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Triggers and cravings

How To Stop Alcohol Cravings

October 26, 2023
18 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
October 26, 2023
18 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
October 26, 2023
18 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
October 26, 2023
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
October 26, 2023
18 min read

Are you tired of constantly battling the urge to drink? Do you feel like those pesky cravings come out of nowhere? Is reducing your alcohol consumption starting to feel like an uphill battle? We know exactly how you feel, and we want you to know that you’re not the only one. Tens of millions of people worldwide struggle with alcohol misuse. And alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects over 14 million adults in the U.S. alone.

Overcoming alcohol cravings can be a game-changer for our well-being as we cut back on alcohol or quit drinking altogether. It's never too late to take control and break free from the vicious cravings cycle so many of us find ourselves in. In this blog post, we’ll discuss some effective ways how to curb alcohol cravings and kickstart our journey towards a happier, healthier life.

Alcohol Cravings Tip #1: Avoid Triggers

A distressed man with two alcohol bottles

One effective way to reduce alcohol cravings is to avoid triggers that may lead to cravings. What are triggers? Triggers are certain situations or emotions that induce strong urges to drink. They can vary from person to person, but some common examples include social events, stress, and boredom. Once we’ve pinpointed our triggers, we can find ways to avoid or cope with them. For instance, if our office’s Friday pizza tradition triggers cravings for beer, we can consider stepping out for lunch that day or bringing a non-alcoholic beverage that we’ll enjoy.

Also, if we typically drink when we’re stressed or anxious, we can instead engage in alcohol-free activities when we feel these emotions. Exercising, meditating, or simply grabbing a tall glass of water can combat the craving. We may consider avoiding or minimizing time in certain social situations or environments where alcohol is present, at least until we feel confident in our ability to resist cravings.

Alcohol Cravings Tip #2: Build a Support System

Another helpful way to combat cravings is to develop a support system. This may include friends, family, or even professional help. It can be challenging to overcome alcohol cravings alone, so having others in our corner to provide encouragement and accountability makes a significant difference.

Professional help, such as counseling or support groups, can also give us the tools and resources necessary to reduce our alcohol cravings. Therapists can provide us with evidence-based strategies for conquering cravings, and they may refer us to a medical professional if medication is necessary (more on this below).

We can also find our people through Reframe! The app provides a supportive community of like-minded folks from around the globe through our 24/7 anonymous Forum chat. If we want to surround ourselves with people who “get it” and who can give us helpful insights into our own relationship with alcohol, the Reframe Forum is the place to be.

Alcohol Cravings Tip #3: Develop Coping Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms are key to managing cravings (and to navigate life’s ups and downs!). Deep breathing techniques calm our body and mind when cravings pop up.

Mindfulness also helps us develop more awareness around our cravings and when they are likely to arise.

Mindfulness is the practice of being present and aware of our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. When it comes to stopping alcohol cravings, this present moment awareness is a powerful tool. Instead of trying to resist the craving, take a moment to observe it with curiosity and without judgment. This allows us to detach from the urge and ultimately reduce its intensity.

Alcohol Cravings Tip #4: Find (Healthy!) Distractions

Similarly, engaging in activities that provide a sense of satisfaction or pleasure, such as indulging in a favorite hobby or spending time with loved ones, distract us from cravings. When we feel the urge to drink, we can redirect our attention to something enjoyable: reading a book, going for a walk, or playing a game. The key is to find an activity that we find intrinsically engaging and fun. Research actually shows that engaging in pleasurable activities can reduce cravings.

Alcohol Cravings Tip #5: Practice Self-Care

A critical component of stopping alcohol cravings is self-care. Many of us might picture luxurious spa days or meditation retreats when we hear that, but self-care is pretty simple. It includes anything that promotes physical and emotional well-being, such as exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep. Taking care of ourselves reduces stress and anxiety, common triggers for alcohol cravings.

It's essential to note that stopping alcohol cravings and reducing alcohol consumption requires a gradual process. Abruptly cutting back on alcohol (especially if we’ve been drinking heavily) can sometimes lead to withdrawal symptoms, which can be dangerous without medical supervision. That’s why we recommend cutting down by no more than 10% per week. Professional support can guide us in safely reducing or ending our alcohol consumption over time, as well.

Alcohol Cravings Tip #6: Consider Medication

For some of us, reducing or eliminating alcohol might require medical intervention. And that’s okay! Medication can offer a helping hand as we build new coping mechanisms. In the initial stages of going alcohol-free or cutting back, certain medications have been shown to suppress alcohol cravings:

  • Naltrexone: This medication works by blocking the euphoric effects and feelings of intoxication, reducing the desire to drink. Instead of getting pleasure from alcohol, people on naltrexone often find that the appeal lessens over time.
  • Acamprosate (Campral): Acamprosate is believed to restore the balance of certain chemicals in the brain that get altered by prolonged alcohol use. It may decrease our urge to drink, especially for those of us who are committed to abstinence.
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse): Unlike the previous two medications which reduce cravings, disulfiram causes unpleasant effects upon alcohol consumption: flushing, nausea, and headaches. This negative reinforcement can deter drinking.

However, it's important to note that these medications aren't magic. They work best in conjunction with other treatments, such as counseling. Moreover, they might have contraindications with other medications or medical conditions. Before considering these options, it's essential to discuss with a healthcare professional who can provide guidance on potential risks, benefits, and monitoring.

Taking a comprehensive approach, which may include medication, can enhance our chances of successfully curbing those alcohol cravings and setting ourselves on a healthier path.

