Triggers and Cravings

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2023-07-28 9:00
Triggers and Cravings
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Why Do I Crave Alcohol?
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Alcohol cravings often occur as an automatic response to a trigger. Our brain remembers positive experiences associated with alcohol and sends signals, or cravings, to encourage the behavior.

25 min read

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Cravings are slippery — and yet we know exactly what they are. Ever found yourself reaching for that wine bottle or considering another cold one more often than you’d like? Well, you’re not alone. Many people wonder, “Why the heck do I crave alcohol?”

In The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, British author and addiction specialist Allen Carr gives one of the most spot-on descriptions of cravings, calling them “an empty, insecure feeling” similar to hunger. Unlike hunger, however, there’s often an uneasy flavor to it: you want something, but you don’t want to want it. Worse yet, giving in to cravings tends to make them appear more and more frequently.

When it comes to alcohol cravings, it’s not just about wanting an “aah” moment after a long day, or trying to drown out a bad one. The truth is that alcohol cravings are a mix of biology, psychology, and social environments. So today we’re pulling the curtain back on those cravings and giving you some tools to handle them! Let’s uncover the four main mechanisms behind cravings and explore some ways to handle them.

1. Biology and Brain Chemistry: The Body’s Tug of War

Our brain likes to feel good. When we drink alcohol, it releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that signals pleasure and reward. Over time, and with regular consumption, the brain starts to associate alcohol with that lovely dopamine surge. When we don’t drink, the brain goes, “Hey, where’s my feel-good chemical?” This can lead to cravings.

We often think of our brains as sophisticated command centers, always rational and analytical. And while that might be true about the prefrontal cortex, the more primitive “lizard brain” behind the reward circuit is a lot like an eager toddler in a candy store when it comes to seeking pleasure. How is this pleasure-seeking system linked to our alcohol cravings?

Dopamine: The Star of the Show

When we do something enjoyable — such as eating a delicious meal, laughing at a joke, or yes, drinking alcohol — our brain releases dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. When we consume alcohol, dopamine floods our brain, and over time, our brain starts to think, “Hey, alcohol equals a good time!”

Research shows that with repeated alcohol consumption, the brain starts anticipating the dopamine surge. So even before we take that first sip, just the thought of drinking can get our dopamine factories revved up! It’s like when we think about a chocolate cake in the middle of the night — even without tasting it, we can already feel that sweet delight.

Adaptation: A Double-Edged Sword

Our brains are also masters of adaptation. Drink regularly, and the brain thinks it's getting too much of a good thing. In response, it might produce less dopamine over time or reduce the sensitivity of dopamine receptors. The result? We need more alcohol to achieve the same “feel-good” effect. It's a bit like needing more and more coffee to wake up if we’re regular caffeine consumers.

When we try to cut back or quit, the brain objects, looking for its dopamine surge. With the absence of regular alcohol-induced dopamine releases, we might feel down or experience a mood dip. That's the brain urging you to get back to your old ways, otherwise known as the withdrawal effect.

2. The Emotional Band-Aid: When Feelings Meet Booze

As much as we’d like to deny it, our emotions play a huge role in many of our choices. From the clothes we wear based on our mood, to the comfort food we reach for after a tough day, our feelings often steer the ship. The relationship between emotions and alcohol is no different.

For some, alcohol becomes a trusted ally against stress, sadness, or anxiety. But here's the catch: while it seems to provide temporary relief, it doesn’t fix the root cause of these emotions. Over time, we might find ourselves craving a drink whenever these feelings emerge, because the brain has made a connection: “Feeling down? Alcohol will fix it!”

In this way, alcohol serves as an instant emotional band-aid. Had a rough day? A drink might make it feel better. Feeling anxious about an upcoming event? A little booze might take the edge off. Over time, this pattern can create a more ingrained reflex in the brain: a negative emotion surfaces, and we instinctively reach for a drink to “soothe” it without giving it a second thought.

Why It Seems To Work (But Doesn’t Really)

Since alcohol is a depressant that slows the nervous system, the initial effects often do, in fact, feel calming. But here's the twist: while the immediate effects might seem relaxing, in the long run, science shows that alcohol can increase feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s like using a leaking bucket to carry water: it might seem helpful initially, but we’re losing more than we’re gaining as the brain’s natural neurotransmitter levels tip in the other direction.

In addition to depleting our dopamine levels over time, the brain overcompensates by releasing dynorphin to counteract the excessive release of dopamine. Instead of producing pleasure, dynorphin does the opposite: it decreases dopamine production, inducing feelings of dysphoria. This is the brain's way of keeping us chemically and emotionally balanced.

The Cycle of Emotion-Driven Drinking

Over time, with repeated exposure to pleasurable stimuli, the brain releases more and more dynorphin to counteract the high dopamine levels. This reduces the overall sensitivity of the brain's reward system, making it harder to feel pleasure from everyday activities and potentially leading to a cycle of increased substance use to reach the original high.

Here’s the cycle many folks find themselves in: they drink to cope with an emotion, the effects of the drink wear off, and they’re left with the same (or heightened) emotional distress, leading them to drink again. It's a loop that can be hard to break, especially if the underlying emotional triggers aren’t addressed.

Diagram about the common triggers for alcohol cravings
Building New Emotional Connections

The good news? Just as our brain can create associations between emotions and drinking, it can also learn new associations. This means we can train the brain to link challenging emotions with healthier coping strategies — talking to a friend, indulging in a hobby, or simply taking a few deep breaths. We are ultimately in the driver’s seat as far as our response to emotions, and by understanding the reasons behind our cravings and building new, positive associations, we’re taking charge of our journey.

3. Social Environments: It’s Everywhere!

Let's be real: we live in a culture where alcohol is often the centerpiece of social activities. From dinners to celebrations, to watching a football game — it's there. 

These scenarios can create associations between fun times and alcohol in our minds. When invited to such events, the brain jumps in with a nudge: “You’ll have more fun with a drink!” Over time, this cements the idea that to celebrate, commemorate, or even commiserate, a drink must be in hand, creating social cues around booze.

Ever been to a gathering where everyone is holding a drink and felt a bit out of place without one? That's social cue activation in play. Sometimes, it's not even a genuine craving, but the pressure to fit in that drives us to pick up a glass. It's a little like wearing a certain fashion because everyone else is doing it, even if it's not quite "you." (That said, it’s important to note that we should never feel obligated to drink, no matter what others around us are doing. Social pressures can make things tricky, but in most cases people will respect our decisions — and if they don’t, chances are the reason has to do with their own struggles or insecurities.)

The Mirror Effect

One reason we are naturally driven to “fit in” has to do with mirror neurons — the neurological mechanism behind empathy that helps us pick up on the emotions and actions of those around us by triggering the corresponding pathways in the brain even though we’re not experiencing the same stimuli directly. When everyone is laughing, clinking glasses, and sipping away, our brains want in. So even if we weren't initially in the mood for a drink, our mirror neurons can change our mind.

Setting Boundaries and Shifting Perspectives

This doesn’t mean you should start avoiding every social scenario with alcohol. Instead, recognize these influences and set boundaries. Your boundary can be choosing a non-alcoholic drink that you genuinely enjoy, or focusing on the conversations and connections instead of the drink in hand.

Navigating social waters where alcohol is omnipresent can be a tad challenging. But as with any challenge, it's also an opportunity — a chance to listen to your inner voice, set your course, and dance to your own tune, even if it's a bit different from the crowd's. After all, being authentically you is always in style!

4. Habit Loop: Routine in Play

Finally, one of the “stickiest” causes of cravings has to do with the habit loop. Have a routine of wine with dinner? Or a beer after mowing the lawn? These can become habitual. When a habit is formed, the brain switches to autopilot. The moment you sit for dinner or finish mowing, the brain signals it’s time for that drink.

While habits are related to the neurochemical reward circuit, emotional triggers, and social pressures we discussed earlier, they can be even trickier to address since they can extend beyond those factors. Even in the absence of a physical “need” for alcohol, an emotion that we want to escape, or a social situation driving us to conform, drinking can become ingrained in our lives as something that we “do” on a regular basis — with or without an identifiable “reason.”

The Three-Step Dance of Habits

Habits generally follow a three-step loop:

  • Cue. This is a trigger that initiates the behavior. For instance, finishing a workday might signal it's time to unwind.
  • Routine. This is the actual behavior or action. In our context, it could be pouring and sipping on a drink.
  • Reward. The outcome that your brain enjoys and wants to remember for the future. With alcohol, it might be a feeling of relaxation or euphoria.

This loop, once established, can be hard to break because it's been reinforced over time. It becomes an automatic response.

Why? Our brains are efficiency experts. When a pattern is repeated often enough, the brain conserves energy by turning that sequence into a habit. That's why, after driving home countless times, you might pull into your driveway and wonder, "How did I get here so quickly?" It’s the same thing with alcohol. If we regularly have a drink at a particular time or situation, the brain goes into autopilot.

Hijacking the Habit Loop

The mere fact that a habit has formed doesn't mean that it’s set in stone. The trick is to recognize the cue and replace the routine while still achieving a similar reward. If the cue is stress and the routine is drinking, for instance, we can replace drinking with a short meditation session, a walk, or listening to some favorite tunes — anything that provides relaxation (the reward).

Habits shape our days in more ways than we might realize. By understanding the rhythm of our routines and being proactive, we can rewire our habits to help steer us toward our goals.

Goodbye, Cravings!

Now that we have a better idea of what drives our cravings, let’s chart a new course of action!

Here are some ideas for dealing with cravings when they strike:

  • Mindful awareness. Start by recognizing your craving without judging it. “Oh, there’s that craving again.” By acknowledging it without acting on it, you can let the urge pass.
  • Train the brain with new rewards. Recall the dopamine-driven reward system? To counterbalance the pleasure associated with alcohol, find alternative sources of dopamine. Perhaps it’s a delicious mocktail, a piece of dark chocolate, or a five-minute dance break! Whatever it is, the new experience can give your brain the pleasurable hits it craves, sans alcohol.
  • Emotional journaling. Tap into the power of self-awareness. Whenever you feel the urge to drink, jot down the emotion you're experiencing. By tracking patterns over time, you'll develop a clearer picture of emotional triggers, empowering you to address them directly.
  • Shuffle the habit deck. The next time that habitual drinking cue strikes, shake things up to replace the routine. Maybe sip some herbal tea or head out for a brisk walk. Disrupting the familiar loop can recalibrate the brain's automatic responses over time.
  • Engage with dynorphin knowledge. Acknowledge the power of dynorphin. When you feel that post-high low, remind yourself it's a natural brain response, not a genuine need for more alcohol. This awareness can prevent overconsumption in pursuit of a diminishing pleasure return.
  • Stay active. Engaging in physical activity, whether it’s a brisk walk, yoga, or a weightlifting session, can help in releasing endorphins — another one of those feel-good chemicals — and act as a distraction to reduce the intensity of the craving.
  • Taste adventures. Explore teas from around the world. The diverse flavors and rituals associated with tea preparation can become a fascinating replacement for the alcohol tasting experience.

