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Drinking Habits

Why Do Alcoholics Crave Milk?

June 11, 2024
19 min read
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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.
June 11, 2024
19 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.
June 11, 2024
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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.
June 11, 2024
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 11, 2024
19 min read

Alcohol Consumption and Milk Cravings Are Related

  • Milk cravings after drinking can be a sign that we’re dehydrated, lacking nutrients, or seeking psychological comfort. 

  • We can address both alcohol and milk cravings by understanding what causes them in the first place, and we can find alternatives to milk if we need to in order to replenish our body after drinking.

  • Reframe can help us manage cravings, whether they’re for alcohol or anything else!

We often hear of cravings for decadent foods like chocolate, chips, or even mac ‘n’ cheese. But what about milk? Many people report craving milk after drinking alcohol, especially those who regularly drink alcohol excessively. 

With changing health trends turning us into cow’s milk criticizers one day and soy milk slanderers the next, it can be difficult to determine if giving into our milk cravings after drinking alcohol is a good idea. To help us develop strategies to address those cravings, let’s first understand why we them in the first place. 

Why Do I Crave Milk After Drinking? A Biological Lens

A man holding a glass of milk against a blue background

While our cravings for chocolate are often just that — we’re craving chocolate! — milk cravings after drinking can be due to our biology. Many people report that after 
drinking alcohol they often find themselves
craving milk, which means that the way alcohol affects our body could be driving our milk cravings. Several biological conditions point to explanations for these cravings.

  • Nutrient deficiencies. The human body is incredibly smart. Oftentimes, we crave certain things because our body is deficient in them. Alcohol notably depletes our B vitamins, specifically thiamine (vitamin B1). It so happens that milk is high in vitamin B — explaining our body’s natural craving for milk to restore appropriate nutrient levels. Alcohol also negatively affects our bone health. Drinking can deplete our levels of calcium, which can be replenished with the calcium found in milk.
  • Hypoglycemia. Alcohol causes fluctuations in our blood sugar levels. It’s commonly associated with high blood sugar in the long term, but it can cause dips in our blood sugar when we drink. Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia can cause symptoms such as shakiness, fatigue, and hunger — leading to cravings for energy-rich foods such as milk.
  • Neurotransmitter imbalance. Alcohol affects the neurotransmitters, or messengers, in our brain. When we drink, alcohol promotes the release of dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are associated with pleasure, which may explain the boost in mood that alcohol can cause. 

After drinking, our dopamine and serotonin levels may plummet, creating drastic fluctuations. Imbalances in our neurotransmitters can influence our cravings. In conjunction with the reasons mentioned earlier, fluctuations in our neurotransmitters can lead to milk cravings after drinking.

Alcohol can influence milk cravings biologically, but they’re often difficult to confirm, as they can’t always be measured tangibly or seen externally (we’re not able to see our B vitamins being depleted, for example!). The good news is, there are also physiological cues that can explain milk cravings after drinking.

The Connections Between Our Physiological Responses to Alcohol and Milk Cravings

A physiological reaction is a bodily response to a stimulus. Two main physiological responses that help explain milk cravings after drinking include dehydration and gastric irritation.

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases fluid excretion from our body. This causes increased thirst and other symptoms of dehydration. While water can do the job, according to a Harvard University analysis of different studies on the hydration of milk, additional components of milk may keep us hydrated for longer. This conclusion is based on the idea that the sugar, lactose, fat, and protein in milk help slow the emptying of fluid from our stomach. Although minimal studies exist to confirm that milk is more hydrating than water, it can explain our milk cravings after dehydration from drinking.

Another common side effect of consuming alcohol is gastric irritation. Alcohol can increase the amount of stomach acid we produce — irritating our stomach lining. Drinking also increases inflammation, which affects our stomach lining and can promote gastric irritation. Milk, specifically nonfat milk, can provide a temporary buffer between our stomach lining and our acidic stomach contents. That can help soothe gastrointestinal discomfort caused by alcohol consumption. 

