some of these brain regions, such as depression or anxiety, also may influence craving.” Alcohol cravings cause a combination of physiological and emotional responses to triggering stimuli. 

Possible triggers for cravings include: 

  • Memories of alcohol abuse or remembering the sensation of being under the influence
  • Mindsets that often proceeded alcohol abuse, including moments of high-stress 
  • Visual reminders, including reading words or seeing items related in some way to memories of alcohol abuse
  • Being around people who misuse alcohol or facilitate alcohol abuse 
  • Spending time in locations where alcohol was previously abused 

Almost anything can trigger cravings related to AUD. The Redpoint Center helps clients identify potential triggers and develop healthy coping skills for managing them. 

How Does AUD Affect the Brain?

Chronic alcohol abuse has a significant impact on how the brain functions. Some people may experience long-term or permanent cognitive side effects of AUD. Severe cravings are a potential symptom of chronic alcohol abuse. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “[T]he powerful effects of alcohol on neurocircuits relating to reward and relief cause the brain to attach strong motivational value or incentive salience to the cues associated with alcohol, whether in the immediate environment or recalled from memory . . . Especially when combined with negative emotional or physical states, the sight or thought of alcohol or related cues can trigger cravings, or the urge to drink.”

What Causes Alcohol Cravings?

The exact cause of cravings is not known. However, researchers have reported multiple body systems may play a significant role in when and how cravings manifest. For example, according to the Intramural Research Program (IRP), “A hormone called ghrelin that regulates hunger appears to also influence cravings for alcohol, according to research by IRP investigators pursuing new treatments for alcohol use disorder.” Changes in brain chemistry, hormone levels, emotional cues, and other potential physical and psychological triggers may cause cravings. Effectively treating cravings for alcohol usually involves multiple therapeutic approaches, including psychotherapy, holistic therapies, and medication. 

Stress and Cravings

Physical and emotional stress are the most common triggers for cravings related to alcohol abuse. People often unconsciously associate stress with drinking. During moments of high stress, the mind may cause people to remember moments in the past where they felt the same way and ended up abusing alcohol as a way to cope. Individuals in treatment reduce their risk of experiencing triggers by practicing self-care and activities designed to relieve physical and psychological stress. 

How to Manage Alcohol Cravings

Cravings may disrupt all areas of a person’s life, including career, education, and interpersonal relationships. Discovering healthy ways to address cravings and their underlying causes allows people to experience a better quality of life. 

Some ways clients in treatment manage cravings include: 

  • Tracking mood changes and behaviors to determine the most likely triggers 
  • Identifying which triggers cannot be easily avoided 
  • Developing positive ways of coping with unavoidable triggers to reduce the side effects 
  • Using mindfulness and other techniques to reduce stress 

Clients benefit from working with a therapist or other members of their support system to create a plan for managing triggers, stressors, and cravings. 

Developing Relapse Prevention Strategies and Healthy Coping Skills

Prescription medication may help some people avoid relapse during ongoing recovery. According to the previously mentioned article by Alcohol Research and Health, “Medications such as naltrexone have been found to reduce relapse among abstinent alcoholics, and some studies suggest that these medications also may reduce craving.” 

Understanding how to recognize a craving helps people develop coping skills. During a craving, people may experience the following:

  • Thoughts of alcohol 
  • Memories and body sensations related to alcohol abuse 
  • A strong desire to drink alcohol

Cravings may cause people to experience vivid memories of positive feelings or sensations associated with past alcohol use. Finding ways to avoid or manage these triggers allows individuals to prevent relapse more effectively. The Redpoint Center collaborates with each client to help them create a comprehensive relapse prevention plan and coping skills for addressing specific and general craving triggers. 

Alcohol cravings are one of the most common psychological and mental side effects of alcohol addiction. People often experience cravings during withdrawal, detox, and early recovery. In most cases, treatment programs use prescription medication and psychotherapy to help clients manage cravings and other symptoms of alcohol use disorder. Clients in treatment develop essential skills for reducing the effect of triggers in everyday life. The Redpoint Center uses evidence-based treatments to ensure clients feel confident and comfortable in their sobriety before transitioning to aftercare. Alcohol cravings are manageable and often become less prevalent over time. To learn more about our programs and how we treat alcohol abuse, contact us today by calling (303) 710-8496.

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The Redpoint Center
1831 Lefthand Cir, Suite H
Longmont, CO 80501

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