In addition to learning how to deal with cravings directly, it helps to restructure your daily life to make it easier to stay on track:

  • Design social situations. Planning to attend a gathering? Arrive prepared. Carry your favorite non-alcoholic drink or, better yet, introduce a fun mocktail for everyone. When you're the trendsetter, it's easier to sidestep the pull of alcohol-focused social cues.
  • Set visual goals. Create a visual representation of your alcohol-free days, such as a calendar where you mark off each successful day. Watching your progress can be motivating and offers a tangible reminder of your determination and growth.
  • Mini challenges. Set up mini challenges for yourself. For instance, for every day you resist a craving, add an extra minute to your morning jog or meditation session, or an extra page to your reading. It's a way to celebrate your victory while also boosting another aspect of your wellness.
  • Create alcohol-free zones. Dedicate certain areas of your home, like the bedroom or the study, as alcohol-free zones. This physical separation can act as a reminder and barrier against impulsive drinking.
  • Declutter. Rid your environment of excessive alcohol. Having fewer bottles around can reduce the visual cues that spark a craving.
  • Digital detox. Sometimes, seeing others indulge in drinks on social media can trigger cravings. Designate specific times in your week for a digital detox. Use this time to connect with nature, read, or pursue other offline hobbies.
  • Manage stress. Find healthier ways to deal with stress. This might mean deep-breathing exercises, meditation, a few quick jumping jacks, or a simple hobby like painting or reading.
  • Build a support squad. There's incredible strength in numbers. Connect with people who share your goal of reducing alcohol intake. Whether you join an online group, attend support meetings, or simply rope in a friend, cheerleaders can make the journey smoother.

Beyond the Craving

Understanding why we crave alcohol is the first step in navigating and managing these urges. By getting to know our triggers and equipping ourselves with actionable steps, we’re setting a foundation for a healthier, more empowered relationship with alcohol.

There’s even better news. It’s easy to see alcohol cravings as nagging adversaries, incessantly reminding us of a past we might want to leave behind. But what if we flipped the script? What if, nestled within these urges, there was a powerful opportunity waiting to be harnessed?

Transforming Cravings Into Catalysts

Managing cravings, in all their persistent tug and pull, offers us a unique chance to reclaim control of our lives. Each time we face a craving head-on, it becomes more than just resisting temptation. It turns into a conscious choice to prioritize our well-being, our dreams, and our future.

Every craving we overcome is a stepping stone, an evolution towards a life more vibrant, authentic, and fulfilling than ever before. We are not only saying “no” to alcohol. We're also saying a resounding "yes" to personal growth, new hobbies, and deeper connections. It's all about adding layers of richness, building resilience, and crafting a life narrative filled with intent and purpose.

So as we forge ahead, let's remember that cravings, once seen as setbacks, can actually be the very catalysts that propel us into a future brighter and better than anything we've known before — a beautiful journey of self-discovery and unparalleled growth!

Cravings are slippery — and yet we know exactly what they are. Ever found yourself reaching for that wine bottle or considering another cold one more often than you’d like? Well, you’re not alone. Many people wonder, “Why the heck do I crave alcohol?”

In The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, British author and addiction specialist Allen Carr gives one of the most spot-on descriptions of cravings, calling them “an empty, insecure feeling” similar to hunger. Unlike hunger, however, there’s often an uneasy flavor to it: you want something, but you don’t want to want it. Worse yet, giving in to cravings tends to make them appear more and more frequently.

When it comes to alcohol cravings, it’s not just about wanting an “aah” moment after a long day, or trying to drown out a bad one. The truth is that alcohol cravings are a mix of biology, psychology, and social environments. So today we’re pulling the curtain back on those cravings and giving you some tools to handle them! Let’s uncover the four main mechanisms behind cravings and explore some ways to handle them.

1. Biology and Brain Chemistry: The Body’s Tug of War

Our brain likes to feel good. When we drink alcohol, it releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that signals pleasure and reward. Over time, and with regular consumption, the brain starts to associate alcohol with that lovely dopamine surge. When we don’t drink, the brain goes, “Hey, where’s my feel-good chemical?” This can lead to cravings.

We often think of our brains as sophisticated command centers, always rational and analytical. And while that might be true about the prefrontal cortex, the more primitive “lizard brain” behind the reward circuit is a lot like an eager toddler in a candy store when it comes to seeking pleasure. How is this pleasure-seeking system linked to our alcohol cravings?

Dopamine: The Star of the Show

When we do something enjoyable — such as eating a delicious meal, laughing at a joke, or yes, drinking alcohol — our brain releases dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. When we consume alcohol, dopamine floods our brain, and over time, our brain starts to think, “Hey, alcohol equals a good time!”

Research shows that with repeated alcohol consumption, the brain starts anticipating the dopamine surge. So even before we take that first sip, just the thought of drinking can get our dopamine factories revved up! It’s like when we think about a chocolate cake in the middle of the night — even without tasting it, we can already feel that sweet delight.

Adaptation: A Double-Edged Sword

Our brains are also masters of adaptation. Drink regularly, and the brain thinks it's getting too much of a good thing. In response, it might produce less dopamine over time or reduce the sensitivity of dopamine receptors. The result? We need more alcohol to achieve the same “feel-good” effect. It's a bit like needing more and more coffee to wake up if we’re regular caffeine consumers.

When we try to cut back or quit, the brain objects, looking for its dopamine surge. With the absence of regular alcohol-induced dopamine releases, we might feel down or experience a mood dip. That's the brain urging you to get back to your old ways, otherwise known as the withdrawal effect.

2. The Emotional Band-Aid: When Feelings Meet Booze

As much as we’d like to deny it, our emotions play a huge role in many of our choices. From the clothes we wear based on our mood, to the comfort food we reach for after a tough day, our feelings often steer the ship. The relationship between emotions and alcohol is no different.

For some, alcohol becomes a trusted ally against stress, sadness, or anxiety. But here's the catch: while it seems to provide temporary relief, it doesn’t fix the root cause of these emotions. Over time, we might find ourselves craving a drink whenever these feelings emerge, because the brain has made a connection: “Feeling down? Alcohol will fix it!”

In this way, alcohol serves as an instant emotional band-aid. Had a rough day? A drink might make it feel better. Feeling anxious about an upcoming event? A little booze might take the edge off. Over time, this pattern can create a more ingrained reflex in the brain: a negative emotion surfaces, and we instinctively reach for a drink to “soothe” it without giving it a second thought.

Why It Seems To Work (But Doesn’t Really)

Since alcohol is a depressant that slows the nervous system, the initial effects often do, in fact, feel calming. But here's the twist: while the immediate effects might seem relaxing, in the long run, science shows that alcohol can increase feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s like using a leaking bucket to carry water: it might seem helpful initially, but we’re losing more than we’re gaining as the brain’s natural neurotransmitter levels tip in the other direction.

In addition to depleting our dopamine levels over time, the brain overcompensates by releasing dynorphin to counteract the excessive release of dopamine. Instead of producing pleasure, dynorphin does the opposite: it decreases dopamine production, inducing feelings of dysphoria. This is the brain's way of keeping us chemically and emotionally balanced.

The Cycle of Emotion-Driven Drinking

Over time, with repeated exposure to pleasurable stimuli, the brain releases more and more dynorphin to counteract the high dopamine levels. This reduces the overall sensitivity of the brain's reward system, making it harder to feel pleasure from everyday activities and potentially leading to a cycle of increased substance use to reach the original high.

Here’s the cycle many folks find themselves in: they drink to cope with an emotion, the effects of the drink wear off, and they’re left with the same (or heightened) emotional distress, leading them to drink again. It's a loop that can be hard to break, especially if the underlying emotional triggers aren’t addressed.

Diagram about the common triggers for alcohol cravings
Building New Emotional Connections

The good news? Just as our brain can create associations between emotions and drinking, it can also learn new associations. This means we can train the brain to link challenging emotions with healthier coping strategies — talking to a friend, indulging in a hobby, or simply taking a few deep breaths. We are ultimately in the driver’s seat as far as our response to emotions, and by understanding the reasons behind our cravings and building new, positive associations, we’re taking charge of our journey.

3. Social Environments: It’s Everywhere!

Let's be real: we live in a culture where alcohol is often the centerpiece of social activities. From dinners to celebrations, to watching a football game — it's there. 

These scenarios can create associations between fun times and alcohol in our minds. When invited to such events, the brain jumps in with a nudge: “You’ll have more fun with a drink!” Over time, this cements the idea that to celebrate, commemorate, or even commiserate, a drink must be in hand, creating social cues around booze.

Ever been to a gathering where everyone is holding a drink and felt a bit out of place without one? That's social cue activation in play. Sometimes, it's not even a genuine craving, but the pressure to fit in that drives us to pick up a glass. It's a little like wearing a certain fashion because everyone else is doing it, even if it's not quite "you." (That said, it’s important to note that we should never feel obligated to drink, no matter what others around us are doing. Social pressures can make things tricky, but in most cases people will respect our decisions — and if they don’t, chances are the reason has to do with their own struggles or insecurities.)

The Mirror Effect

One reason we are naturally driven to “fit in” has to do with mirror neurons — the neurological mechanism behind empathy that helps us pick up on the emotions and actions of those around us by triggering the corresponding pathways in the brain even though we’re not experiencing the same stimuli directly. When everyone is laughing, clinking glasses, and sipping away, our brains want in. So even if we weren't initially in the mood for a drink, our mirror neurons can change our mind.