Diagram about the medications for suppressing alcohol cravings

How To Get Rid of Alcohol Cravings Through Nutrition

We’re not here to tout one diet over another, and we know that dietary preferences will vary. However, optimal nutrition is key to stopping alcohol cravings and improving our overall health. Here are a few nutrition-related changes that can keep pesky cravings at bay.

Alcohol Cravings and Low Blood Sugar

When our blood sugar dips too low, we face a greater risk of cravings. Our bodies know that alcohol quickly spikes our glucose levels, bringing about a quick state change. However, long-term heavy alcohol use puts us at higher risk for frequent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which means our blood sugar may already be imbalanced when we remove alcohol. This is why a nutritious diet and healthy eating habits are essential for curbing cravings.

Focus on whole foods: healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts), protein (chicken, eggs, fish), complex carbohydrates (quinoa, brown rice, beans, legumes), fruits, and vegetables. Avoid or limit processed foods, as these can lead to further blood sugar imbalances.

Balanced Meals and Snacks

When choosing what to eat, focus on hitting three categories with each meal and snack: fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in our gut and keeps us full. Protein and healthy fats also encourage satiety. Snacks high in refined sugar, refined carbs (i.e., white bread or crackers), or saturated fats don’t check all of the nutritional boxes that keep us satiated and properly fueling our bodies. When our food intake is balanced and covers several categories, we can stay focused and energized throughout the day. And this means fewer cravings!

Avoid Skipping Meals

It can be tempting to skip meals, especially if we’re swamped at work or have many nagging responsibilities. Unfortunately, skipping meals only makes us hangry and leads to poor concentration. Eating at regular intervals is especially important for maintaining balanced blood sugar levels throughout the day. We should aim to eat something with protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats every three to four hours to keep our blood sugar stable and avoid those dreaded hunger-related mood swings. This also keeps our metabolism firing, which maintains a healthy body weight. And, of course, it’ll keep us from falling into the cravings trap.

Say Yes to Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for a reason: by keeping our blood sugar levels from dropping too low, it reduces cravings.

The key is to choose our first meal of the day wisely. We can make improvements to our breakfast by making sure it’s balanced and full of protein. When we “break” our body’s overnight “fast” with a nutritious and satisfying meal, we provide fuel and energy for a good day. Eggs, protein smoothies, oatmeal with a little nut butter mixed in — all of these are excellent options for a breakfast that properly fuels us. When we’re appropriately nourished, we’re less likely to succumb to cravings.

How To Stop Alcohol Cravings Gradually

When tweaking dietary habits (or any habit, for that matter), always start small. When doing something new, like changing our relationship with alcohol, we don’t want to overwhelm ourselves with drastic changes in too many other areas, such as nutrition. Pick just one area — like eating meals at regular intervals, grabbing a balanced afternoon snack, or meal prepping on the weekends — and see how that feels. We should carry on with the changes that support our ability to stave off cravings and adjust the ones that don’t. We’ll be surprised at how much a change in our eating habits can affect how often — and how intensely — we experience alcohol cravings.

Alcohol Cravings: Progress, Not Perfection

Figuring out how to curb alcohol cravings and change our relationship with alcohol is a personal process that requires dedication and motivation. Slips and setbacks are normal, and we shouldn’t be discouraged if we encounter them.

Work on one coping strategy at a time as you quit alcohol or reduce your intake. For instance, start with a mindfulness practice or make adjustments to your diet. With each change, you’ll fortify yourself against the pull of cravings and grow stronger each day. Incorporating these strategies into your daily routine can reduce your desire for alcohol and improve your overall well-being.

And remember: it’s also okay to seek help from a medical professional or mental health expert. Changing our relationship with alcohol requires a multifaceted approach, and there’s nothing wrong with needing outside help. You are worth the effort and you deserve to live your healthiest and most empowered life! Let’s get there together, one conquered craving at a time.

Summary FAQs

1. What are alcohol cravings and why do they happen?

Alcohol cravings are strong urges to consume alcohol, often triggered by situations, emotions, or environmental cues. They are common among people struggling with alcohol misuse or alcohol use disorder (AUD).

2. How can I identify and avoid my triggers for alcohol cravings?

Triggers can vary, but common examples include social events, stress, and boredom. It's important to pinpoint your personal triggers and find ways to avoid or cope with them. For instance, if a specific social setting or emotion induces the craving, consider changing your environment or engaging in alcohol-free activities.

3. What role does a support system play in overcoming alcohol cravings?

Building a support system of friends, family, or professionals can provide encouragement and accountability, making it easier to combat cravings. Platforms like the Reframe Forum offer a community where people can share insights and receive support from those with similar experiences.

4. Are there any coping mechanisms or distractions that can help with alcohol cravings?

Yes, practicing deep breathing, mindfulness, and engaging in enjoyable activities like reading or walking can help distract from and reduce the intensity of cravings.

5. How does self-care influence my alcohol cravings?

Self-care, including exercise, healthy eating, and sufficient sleep, can reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for alcohol cravings. It's essential to reduce alcohol consumption gradually, as abrupt reduction, especially after heavy drinking, can lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

6. Can medications assist in reducing alcohol cravings?

Certain medications, such as Naltrexone, Acamprosate, and Disulfiram, have been shown to suppress or influence alcohol cravings in different ways. It's vital to consult with a healthcare professional before considering medication, as these drugs work best in conjunction with other treatments and may have potential risks.

Stop Alcohol Cravings With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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