As we can see, there are biological and physiological reasons to explain milk cravings after drinking, but there are also psychological factors. Let's explore some of those.

Why Do Alcoholics Drink Milk? Psychological Factors

Individuals with alcohol use disorder (AUD), commonly referred to as “alcoholics” (although the former is the preferred term), have an impaired ability to stop or limit alcohol consumption despite negative consequences. AUD is also characterized by a physical and neurological dependence — which helps explain the psychological factors that contribute to milk cravings. Three psychological factors can drive milk consumption for those with AUD.

  • Comfort and familiarity. Many of us grew up with a carton of milk on the breakfast table or a glass before bedtime. Recollections like these contribute to our association of milk with childhood comfort and security. In our struggles with alcohol, we may seek emotional solace through familiar tastes and textures like milk.
  • Substitution behavior. Those of us who may have quit alcohol commonly experience transfer addiction. This is when one compulsive behavior is replaced with another. In this case, our excessive alcohol consumption may be substituted by milk to fulfill an oral fixation or our habitual drinking behaviors.
  • Coping mechanism. In the same way drinking is often used as a coping mechanism, milk can be used in a similar manner. Since milk is associated with replenishing certain vitamins, increasing hydration, and aiding with gastrointestinal discomfort, many of us may turn to drinking milk as a coping mechanism during unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Not only do psychological factors influence milk consumption for those of us with AUD, but cultural and social factors can play roles, too.

Cultural and Social Influences of Alcohol and Milk Consumption

Cultural and social influences play major roles in our daily life even though it may not seem like it. Actions such as taking off our shoes before entering the house or offering alcohol at funerals may seem completely normal to some of us and foreign to others.

Those of us who grew up in Western culture where milk is commonly consumed may find ourselves craving milk after drinking alcohol more frequently than other cultures where milk is less popular. Cultural practices that associate milk consumption with wellness or recovery also can influence our consumption habits. For example, in Indian culture where milk is seen as a gift from the gods, people may more frequently use milk for its purifying qualities after drinking alcohol.

Social context also impacts our actions and habits. We may not have grown up with a particular habit, but peer influence and social cues can shape drinking and dietary behaviors. For example, someone who moved to the U.S. from a country that consumes less dairy may find themselves starting to incorporate more dairy into their diet due to social influence.

With all the different factors that influence the connection between alcohol and milk consumption, you may be wondering, is drinking milk even good for us? Should we be drinking it after consuming alcohol?

Factors That Explain Milk Cravings After Consuming Alcohol

Potential Health Benefits of Milk Consumption

Although drinking milk won't cancel out the adverse effects of alcohol, it could be beneficial for some of us. There are many different types of milk (which we’ll get into in more detail later) but despite the variations, generally milk has two main benefits: nutrition and hydration. 

Milk has a rich nutrient profile and can replenish our body with essential vitamins and minerals that are good for our overall health. Specifically, milk is high in calcium and vitamin D, which support bone health and recovery from alcohol-induced deficiencies. Sometimes we may feel nauseous or experience a loss of appetite after drinking. Although eating a balanced meal is the usual recommendation, sometimes a glass of milk is easier to get down in the interim to help us replenish lost nutrients.

Drinking milk is also a great way to replenish fluids that are depleted through alcohol consumption. Milk has a high water content, which aids in restoring hydration and electrolyte balance. This can help our cells and organs return to optimal functioning and combat symptoms of alcohol hangovers that are exacerbated by dehydration.

Milk consumption can have general benefits following alcohol consumption, but what about during recovery from AUD?

Should I Drink Milk During Recovery From Alcohol Use Disorder?

Milk may not be harmful for those of us who are in recovery from AUD unless we’re lactose intolerant or are consuming milk in an unhealthy manner (physically or emotionally). Excess milk consumption, like any substance, can have adverse health effects such as excessive caloric intake or digestive issues. Using milk as a replacement behavior for alcohol consumption can also be dangerous, as the root cause of our habit isn’t being addressed. 