Setting Boundaries and Shifting Perspectives

This doesn’t mean you should start avoiding every social scenario with alcohol. Instead, recognize these influences and set boundaries. Your boundary can be choosing a non-alcoholic drink that you genuinely enjoy, or focusing on the conversations and connections instead of the drink in hand.

Navigating social waters where alcohol is omnipresent can be a tad challenging. But as with any challenge, it's also an opportunity — a chance to listen to your inner voice, set your course, and dance to your own tune, even if it's a bit different from the crowd's. After all, being authentically you is always in style!

4. Habit Loop: Routine in Play

Finally, one of the “stickiest” causes of cravings has to do with the habit loop. Have a routine of wine with dinner? Or a beer after mowing the lawn? These can become habitual. When a habit is formed, the brain switches to autopilot. The moment you sit for dinner or finish mowing, the brain signals it’s time for that drink.

While habits are related to the neurochemical reward circuit, emotional triggers, and social pressures we discussed earlier, they can be even trickier to address since they can extend beyond those factors. Even in the absence of a physical “need” for alcohol, an emotion that we want to escape, or a social situation driving us to conform, drinking can become ingrained in our lives as something that we “do” on a regular basis — with or without an identifiable “reason.”

The Three-Step Dance of Habits

Habits generally follow a three-step loop:

  • Cue. This is a trigger that initiates the behavior. For instance, finishing a workday might signal it's time to unwind.
  • Routine. This is the actual behavior or action. In our context, it could be pouring and sipping on a drink.
  • Reward. The outcome that your brain enjoys and wants to remember for the future. With alcohol, it might be a feeling of relaxation or euphoria.

This loop, once established, can be hard to break because it's been reinforced over time. It becomes an automatic response.

Why? Our brains are efficiency experts. When a pattern is repeated often enough, the brain conserves energy by turning that sequence into a habit. That's why, after driving home countless times, you might pull into your driveway and wonder, "How did I get here so quickly?" It’s the same thing with alcohol. If we regularly have a drink at a particular time or situation, the brain goes into autopilot.

Hijacking the Habit Loop

The mere fact that a habit has formed doesn't mean that it’s set in stone. The trick is to recognize the cue and replace the routine while still achieving a similar reward. If the cue is stress and the routine is drinking, for instance, we can replace drinking with a short meditation session, a walk, or listening to some favorite tunes — anything that provides relaxation (the reward).

Habits shape our days in more ways than we might realize. By understanding the rhythm of our routines and being proactive, we can rewire our habits to help steer us toward our goals.

Goodbye, Cravings!

Now that we have a better idea of what drives our cravings, let’s chart a new course of action!

Here are some ideas for dealing with cravings when they strike:

  • Mindful awareness. Start by recognizing your craving without judging it. “Oh, there’s that craving again.” By acknowledging it without acting on it, you can let the urge pass.
  • Train the brain with new rewards. Recall the dopamine-driven reward system? To counterbalance the pleasure associated with alcohol, find alternative sources of dopamine. Perhaps it’s a delicious mocktail, a piece of dark chocolate, or a five-minute dance break! Whatever it is, the new experience can give your brain the pleasurable hits it craves, sans alcohol.
  • Emotional journaling. Tap into the power of self-awareness. Whenever you feel the urge to drink, jot down the emotion you're experiencing. By tracking patterns over time, you'll develop a clearer picture of emotional triggers, empowering you to address them directly.
  • Shuffle the habit deck. The next time that habitual drinking cue strikes, shake things up to replace the routine. Maybe sip some herbal tea or head out for a brisk walk. Disrupting the familiar loop can recalibrate the brain's automatic responses over time.
  • Engage with dynorphin knowledge. Acknowledge the power of dynorphin. When you feel that post-high low, remind yourself it's a natural brain response, not a genuine need for more alcohol. This awareness can prevent overconsumption in pursuit of a diminishing pleasure return.
  • Stay active. Engaging in physical activity, whether it’s a brisk walk, yoga, or a weightlifting session, can help in releasing endorphins — another one of those feel-good chemicals — and act as a distraction to reduce the intensity of the craving.
  • Taste adventures. Explore teas from around the world. The diverse flavors and rituals associated with tea preparation can become a fascinating replacement for the alcohol tasting experience.

In addition to learning how to deal with cravings directly, it helps to restructure your daily life to make it easier to stay on track:

  • Design social situations. Planning to attend a gathering? Arrive prepared. Carry your favorite non-alcoholic drink or, better yet, introduce a fun mocktail for everyone. When you're the trendsetter, it's easier to sidestep the pull of alcohol-focused social cues.
  • Set visual goals. Create a visual representation of your alcohol-free days, such as a calendar where you mark off each successful day. Watching your progress can be motivating and offers a tangible reminder of your determination and growth.
  • Mini challenges. Set up mini challenges for yourself. For instance, for every day you resist a craving, add an extra minute to your morning jog or meditation session, or an extra page to your reading. It's a way to celebrate your victory while also boosting another aspect of your wellness.
  • Create alcohol-free zones. Dedicate certain areas of your home, like the bedroom or the study, as alcohol-free zones. This physical separation can act as a reminder and barrier against impulsive drinking.
  • Declutter. Rid your environment of excessive alcohol. Having fewer bottles around can reduce the visual cues that spark a craving.
  • Digital detox. Sometimes, seeing others indulge in drinks on social media can trigger cravings. Designate specific times in your week for a digital detox. Use this time to connect with nature, read, or pursue other offline hobbies.
  • Manage stress. Find healthier ways to deal with stress. This might mean deep-breathing exercises, meditation, a few quick jumping jacks, or a simple hobby like painting or reading.
  • Build a support squad. There's incredible strength in numbers. Connect with people who share your goal of reducing alcohol intake. Whether you join an online group, attend support meetings, or simply rope in a friend, cheerleaders can make the journey smoother.

Beyond the Craving

Understanding why we crave alcohol is the first step in navigating and managing these urges. By getting to know our triggers and equipping ourselves with actionable steps, we’re setting a foundation for a healthier, more empowered relationship with alcohol.

There’s even better news. It’s easy to see alcohol cravings as nagging adversaries, incessantly reminding us of a past we might want to leave behind. But what if we flipped the script? What if, nestled within these urges, there was a powerful opportunity waiting to be harnessed?

Transforming Cravings Into Catalysts

Managing cravings, in all their persistent tug and pull, offers us a unique chance to reclaim control of our lives. Each time we face a craving head-on, it becomes more than just resisting temptation. It turns into a conscious choice to prioritize our well-being, our dreams, and our future.

Every craving we overcome is a stepping stone, an evolution towards a life more vibrant, authentic, and fulfilling than ever before. We are not only saying “no” to alcohol. We're also saying a resounding "yes" to personal growth, new hobbies, and deeper connections. It's all about adding layers of richness, building resilience, and crafting a life narrative filled with intent and purpose.

So as we forge ahead, let's remember that cravings, once seen as setbacks, can actually be the very catalysts that propel us into a future brighter and better than anything we've known before — a beautiful journey of self-discovery and unparalleled growth!

Triggers and Cravings
2024-06-04 9:00
Triggers and Cravings
How To Stay Sober After Recovering From Alcoholism
This is some text inside of a div block.

Quitting alcohol is the first step to being sober, but there’s more to come. Learn all about this and more in our latest blog!

19 min read

Get Sober and Stay Sober 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 today!

Read Full Article  →

You’ve done it. You’ve finally quit alcohol, and it wasn’t easy to get there. But now what? How do you stay sober and not lose all that hard work you just did? Let’s unpack what it means to stay sober, and how we can do so after recovering from alcoholism.

What Does “Stay Sober” Mean?

Woman gesturing to stop drinking wine, with wine on the table

“Staying sober” means we completely abstain from alcohol or drugs, but it also means we strive to be a healthier version of ourselves by prioritizing our health and avoiding situations where we may be tempted to drink.

The time it takes for us to become sober varies, but it can take years in some cases. There are four broad stages in the recovery process:

  1. Abstinence. This stage involves accepting that we want to make a change and then completely quitting drinking. 
  2. Withdrawal. Perhaps the most difficult stage of the process involves adjusting to not having alcohol in our body and dealing with unpleasant side effects, such as tremors, anxiety, and headaches. The duration of withdrawal varies but can last a few weeks.
  3. Repair. The repair stage is when we start feeling better, physically and mentally, and begin integrating healthier habits into our life.
  4. Growth. In this final stage, we learn new skills that help keep us sober, such as healthy coping mechanisms for stress or undergoing therapy to resolve deep-seated issues that may have led to us drinking in the first place.

These steps aren’t always easy to follow. In fact, around 60% of those recovering from alcohol use disorder (AUD) relapse after only 6 months of sobriety, and one study reports that up to 85% of those in recovery relapse at some point. Don’t let these numbers frighten you, though. It is possible to stay sober, but it’s a process. 

So what can we do to stay sober? The first thing we need to know about staying sober is how to prevent relapse.

Preventing Relapse

The first thing to remember about relapse is that it is very common. Another thing to remember is that it has a formula, and knowing the formula can help us stop a relapse in its tracks before it gets out of control. Let’s unpack it a bit more!

The 3 Stages of Relapse 

A relapse doesn’t happen overnight. Relapses may be brewing for weeks or even months, and they typically involve a chain of events:

  • Emotional “relapse.” This means we are stretching ourselves too thin and denying our own self-care, whether that means spending too much energy on other people and neglecting ourselves, or bottling up our emotions and not coping with stress in a healthy way. It’s common for people to think they’re “fine,” when they really aren’t.
  • Mental “relapse.” This is when the doubt kicks in. Maybe that drink wouldn’t be so bad after all. We may start to think more about our drinking days or old drinking buddies, or we may even self-sabotage our recovery by thinking we can “handle” it. We might find ways to justify a drink in the future. Maybe it’s the holidays next week, and we’re allowed to have just one drink so as not to offend Mom and her eggnog recipe.
  • Physical “relapse.” This is the big one — when we finally break down and have that drink. The problem is, it’s all too easy for “that one drink” to turn into 10 drinks.

The key takeaway here is to spot a potential relapse early. If we’re tired, stressed, and overwhelmed every day, we may be headed for trouble. 

Tips To Stay Sober and Prevent Relapse

The key to avoiding relapse is implementing tangible steps and habits into our lifestyle. Luckily, we have a few right here to share:


  • Know your triggers. This is a big one. To prevent relapse, we need to be aware of common triggers and pinpoint what led to us drinking in the first place. Do we crave alcohol when we’re stressed? Do our friends pressure us to drink? Knowing this can make a world of difference because it allows us to avoid or address those triggers.
  • Seek treatment. Getting help during recovery should be at the top of our list, even if we don’t think we need it. Reports show that those who quit alcohol without help are 20% more likely to relapse within only three years than those who do have help. This help can be from a recovery professional and/or here at Reframe, where we have tools and a community that offers help and support every step of the way. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is also a great way to address negative thought patterns and behaviors.
  • Find new friends. It is wise to stay away from people who are a bad influence, whether they pressure us to drink with them or they drink in front of us, triggering a craving. Hanging out with other sober people will keep us in a safer environment, and we’ll have friends we can relate to.
  • Find alternatives. Attend sober events or stick to booze-free establishments. Better yet, stay home and craft your own mocktail menu. But word to the wise: be extra careful with non-alcoholic beers, or other non-alcoholic booze, as the trace alcohol can trigger cravings and relapse. Also, remember to stay away from other addictive substances or behaviors to avoid transfer addiction.
  • Don’t take it lightly. We should never assume we’ve “recovered enough to drink safely.” This mindset sets us up for relapse and undoing all our hard work. We need to stay strong and remember why we stopped drinking in the first place.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. If we do relapse, it’s important to forgive ourselves. It doesn’t define us, it doesn’t mean we’re doing a bad job at staying sober and should just go back to drinking. It doesn’t make us “bad” or a failure; it just makes us human. It’s a common part of recovery, and we should be kind to ourselves at all costs.
  • Celebrate milestones. Keeping track of our achievements in recovery gives us something to celebrate and feel good about. If we reward ourselves for milestones, we’ll have something to look forward to rather than seeing recovery as an endless stretch of time.
  • Don’t bury it. Many of us in recovery may want to pretend like we never had a negative history with alcohol. It’s important not to bury our history and not stop attending meetings or therapy, especially early on.

For even more tips on how to stay sober, check out our blog about staying sober long term.

Let’s say we’ve done these tips; we’re feeling great; we’ve got a handle on it. But what if our family or loved ones don’t approve? 

Tips for Navigating Relationship Dynamics While Staying Sober

Don’t worry, you don’t have to disown your whole family and move to the top of a mountain somewhere (unless you really want to — we won’t stop you!). Let’s explore some things you can say or do when put on the spot, so you’ll be prepared when those situations that come up.

  • When our coworker says, “Why don’t you join us at the bar for happy hour?”

We can say, “Maybe later, I’ve got plans at home.” You don’t have to actually join them later, but hopefully, it will get them off your back.

  • When a friend says, “Why aren’t you drinking with us? You used to love beer.”

We can say, “I don’t anymore. I’m really enjoying this club soda right now!”

  • When our aunt says, “The whole family is here, and you’re not going to toast champagne with us? It’s just one sip!”

We can say, “I don’t drink anymore, and one sip is out of the question. But I’m happy to toast a sparkling cider instead.”

  • When our old college friend says, “I’m in town for the weekend; let’s grab a beer for old times’ sake.”

We can say, “I’d rather go to the museum or the park. If you’re up for that, let me know.”


  • When our friend says, “Don’t you miss wine? How are you going to hold out for so long?”

We can say, “I’m focused on the here and now, and right now, I don’t miss it.” 

The bottom line is to practice what you might say to people so it comes automatically. And, unfortunately, if it gets to the point where family or friends continue to disrespect your sobriety and pressure you, it may be time to cut some ties. Your health comes first.

Now that we’ve dealt with family and friends, let’s deal with another obstacle: cravings. Those pesky cravings may be the hardest thing to overcome during recovery, but luckily there are ways we can handle them.

Healthy Ways to Deal With Cravings

Let’s explore some healthy ways we can tackle those pesky cravings and stay strong in our recovery process.

Wait 20 minutes. Some health research suggests that if we have a food craving and wait 20 minutes, our craving will dissipate, and we can apply that same principle to alcohol. Do some laundry, chop some onions, check your email, go do yoga – whatever it takes to distract yourself for 20 minutes — and you may forget all about your craving. For more information about alcohol cravings, check out our blog “How Urge Surfing Can Help You Overcome Alcohol Cravings.”

Journal it out. Writing about habits and cravings can help get the thoughts out of our head. Expressive writing in general is a therapeutic way to address your cravings and try to pinpoint why you crave them.

Practice mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness and meditation help reduce stress, which often causes cravings. They also help us control our thoughts and behaviors, which can help control urges to drink in the future.

Consider medication. Some medications help us control alcohol cravings. For more information about this, check out our blog “How To Stop Alcohol Cravings.”

Of course, there are more ways we can tackle alcohol cravings, and there is no “one way” that will work for everyone, so we need to try different techniques and find what works for us. Remember, nothing lasts forever — including cravings — so if you’re feeling uncomfortable, just remember that you’ll feel better soon. And you’ll be glad you put in the work, because now you can benefit from everything that being sober has to offer.

Benefits of a Sober Lifestyle

Benefits of a Sober Lifestyle

Living our new booze-free life comes with countless benefits, from physical health to mental health:

  • Improved short- and long-term health
  • Benefits to relationships
  • Better sleep
  • Increased productivity
  • Better weight management

But that’s just the beginning! We’re opening ourselves up to more meaningful experiences in every aspect of our life. Not to mention there’s a whole world of sober activities just waiting for us.

Fun Ideas for Sober Activities

If you’re unsure of what to do that doesn’t involve booze, try some of these sober activities:

  • Exercise. Get that heart pumping and release endorphins at the gym, at home, or in the park.
  • Volunteer work. Helping others can release dopamine and make us feel good about ourselves and the world.
  • Take a class. Always wanted to learn sign language? Or how to make pastries? Now is the perfect time to learn new skills and expand your mind!
  • Try sober tourism. Sober tourism means vacation without booze. Soak up the culture soberly to get an even more meaningful experience.

All of these activities will help you not only avoid alcohol but also build meaningful connections and add variety to your life. You’ll be surprised by how much there is to do and enjoy without booze. 

Key Takeaways

Being sober doesn’t just happen. It isn’t a finish line we cross once and celebrate. It’s a commitment. It requires us to wake up every day and choose this lifestyle. Think of it like a marriage — we make a vow and choose it day after day, and we’re excited by the future it holds. Being sober is a vow we make to ourselves, something we choose for ourselves day after day, and we should be excited about the new, beautiful life we have in store for us. And if times get tough, and you feel like the discomfort is unbearable, remember the old saying, “This too shall pass,” and take your journey one day at a time. 

You’ve done it. You’ve finally quit alcohol, and it wasn’t easy to get there. But now what? How do you stay sober and not lose all that hard work you just did? Let’s unpack what it means to stay sober, and how we can do so after recovering from alcoholism.

What Does “Stay Sober” Mean?

Woman gesturing to stop drinking wine, with wine on the table

“Staying sober” means we completely abstain from alcohol or drugs, but it also means we strive to be a healthier version of ourselves by prioritizing our health and avoiding situations where we may be tempted to drink.

The time it takes for us to become sober varies, but it can take years in some cases. There are four broad stages in the recovery process:

  1. Abstinence. This stage involves accepting that we want to make a change and then completely quitting drinking. 
  2. Withdrawal. Perhaps the most difficult stage of the process involves adjusting to not having alcohol in our body and dealing with unpleasant side effects, such as tremors, anxiety, and headaches. The duration of withdrawal varies but can last a few weeks.
  3. Repair. The repair stage is when we start feeling better, physically and mentally, and begin integrating healthier habits into our life.
  4. Growth. In this final stage, we learn new skills that help keep us sober, such as healthy coping mechanisms for stress or undergoing therapy to resolve deep-seated issues that may have led to us drinking in the first place.

These steps aren’t always easy to follow. In fact, around 60% of those recovering from alcohol use disorder (AUD) relapse after only 6 months of sobriety, and one study reports that up to 85% of those in recovery relapse at some point. Don’t let these numbers frighten you, though. It is possible to stay sober, but it’s a process. 

So what can we do to stay sober? The first thing we need to know about staying sober is how to prevent relapse.

Preventing Relapse

The first thing to remember about relapse is that it is very common. Another thing to remember is that it has a formula, and knowing the formula can help us stop a relapse in its tracks before it gets out of control. Let’s unpack it a bit more!

The 3 Stages of Relapse 

A relapse doesn’t happen overnight. Relapses may be brewing for weeks or even months, and they typically involve a chain of events:

  • Emotional “relapse.” This means we are stretching ourselves too thin and denying our own self-care, whether that means spending too much energy on other people and neglecting ourselves, or bottling up our emotions and not coping with stress in a healthy way. It’s common for people to think they’re “fine,” when they really aren’t.
  • Mental “relapse.” This is when the doubt kicks in. Maybe that drink wouldn’t be so bad after all. We may start to think more about our drinking days or old drinking buddies, or we may even self-sabotage our recovery by thinking we can “handle” it. We might find ways to justify a drink in the future. Maybe it’s the holidays next week, and we’re allowed to have just one drink so as not to offend Mom and her eggnog recipe.
  • Physical “relapse.” This is the big one — when we finally break down and have that drink. The problem is, it’s all too easy for “that one drink” to turn into 10 drinks.

The key takeaway here is to spot a potential relapse early. If we’re tired, stressed, and overwhelmed every day, we may be headed for trouble. 