Drinking milk, although common, isn’t necessary for recovery. It’s not a solution for alcohol dependence, and other foods that contain similar nutrients also can help our body heal during recovery. However, if we enjoy drinking milk, it can be incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet during recovery. 

For those of us who may not like the taste of cow’s milk or are lactose intolerant, do milk alternatives have the same effect?

Does the Type of Milk Matter?

It depends. As we’ve discussed, milk consumption and cravings can be influenced by a number of different factors. Depending on what benefits we’re looking for after consuming alcohol, the type of milk we drink may or may not matter. 

Different kinds of milk contain different nutrient profiles. This means that if we’re looking to replenish certain nutrients after drinking, milk alternatives may not always contain the same vitamins and minerals. For example, natural almond milk that isn’t fortified doesn’t contain calcium or vitamin D. Some milk alternatives are fortified with the same vitamins and nutrients, however, so it’s important to check the label.

Alternatives can be a replacement for milk in some cases. If we’re drinking milk after consuming alcohol to help restore hydration, milk alternatives also have a high water content that is similar to cow’s milk. Additionally, if we’re drinking milk for comfort or familiarity, milk alternatives can have the same effect as milk. 

Whether it’s alcohol or milk, cravings can be common for those of us with AUD. So, how can we manage them?

Addressing Cravings

Recognizing triggers for our cravings helps us prevent transfer addiction and relapses in recovery. Some ways we can address our cravings include the following: 

  • Support and counseling. Individual and group therapy can address psychological factors that contribute to our cravings. Knowing the root cause of cravings, especially unhealthy ones like alcohol, can help us curb them.
  • Behavioral strategies. Behavioral techniques can help us identify emotional triggers and develop healthier habits. These may include skill-training, self-monitoring, and changing negative thought patterns.
  • Holistic approaches. Holistic practices can support other methods of treatment. Different approaches address various aspects of our cravings. For example, mindfulness practices can address psychological factors by helping us manage our emotions.  Nutritional interventions can help us with the biological and physiological aspects of cravings.
  • Healthy distractions. Alcohol-free activities can serve as distractions and help us live a healthier and more fulfilling life. We may find that we forget all about our craving once we’re engaged in a new activity! For more information about distracting yourself from cravings, check out our blog “How Urge Surfing Can Help You Overcome Alcohol Cravings.”

Cravings are a common part of recovery from AUD. However, learning to navigate and overcome them is what will help us recover.

Moving Forward

Craving milk after drinking alcohol or in recovery from AUD may seem strange at first. However, the way alcohol physiologically and emotionally affects us explains why milk cravings are common. While milk has some nutritional and hydration benefits, it's not a magic cure for alcohol dependence. It may not hurt to drink milk after drinking alcohol if we're not lactose intolerant, but it's important to address the root cause of our alcohol cravings. Quit or cut back on booze, and don't wait until it's too “lait”!

Summary FAQs

1. Why am I craving milk after drinking?

Milk cravings can be a response to drinking alcohol both physically (because milk replenishes nutrients depleted by alcohol) and psychologically (because it evokes feelings of comfort and familiarity).

2. What other factors impact milk consumption after drinking?

Other factors that impact milk cravings after drinking include social and cultural influences such as the prevalence of milk in Western culture.

3. Are there benefits of drinking milk during recovery from alcohol use disorder?

Drinking milk can have nutritional and hydration benefits, but these benefits aren’t exclusive to those in recovery from AUD.

4. Does drinking milk reduce alcohol cravings?

There’s no scientific evidence to show that drinking milk reduces alcohol cravings.

5. What are some ways to address alcohol cravings?

Some ways to address alcohol cravings include addressing nutrient deficiencies, practicing behavioral techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy, and seeking social support or counseling.

Explore Ways To Reduce 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!

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