Tips To Stay Sober and Prevent Relapse

The key to avoiding relapse is implementing tangible steps and habits into our lifestyle. Luckily, we have a few right here to share:


  • Know your triggers. This is a big one. To prevent relapse, we need to be aware of common triggers and pinpoint what led to us drinking in the first place. Do we crave alcohol when we’re stressed? Do our friends pressure us to drink? Knowing this can make a world of difference because it allows us to avoid or address those triggers.
  • Seek treatment. Getting help during recovery should be at the top of our list, even if we don’t think we need it. Reports show that those who quit alcohol without help are 20% more likely to relapse within only three years than those who do have help. This help can be from a recovery professional and/or here at Reframe, where we have tools and a community that offers help and support every step of the way. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is also a great way to address negative thought patterns and behaviors.
  • Find new friends. It is wise to stay away from people who are a bad influence, whether they pressure us to drink with them or they drink in front of us, triggering a craving. Hanging out with other sober people will keep us in a safer environment, and we’ll have friends we can relate to.
  • Find alternatives. Attend sober events or stick to booze-free establishments. Better yet, stay home and craft your own mocktail menu. But word to the wise: be extra careful with non-alcoholic beers, or other non-alcoholic booze, as the trace alcohol can trigger cravings and relapse. Also, remember to stay away from other addictive substances or behaviors to avoid transfer addiction.
  • Don’t take it lightly. We should never assume we’ve “recovered enough to drink safely.” This mindset sets us up for relapse and undoing all our hard work. We need to stay strong and remember why we stopped drinking in the first place.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. If we do relapse, it’s important to forgive ourselves. It doesn’t define us, it doesn’t mean we’re doing a bad job at staying sober and should just go back to drinking. It doesn’t make us “bad” or a failure; it just makes us human. It’s a common part of recovery, and we should be kind to ourselves at all costs.
  • Celebrate milestones. Keeping track of our achievements in recovery gives us something to celebrate and feel good about. If we reward ourselves for milestones, we’ll have something to look forward to rather than seeing recovery as an endless stretch of time.
  • Don’t bury it. Many of us in recovery may want to pretend like we never had a negative history with alcohol. It’s important not to bury our history and not stop attending meetings or therapy, especially early on.

For even more tips on how to stay sober, check out our blog about staying sober long term.

Let’s say we’ve done these tips; we’re feeling great; we’ve got a handle on it. But what if our family or loved ones don’t approve? 

Tips for Navigating Relationship Dynamics While Staying Sober

Don’t worry, you don’t have to disown your whole family and move to the top of a mountain somewhere (unless you really want to — we won’t stop you!). Let’s explore some things you can say or do when put on the spot, so you’ll be prepared when those situations that come up.

  • When our coworker says, “Why don’t you join us at the bar for happy hour?”

We can say, “Maybe later, I’ve got plans at home.” You don’t have to actually join them later, but hopefully, it will get them off your back.

  • When a friend says, “Why aren’t you drinking with us? You used to love beer.”

We can say, “I don’t anymore. I’m really enjoying this club soda right now!”

  • When our aunt says, “The whole family is here, and you’re not going to toast champagne with us? It’s just one sip!”

We can say, “I don’t drink anymore, and one sip is out of the question. But I’m happy to toast a sparkling cider instead.”

  • When our old college friend says, “I’m in town for the weekend; let’s grab a beer for old times’ sake.”

We can say, “I’d rather go to the museum or the park. If you’re up for that, let me know.”


  • When our friend says, “Don’t you miss wine? How are you going to hold out for so long?”

We can say, “I’m focused on the here and now, and right now, I don’t miss it.” 

The bottom line is to practice what you might say to people so it comes automatically. And, unfortunately, if it gets to the point where family or friends continue to disrespect your sobriety and pressure you, it may be time to cut some ties. Your health comes first.

Now that we’ve dealt with family and friends, let’s deal with another obstacle: cravings. Those pesky cravings may be the hardest thing to overcome during recovery, but luckily there are ways we can handle them.

Healthy Ways to Deal With Cravings

Let’s explore some healthy ways we can tackle those pesky cravings and stay strong in our recovery process.

Wait 20 minutes. Some health research suggests that if we have a food craving and wait 20 minutes, our craving will dissipate, and we can apply that same principle to alcohol. Do some laundry, chop some onions, check your email, go do yoga – whatever it takes to distract yourself for 20 minutes — and you may forget all about your craving. For more information about alcohol cravings, check out our blog “How Urge Surfing Can Help You Overcome Alcohol Cravings.”

Journal it out. Writing about habits and cravings can help get the thoughts out of our head. Expressive writing in general is a therapeutic way to address your cravings and try to pinpoint why you crave them.

Practice mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness and meditation help reduce stress, which often causes cravings. They also help us control our thoughts and behaviors, which can help control urges to drink in the future.

Consider medication. Some medications help us control alcohol cravings. For more information about this, check out our blog “How To Stop Alcohol Cravings.”

Of course, there are more ways we can tackle alcohol cravings, and there is no “one way” that will work for everyone, so we need to try different techniques and find what works for us. Remember, nothing lasts forever — including cravings — so if you’re feeling uncomfortable, just remember that you’ll feel better soon. And you’ll be glad you put in the work, because now you can benefit from everything that being sober has to offer.

Benefits of a Sober Lifestyle

Benefits of a Sober Lifestyle

Living our new booze-free life comes with countless benefits, from physical health to mental health:

  • Improved short- and long-term health
  • Benefits to relationships
  • Better sleep
  • Increased productivity
  • Better weight management

But that’s just the beginning! We’re opening ourselves up to more meaningful experiences in every aspect of our life. Not to mention there’s a whole world of sober activities just waiting for us.

Fun Ideas for Sober Activities

If you’re unsure of what to do that doesn’t involve booze, try some of these sober activities:

  • Exercise. Get that heart pumping and release endorphins at the gym, at home, or in the park.
  • Volunteer work. Helping others can release dopamine and make us feel good about ourselves and the world.
  • Take a class. Always wanted to learn sign language? Or how to make pastries? Now is the perfect time to learn new skills and expand your mind!
  • Try sober tourism. Sober tourism means vacation without booze. Soak up the culture soberly to get an even more meaningful experience.

All of these activities will help you not only avoid alcohol but also build meaningful connections and add variety to your life. You’ll be surprised by how much there is to do and enjoy without booze. 

Key Takeaways

Being sober doesn’t just happen. It isn’t a finish line we cross once and celebrate. It’s a commitment. It requires us to wake up every day and choose this lifestyle. Think of it like a marriage — we make a vow and choose it day after day, and we’re excited by the future it holds. Being sober is a vow we make to ourselves, something we choose for ourselves day after day, and we should be excited about the new, beautiful life we have in store for us. And if times get tough, and you feel like the discomfort is unbearable, remember the old saying, “This too shall pass,” and take your journey one day at a time. 

Triggers and Cravings
2024-04-22 9:00
Triggers and Cravings
Understanding and Preventing Underage Drinking
This is some text inside of a div block.

What are the risks of underage drinking, and what can we do to help? Check out our latest blog to learn more about alcohol and teenagers, and why the two are a dangerous mix.

22 min read

Ready To Change Your Relationship With Alcohol While Helping Your Teen Navigate Their Own? Reframe Can Help!

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! 

Read Full Article  →

It’s a fact of life for many: telling our kids not to do something all but guarantees they’ll do it. Maybe you remember those ubiquitous red cups with the questionable “punch” in orange coolers in your freshman dorm. Or maybe you played truth-or-dare in your parents’ basement in 10th grade and someone dared you to go take a swig of vodka in the kitchen. Maybe you even struggled with alcohol during your teenage years. 

Whatever our experience, when it comes to our kids, we hope for the best but naturally fear the worst. Surely they won’t stumble out of a frat house after falling asleep on a beer-soaked couch? Or wake up with a blinding headache and parched lips as they leaf through their calculus textbook, trying to make sense of the blurry numbers swimming across the page? But ready or not, the truth is that teenagers rebel (yes, even the “good” ones) and underage drinking is a reality. So, how can we understand it better? And how can we prevent teenage drinking (or at least minimize the risks)? Let’s take a closer look.

Underage Drinking: The Facts

a woman holding a beer bottle

Underage drinking is a fact — and a sobering one at that. According to the NIAAA, teens often start drinking during early adolescence but are more likely to do so as they get farther into their teenage years. 

Let’s look at the statistics:

  • Almost a fifth of young people have had a drink by age 15. The NIAAA reports that in 2022, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that “about 19.7% of youth ages 14 to 15 reported having at least 1 drink in their lifetime.”
  • Many of them drank in the last month. Even more alarmingly, in 2022, as many as 5.8 million youngsters ages 12 to 20 said they’d had more than “just a few sips” in the past month.
  • Boys tend to drink a bit more, but girls are “catching up.” According to the NIAAA, “Historically, adolescent boys were more likely to drink and binge drink than girls. Now, that relationship has reversed. Past-month alcohol use among adolescents ages 12 to 17 has declined more in recent years for boys than girls, with more girls reporting more alcohol use (8.5% vs. 5.5%) and binge drinking (4.0% vs. 2.6%) than boys.”

Underage Drinking: The Dangers

We all know the downsides of drinking too much, including the costs.

Among underage drinkers, according to the CDC, excessive alcohol consumption among underage drinkers cost the U.S. $24 billion in 2010 alone. But the cost is so much more than that, one that goes way past any monetary costs.

Alcohol-Related Deaths and Accidents

  • Lost lives. The latest reports show that excessive drinking claims about 4,000 adolescent lives each year from drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, and alcohol-related accidents.
  • Risk of injuries. The CDC reports high numbers of “unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, or drowning” as a result of underage drinking. In 2010 alone, there were 189,000 emergency room visits for “injuries related to underage drinking.” 

    Many studies confirm this sad truth. A study in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery tracked emergency room visits involving underage patients and found that out of the 303 whose primary complaint was “unintentional injury,” most were male and had higher blood alcohol levels.
  • Drunk driving. An enormous portion of those deaths and injuries happen on the road. According to the United States Department of Transportation, “Car crashes are a leading cause of death for teens, and about a quarter of fatal crashes involve an underage drinking driver. In 2021, 27% of young drivers 15 to 20 years old who were killed in crashes had BACs of .01 g/dL or higher.”

Substance Misuse Problems Later in Life

According to the NIAAA, those who start drinking before the age of 15 are more likely to develop alcohol use disorder (AUD) when they’re older. By the time we’re 26 and older, we’re 3.5 more likely to report having AUD if we started drinking before age 15!

Long- and Short-Term Health Problems

Alcohol misuse can wreak havoc on our health, and when we’re talking about underage drinking, the risks — and the stakes — are even higher. According to a Pediatrics article, binge drinking in particular — defined as 5 or more drinks in one sitting for men and 4 or more for women — takes an especially high toll. Let’s take a closer look at the dangers.

  • Brain and memory problems. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, heavy drinking during adolescent years can disrupt the developing brain, altering its structure and function and leading to cognitive problems, learning difficulties, and vulnerability to AUD later in life. 
  • Alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is a scary reality of heavy drinking. While people in all age groups are vulnerable, this particular risk is especially strong among college students. According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) that tracked full-time college students ages 18 to 22, nearly half drank on a regular basis and almost a third “engaged in binge drinking in the past month.”
  • Hangovers. While hangovers — those unpleasant reminders of a night of overindulgence — might pose less long-term risk to our health, they play a role as well. Waking up groggy from the night before isn’t fun at any age, and for those trying to keep up with school work or participating in extracurricular or athletic activities, they can end up having long term consequences.
  • Illnesses. Drinking impacts our overall health, making us more prone to physical and mental illnesses. According to Current Addiction Reports, adolescents who misuse alcohol are at a higher risk of major depressive disorder (MDD).
Long- and Short-Term Risks for Teen Drinkers

The ‘Why’ Behind Underage Drinking

It can sometimes be difficult to untangle the exact reasons behind drinking or to separate causes from effects when it comes to its consequences. An NIH publication touches on this question, pointing out that there are other factors at play, especially when it comes to impulsivity — a trademark characteristic of youth. 

That said, there are many reasons behind underage drinking. Let’s explore some of the most common ones.

Social Stressors 

Wanting to fit in isn’t unique to teens, but those high school (and sometimes college) years are when things ramp up in the social department. There’s a whole genre of movies dedicated to high school “drama”; depending on your generation, it may be Heathers, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and so forth.

Alcohol often comes up as a plot element in these films, and social pressures are certainly a major reason why a lot of teens end up drinking. Science backs this idea up as well: a Journal of Drug Education study found that peer drinking in particular had a strong effect when it came to influencing underage drinking and driving by young men.

Family Factors and Community Environment

Studies show that there’s a relationship between adult and adolescent drinking patterns. For example, a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows a connection between binge drinking among adults and the chance of underage drinking. 

Likewise, an Addiction study found a correlation between drinking patterns in the community and the rates of underage alcohol use. As it turned out, adolescent drinking “appears to be influenced by community-level adult drinking.” Specifically, “bar density” was linked to higher rates due to “perceived alcohol availability and approval of alcohol use.”

Cognitive Development

Finally, it’s no secret that our brain continues to develop well into our mid-20s, and during our adolescent years, we’re simply not quite there yet. We’re more likely to make impulsive decisions, especially when additional risk factors are part of the picture. A study in Alcohol Research and Health shows a link between executive functions and alcohol misuse in adolescents, with factors such as conduct disorder and attentional disorders amping up the risk.

Strategies To Curb Underage Drinking

According to the NIAAA, it’s essential to use prevention strategies to curb underage drinking and address problems before they escalate. And, as the SAMHSA 2021 survey shows, prevention works: “Between 2002 and 2019, current drinking by 12- to 20-year-olds declined from 29 percent to 19 percent. From 2015 to 2018, binge drinking and heavy alcohol use declined from 13 percent to 11 percent and 3 percent to 2 percent, respectively.”

Education 

Alcohol education can take place both at school and at home. It’s important to hear the message in different contexts. What our parents tell us and what we learn from teachers at school tends to land differently — the more information we have, the better equipped we can be to understand the potential impact of alcohol on our lives.

Here’s what alcohol education involves:

  • School programs. Remember those student assemblies about the effects of drunk driving? SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving), MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education are among the big ones. Whether or not we found those to be effective, the point is to get the message out there. These days, education programs at schools have expanded, presenting vital information about underage drinking in many different formats. It’s important to keep them going strong!
  • Community initiatives. Communities can come together to organize workshops and meet-ups to help their youngest members build self-esteem, teaching coping skills, and fostering healthy hobbies.
  • Family strategies. Finally, it’s essential to have open communication about alcohol within families. Parental monitoring and setting a good example can make an enormous difference! (For more information about alcohol and teenagers, check out our blog: “How To Help Your Teen With Alcohol Recovery.”) In addition to addressing teenage drinking, alcohol dangers, and staying safe, it’s also important to keep a close eye on the stress levels your teen might be experiencing.

Screening 

The NIAAA and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend regular screening by medical professionals who can spot underage drinking early and address it before it gets out of hand. It can also be easier for teens to talk to an adult who is not a teacher or family member about sensitive questions, knowing that they’re with a professional who knows what they’re doing and will be discreet while offering tangible advice.  

Policy and Enforcement

Laws and regulations to prevent underage drinking can make a difference. These can include enforcing a minimum legal drinking age, creating penalties for supplying alcohol to minors, and supporting laws that limit driving privileges to underage minors who drink.

Role of Media and Technology

Social media can be a double-edged sword when it comes to underage drinking. On the one hand, technology can promote alcohol use; on the other, it can be a valuable prevention tool with apps and online resources fostering education and support. 

Talking to Teens About Alcohol

So how do we talk to teens about alcohol? It’s not exactly the easiest topic to bring up. Here are some ideas:

  • Start the conversation. The key is to start — somewhere. It’s not a lecture, and you don't have to have all your ducks in a row when it comes to knowing the medical facts, statistics, and recommendations. 
  • Listen actively. Make sure the conversation isn’t one-sided. Encourage your teen to ask questions, and give them space to process what might be difficult emotions around a potentially heavy subject. Silences are okay, too! Making sure they know you’re there for them no matter what is key.
  • Share your story. This one is powerful. If you have your own alcohol story to share, please consider doing so. Yes, it might make you feel vulnerable, but this is the best possible type of vulnerability there is. You’re human, and you made it through something that’s incredibly challenging for anyone to tackle. Knowing this will not only make your teen proud of you but will reassure them that they can trust and rely on you if they face similar problems themselves.
  • Know when to ask for help. It’s also important to recognize when you might be out of your league and when it’s time to get some professional help. There’s no shame in admitting that you’re in too deep — in fact, that makes you a great parent! There are medical professionals, counselors, and specialized addiction therapists ready to jump on board and help you navigate anything that comes up. And Reframe is here for you every step of the way, whether you would like to explore your own relationship with alcohol or get support from others just like you on our 24/7 Forum!

Summing Up

As Daniel Handler writes in The Basic Eight, “Maybe, generations ago, young people rebelled out of some clear motive, but now, we know we’re rebelling. Between teen movies and sex-ed textbooks we’re so ready for our rebellious phase we can’t help but feel it’s safe, contained.” And yet, the reality is that it’s not always as safe as it might seem if alcohol is in the picture.

But while rebellion might be a natural part of adolescence, alcohol misuse doesn’t have to be. Let’s work together to keep our kids healthy as we continue our own journeys to the happiest and healthiest versions of ourselves!

It’s a fact of life for many: telling our kids not to do something all but guarantees they’ll do it. Maybe you remember those ubiquitous red cups with the questionable “punch” in orange coolers in your freshman dorm. Or maybe you played truth-or-dare in your parents’ basement in 10th grade and someone dared you to go take a swig of vodka in the kitchen. Maybe you even struggled with alcohol during your teenage years. 

Whatever our experience, when it comes to our kids, we hope for the best but naturally fear the worst. Surely they won’t stumble out of a frat house after falling asleep on a beer-soaked couch? Or wake up with a blinding headache and parched lips as they leaf through their calculus textbook, trying to make sense of the blurry numbers swimming across the page? But ready or not, the truth is that teenagers rebel (yes, even the “good” ones) and underage drinking is a reality. So, how can we understand it better? And how can we prevent teenage drinking (or at least minimize the risks)? Let’s take a closer look.

Underage Drinking: The Facts

a woman holding a beer bottle

Underage drinking is a fact — and a sobering one at that. According to the NIAAA, teens often start drinking during early adolescence but are more likely to do so as they get farther into their teenage years. 

Let’s look at the statistics:

  • Almost a fifth of young people have had a drink by age 15. The NIAAA reports that in 2022, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that “about 19.7% of youth ages 14 to 15 reported having at least 1 drink in their lifetime.”
  • Many of them drank in the last month. Even more alarmingly, in 2022, as many as 5.8 million youngsters ages 12 to 20 said they’d had more than “just a few sips” in the past month.
  • Boys tend to drink a bit more, but girls are “catching up.” According to the NIAAA, “Historically, adolescent boys were more likely to drink and binge drink than girls. Now, that relationship has reversed. Past-month alcohol use among adolescents ages 12 to 17 has declined more in recent years for boys than girls, with more girls reporting more alcohol use (8.5% vs. 5.5%) and binge drinking (4.0% vs. 2.6%) than boys.”

Underage Drinking: The Dangers

We all know the downsides of drinking too much, including the costs.

Among underage drinkers, according to the CDC, excessive alcohol consumption among underage drinkers cost the U.S. $24 billion in 2010 alone. But the cost is so much more than that, one that goes way past any monetary costs.

Alcohol-Related Deaths and Accidents

  • Lost lives. The latest reports show that excessive drinking claims about 4,000 adolescent lives each year from drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, and alcohol-related accidents.
  • Risk of injuries. The CDC reports high numbers of “unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, or drowning” as a result of underage drinking. In 2010 alone, there were 189,000 emergency room visits for “injuries related to underage drinking.” 

    Many studies confirm this sad truth. A study in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery tracked emergency room visits involving underage patients and found that out of the 303 whose primary complaint was “unintentional injury,” most were male and had higher blood alcohol levels.
  • Drunk driving. An enormous portion of those deaths and injuries happen on the road. According to the United States Department of Transportation, “Car crashes are a leading cause of death for teens, and about a quarter of fatal crashes involve an underage drinking driver. In 2021, 27% of young drivers 15 to 20 years old who were killed in crashes had BACs of .01 g/dL or higher.”

Substance Misuse Problems Later in Life

According to the NIAAA, those who start drinking before the age of 15 are more likely to develop alcohol use disorder (AUD) when they’re older. By the time we’re 26 and older, we’re 3.5 more likely to report having AUD if we started drinking before age 15!

Long- and Short-Term Health Problems

Alcohol misuse can wreak havoc on our health, and when we’re talking about underage drinking, the risks — and the stakes — are even higher. According to a Pediatrics article, binge drinking in particular — defined as 5 or more drinks in one sitting for men and 4 or more for women — takes an especially high toll. Let’s take a closer look at the dangers.

  • Brain and memory problems. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, heavy drinking during adolescent years can disrupt the developing brain, altering its structure and function and leading to cognitive problems, learning difficulties, and vulnerability to AUD later in life. 
  • Alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is a scary reality of heavy drinking. While people in all age groups are vulnerable, this particular risk is especially strong among college students. According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) that tracked full-time college students ages 18 to 22, nearly half drank on a regular basis and almost a third “engaged in binge drinking in the past month.”
  • Hangovers. While hangovers — those unpleasant reminders of a night of overindulgence — might pose less long-term risk to our health, they play a role as well. Waking up groggy from the night before isn’t fun at any age, and for those trying to keep up with school work or participating in extracurricular or athletic activities, they can end up having long term consequences.
  • Illnesses. Drinking impacts our overall health, making us more prone to physical and mental illnesses. According to Current Addiction Reports, adolescents who misuse alcohol are at a higher risk of major depressive disorder (MDD).
Long- and Short-Term Risks for Teen Drinkers

The ‘Why’ Behind Underage Drinking

It can sometimes be difficult to untangle the exact reasons behind drinking or to separate causes from effects when it comes to its consequences. An NIH publication touches on this question, pointing out that there are other factors at play, especially when it comes to impulsivity — a trademark characteristic of youth. 

That said, there are many reasons behind underage drinking. Let’s explore some of the most common ones.

Social Stressors 

Wanting to fit in isn’t unique to teens, but those high school (and sometimes college) years are when things ramp up in the social department. There’s a whole genre of movies dedicated to high school “drama”; depending on your generation, it may be Heathers, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and so forth.

Alcohol often comes up as a plot element in these films, and social pressures are certainly a major reason why a lot of teens end up drinking. Science backs this idea up as well: a Journal of Drug Education study found that peer drinking in particular had a strong effect when it came to influencing underage drinking and driving by young men.

Family Factors and Community Environment

Studies show that there’s a relationship between adult and adolescent drinking patterns. For example, a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows a connection between binge drinking among adults and the chance of underage drinking. 

Likewise, an Addiction study found a correlation between drinking patterns in the community and the rates of underage alcohol use. As it turned out, adolescent drinking “appears to be influenced by community-level adult drinking.” Specifically, “bar density” was linked to higher rates due to “perceived alcohol availability and approval of alcohol use.”

Cognitive Development

Finally, it’s no secret that our brain continues to develop well into our mid-20s, and during our adolescent years, we’re simply not quite there yet. We’re more likely to make impulsive decisions, especially when additional risk factors are part of the picture. A study in Alcohol Research and Health shows a link between executive functions and alcohol misuse in adolescents, with factors such as conduct disorder and attentional disorders amping up the risk.

Strategies To Curb Underage Drinking

According to the NIAAA, it’s essential to use prevention strategies to curb underage drinking and address problems before they escalate. And, as the SAMHSA 2021 survey shows, prevention works: “Between 2002 and 2019, current drinking by 12- to 20-year-olds declined from 29 percent to 19 percent. From 2015 to 2018, binge drinking and heavy alcohol use declined from 13 percent to 11 percent and 3 percent to 2 percent, respectively.”

Education 

Alcohol education can take place both at school and at home. It’s important to hear the message in different contexts. What our parents tell us and what we learn from teachers at school tends to land differently — the more information we have, the better equipped we can be to understand the potential impact of alcohol on our lives.

Here’s what alcohol education involves:

  • School programs. Remember those student assemblies about the effects of drunk driving? SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving), MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education are among the big ones. Whether or not we found those to be effective, the point is to get the message out there. These days, education programs at schools have expanded, presenting vital information about underage drinking in many different formats. It’s important to keep them going strong!
  • Community initiatives. Communities can come together to organize workshops and meet-ups to help their youngest members build self-esteem, teaching coping skills, and fostering healthy hobbies.
  • Family strategies. Finally, it’s essential to have open communication about alcohol within families. Parental monitoring and setting a good example can make an enormous difference! (For more information about alcohol and teenagers, check out our blog: “How To Help Your Teen With Alcohol Recovery.”) In addition to addressing teenage drinking, alcohol dangers, and staying safe, it’s also important to keep a close eye on the stress levels your teen might be experiencing.

Screening 

The NIAAA and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend regular screening by medical professionals who can spot underage drinking early and address it before it gets out of hand. It can also be easier for teens to talk to an adult who is not a teacher or family member about sensitive questions, knowing that they’re with a professional who knows what they’re doing and will be discreet while offering tangible advice.  

Policy and Enforcement

Laws and regulations to prevent underage drinking can make a difference. These can include enforcing a minimum legal drinking age, creating penalties for supplying alcohol to minors, and supporting laws that limit driving privileges to underage minors who drink.

Role of Media and Technology

Social media can be a double-edged sword when it comes to underage drinking. On the one hand, technology can promote alcohol use; on the other, it can be a valuable prevention tool with apps and online resources fostering education and support. 

Talking to Teens About Alcohol

So how do we talk to teens about alcohol? It’s not exactly the easiest topic to bring up. Here are some ideas:

  • Start the conversation. The key is to start — somewhere. It’s not a lecture, and you don't have to have all your ducks in a row when it comes to knowing the medical facts, statistics, and recommendations. 
  • Listen actively. Make sure the conversation isn’t one-sided. Encourage your teen to ask questions, and give them space to process what might be difficult emotions around a potentially heavy subject. Silences are okay, too! Making sure they know you’re there for them no matter what is key.
  • Share your story. This one is powerful. If you have your own alcohol story to share, please consider doing so. Yes, it might make you feel vulnerable, but this is the best possible type of vulnerability there is. You’re human, and you made it through something that’s incredibly challenging for anyone to tackle. Knowing this will not only make your teen proud of you but will reassure them that they can trust and rely on you if they face similar problems themselves.
  • Know when to ask for help. It’s also important to recognize when you might be out of your league and when it’s time to get some professional help. There’s no shame in admitting that you’re in too deep — in fact, that makes you a great parent! There are medical professionals, counselors, and specialized addiction therapists ready to jump on board and help you navigate anything that comes up. And Reframe is here for you every step of the way, whether you would like to explore your own relationship with alcohol or get support from others just like you on our 24/7 Forum!

Summing Up

As Daniel Handler writes in The Basic Eight, “Maybe, generations ago, young people rebelled out of some clear motive, but now, we know we’re rebelling. Between teen movies and sex-ed textbooks we’re so ready for our rebellious phase we can’t help but feel it’s safe, contained.” And yet, the reality is that it’s not always as safe as it might seem if alcohol is in the picture.

But while rebellion might be a natural part of adolescence, alcohol misuse doesn’t have to be. Let’s work together to keep our kids healthy as we continue our own journeys to the happiest and healthiest versions of ourselves!

Triggers and Cravings
2024-01-02 9:00
Triggers and Cravings
Help! Alcohol Is Ruining My Marriage
This is some text inside of a div block.

Transform your marriage and find your way back to each other with our latest blog on tackling alcohol misuse! Discover practical tips and compassionate insights for a healthier, happier relationship.

19 min read

Improve the Relationships in Your Life by Changing Your Relationship With Alcohol!

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 today! 

Read Full Article  →

The statistics are sobering: according to American Addiction Centers, verbal abuse in a marriage is twice as likely with alcohol in the mix, while the risk of physical aggression increases 3 to 4 times if either party has been drinking in the last 4 hours. Sadly, children often bear the brunt of the troubles: in 40 to 80% of families where children are physically abused, some form of substance misuse is part of the equation. Costs of intimate partner violence add up to about $12.6 billion a year in the U.S. alone.

Marriage is a partnership, but when alcohol misuse gets mixed in, things can go haywire quickly. Whether you’re living with an alcoholic spouse or you’re the one struggling with alcohol misuse yourself, the challenge can feel overwhelming. However, by understanding the dynamics and adopting some science-based strategies, each partner can help the other steer towards calmer waters.

Part 1. Alcoholic Behavior in Relationships

When it comes to relationships, alcohol can really shake things up. Scientifically speaking, it can alter brain chemistry, leading to changes in behavior by disrupting the neurotransmitters that are responsible for mood regulation, decision-making, and impulse control. The result? Mood swings, aggression, or withdrawal — and a strain on the emotional connection that’s the bedrock of marriage.

For the non-drinking spouse, the repeated stress can trigger a cascade of psychological effects, including anxiety, depression, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Alcohol drives the partners apart, creating an environment where both may feel misunderstood and alone.

Let's take a closer look at how alcohol misuse can affect relationship dynamics:

  • Emotional connection decreases. Alcohol slips into the nooks and crannies of a relationship, dampening the emotional connection between partners. It can make a partner emotionally unavailable or unpredictable, which, in turn, leads to loneliness or frustration.
  • Communication gets off course. Picture trying to have a meaningful conversation while someone keeps changing the topic — that's often what it's like when alcohol misuse is in the mix. Alcohol can lead to misunderstandings, unaddressed issues, and hurtful exchanges that leave both partners feeling unheard and undervalued.
  • Trust issues crop up. With booze in the equation, trust — a relationship cornerstone — can start to erode. This might look like broken promises, unreliable behavior, or deception about drinking habits. 
  • Intimacy takes a nosedive. Intimacy, both emotional and physical, can also suffer. Alcohol can dampen sexual desire and performance, leading to troubles in the bedroom — and beyond.

The Ripple Effect

The effects of alcohol misuse aren’t limited to just the couple — they can ripple out to affect family life, social relationships, and work. It's a chain reaction, with the strain in the marriage leading to tensions in other relationships.

Part 2. For the Partner Struggling With Alcohol Misuse

If you're the one grappling with alcohol misuse, know that your journey towards a healthier lifestyle is pivotal, not just for your own well-being, but for the health of your marriage. It's time to look at this challenge with fresh eyes and a determined heart. Here's how you can make significant strides in the right direction.

  • Acknowledge the challenge. First things first: Recognizing that alcohol is impacting your life and your relationship is a huge step. It's about understanding that your actions have consequences beyond yourself. This realization isn't easy, and it takes courage to admit. 
  • Set personal goals. What does a healthier version of you look like? Maybe it's someone who can enjoy family events without relying on alcohol, or someone who wakes up feeling refreshed and clear-headed. Set tangible, achievable goals for yourself. Whether it's being sober for a day, a week, or a month, each one is a building block towards a larger vision of your health and happiness.
  • Track your progress. Keep a journal or use an app to track how much you drink and how it correlates with your mood and health. Seeing things in black and white can be a powerful motivator!
  • Seek professional guidance. There's no shame in asking for help — it's a wise and brave decision! A therapist or healthcare provider can give you personalized advice and suggest treatment options. These might include therapy sessions, medication, or joining a support group. 
  • Focus on holistic wellness. Your physical, mental, and emotional health are interconnected. Try some activities that nourish all aspects of your well-being — exercise, meditation, and spending time in nature are all excellent choices to give your physical health a boost while sparking a sense of achievement and joy.
  • Communicate openly. Be open with your spouse about your struggles and successes. Honesty fosters trust and understanding and lets your partner be a part of your journey.
  • Remember, you're not alone. Finally, remind yourself that you're not alone in this. Many have walked this path and emerged stronger and healthier than ever! There's a community out there of people who understand and support you.

Part 3. Effects of Living With an Alcoholic Spouse

Living with an alcoholic wife or alcoholic husband can bring on a flood of intense emotions. It's a challenging situation, but your resilience and understanding can make a world of difference! Here's how to navigate this journey while maintaining your own well-being and nurturing your relationship.

  • Acknowledge your feelings. First and foremost, it's important to acknowledge your feelings. It's normal to experience a range of emotions from sadness to anger, frustration, and helplessness. Recognizing and accepting these feelings is not a sign of weakness — it's a healthy way to understand your own needs in the relationship. 
  • Learn about alcohol misuse. Understanding alcohol misuse can be a game changer. It's a complex issue that affects both the brain and behavior. This knowledge can foster empathy and patience, helping you handle the ups and downs more effectively. 
  • Seek support. This journey isn't meant to be walked alone. Seek support from friends, family, or join support groups like Al-Anon, where you can share experiences with others in similar situations. These groups offer both emotional support and practical coping strategies. 
  • Set healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries is crucial. It’s about protecting your well-being while encouraging your spouse to take responsibility for their actions. Boundaries might include not accepting disrespectful behavior or insisting that your spouse does not drink during family times. Boundaries aren’t just about setting rules; they're about creating a safe, respectful environment.
  • Take care of yourself. Self-care is not selfish! It's essential. Make sure you’re taking time for yourself: engaging in a hobby, exercising, or simply enjoying some quiet time. Your mental and physical health are crucial, and nurturing them will help you cope better and bring a positive energy to your relationship.
  • Be realistic. Understand that change takes time, and there may be setbacks along the way. Celebrate small victories and be patient with the process. It's important to remain hopeful — but realistic — about the challenges of recovery from alcohol misuse.

Part 4. Turning the Tide

If this all sounds a bit daunting, there's good news: recognizing these challenges is a huge step towards addressing them. With the right tools, support, and a dash of perseverance, steering your marriage back to a healthier place is absolutely possible.

The Power of Communication

Open, honest communication can be a lifeline when it comes to marriage problems. The right approach can pave the way for mutual support and recovery.

  • Open and honest dialogue. Open and honest dialogue freshens and invigorates your relationship. It's about sharing your thoughts, fears, and hopes in a candid yet respectful way — without blame or criticism. Whether it's sharing how your partner's drinking affects you or discussing your own struggles with alcohol, these conversations are the bedrock of mutual understanding.
  • The right time and place. Timing and setting are key for effective communication. Aim for moments when both of you are calm and free from distractions. This might mean setting aside a specific time to talk when you’re both relaxed, not immediately after a booze-related incident.
  • Listening is as important as speaking. Good communication is a two-way street! Active listening involves fully concentrating, understanding, responding, and then remembering what is being said.
  • Use "I" statements. "I" statements are powerful. They allow you to express your feelings without sounding accusatory or confrontational. For instance, saying "I feel worried when you drink too much" is more effective than saying "You drink too much." It's a way to take ownership of your feelings and invite your partner to understand your perspective without feeling attacked.
  • Non-verbal communication counts! Communication isn’t just about words. Your body language, tone of voice, and even your facial expressions convey volumes. A gentle tone and open posture can set a positive tone for the conversation, making it easier for your partner to open up.
  • Keep it consistent. Make communication a regular part of your relationship. Regular check-ins or scheduled times to talk can help keep the lines of communication open. It’s not just about talking when there’s a problem; it’s about maintaining an ongoing dialogue.

Action Steps for Turning the Tide

Finally, here are some additional action steps to help you and your partner address the challenge of alcohol misuse head-on in your marriage.

  • Seek professional help. Engage with a healthcare provider or a therapist who specializes in addiction. This could involve medically supervised detoxification, individual therapy, couples therapy, and support groups like Al-Anon for the non-drinking spouse. Therapy provides a safe space to explore the issues and learn coping mechanisms while under the guidance of a professional.
  • Create a booze-free home. Remove alcohol from your home environment to eliminate temptation and triggers. While it might seem like a simple step, it is a powerful tangible symbol of solidarity, mutual support, and commitment to a new lifestyle!
  • Establish healthy routines. Incorporate regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep into your daily routine. These habits can improve mood, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being, making it easier to cope with any challenges that come up.
  • Set boundaries. Establish clear boundaries around alcohol. Discuss and agree upon these boundaries to make sure they’re specific and realistic. Boundaries might include no drinking during family events or deciding on a plan of action if things don’t go as planned. 
  • Develop a support network. Build a support network of friends, family, and community members who understand what you’re going through. They can provide emotional encouragement and practical help if you need it.
  • Celebrate milestones. Acknowledge and celebrate milestones in your alcohol journey — or your partner’s. Whether it’s one week or one year, recognizing these achievements can boost morale and motivate continued progress. Creating new, booze-free traditions to mark these occasions is a great way to celebrate achievements while bringing you closer and creating new memories.

Wrapping Up

Alcohol misuse can indeed put a strain on marriage, but it doesn’t have to be the narrative of your relationship. With the right tools, understanding, and action, both partners can work towards a healthier, happier union free from the shadow of alcohol.

It’s not just about navigating away from alcohol; it’s about steering towards a shared vision of your life together. Take it one step at a time, support each other, and keep your eyes on the horizon of a fulfilling, alcohol-free future.

The statistics are sobering: according to American Addiction Centers, verbal abuse in a marriage is twice as likely with alcohol in the mix, while the risk of physical aggression increases 3 to 4 times if either party has been drinking in the last 4 hours. Sadly, children often bear the brunt of the troubles: in 40 to 80% of families where children are physically abused, some form of substance misuse is part of the equation. Costs of intimate partner violence add up to about $12.6 billion a year in the U.S. alone.

Marriage is a partnership, but when alcohol misuse gets mixed in, things can go haywire quickly. Whether you’re living with an alcoholic spouse or you’re the one struggling with alcohol misuse yourself, the challenge can feel overwhelming. However, by understanding the dynamics and adopting some science-based strategies, each partner can help the other steer towards calmer waters.

Part 1. Alcoholic Behavior in Relationships

When it comes to relationships, alcohol can really shake things up. Scientifically speaking, it can alter brain chemistry, leading to changes in behavior by disrupting the neurotransmitters that are responsible for mood regulation, decision-making, and impulse control. The result? Mood swings, aggression, or withdrawal — and a strain on the emotional connection that’s the bedrock of marriage.

For the non-drinking spouse, the repeated stress can trigger a cascade of psychological effects, including anxiety, depression, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Alcohol drives the partners apart, creating an environment where both may feel misunderstood and alone.

Let's take a closer look at how alcohol misuse can affect relationship dynamics:

  • Emotional connection decreases. Alcohol slips into the nooks and crannies of a relationship, dampening the emotional connection between partners. It can make a partner emotionally unavailable or unpredictable, which, in turn, leads to loneliness or frustration.
  • Communication gets off course. Picture trying to have a meaningful conversation while someone keeps changing the topic — that's often what it's like when alcohol misuse is in the mix. Alcohol can lead to misunderstandings, unaddressed issues, and hurtful exchanges that leave both partners feeling unheard and undervalued.
  • Trust issues crop up. With booze in the equation, trust — a relationship cornerstone — can start to erode. This might look like broken promises, unreliable behavior, or deception about drinking habits. 
  • Intimacy takes a nosedive. Intimacy, both emotional and physical, can also suffer. Alcohol can dampen sexual desire and performance, leading to troubles in the bedroom — and beyond.

The Ripple Effect

The effects of alcohol misuse aren’t limited to just the couple — they can ripple out to affect family life, social relationships, and work. It's a chain reaction, with the strain in the marriage leading to tensions in other relationships.

Part 2. For the Partner Struggling With Alcohol Misuse

If you're the one grappling with alcohol misuse, know that your journey towards a healthier lifestyle is pivotal, not just for your own well-being, but for the health of your marriage. It's time to look at this challenge with fresh eyes and a determined heart. Here's how you can make significant strides in the right direction.

  • Acknowledge the challenge. First things first: Recognizing that alcohol is impacting your life and your relationship is a huge step. It's about understanding that your actions have consequences beyond yourself. This realization isn't easy, and it takes courage to admit. 
  • Set personal goals. What does a healthier version of you look like? Maybe it's someone who can enjoy family events without relying on alcohol, or someone who wakes up feeling refreshed and clear-headed. Set tangible, achievable goals for yourself. Whether it's being sober for a day, a week, or a month, each one is a building block towards a larger vision of your health and happiness.
  • Track your progress. Keep a journal or use an app to track how much you drink and how it correlates with your mood and health. Seeing things in black and white can be a powerful motivator!
  • Seek professional guidance. There's no shame in asking for help — it's a wise and brave decision! A therapist or healthcare provider can give you personalized advice and suggest treatment options. These might include therapy sessions, medication, or joining a support group. 
  • Focus on holistic wellness. Your physical, mental, and emotional health are interconnected. Try some activities that nourish all aspects of your well-being — exercise, meditation, and spending time in nature are all excellent choices to give your physical health a boost while sparking a sense of achievement and joy.
  • Communicate openly. Be open with your spouse about your struggles and successes. Honesty fosters trust and understanding and lets your partner be a part of your journey.
  • Remember, you're not alone. Finally, remind yourself that you're not alone in this. Many have walked this path and emerged stronger and healthier than ever! There's a community out there of people who understand and support you.

Part 3. Effects of Living With an Alcoholic Spouse

Living with an alcoholic wife or alcoholic husband can bring on a flood of intense emotions. It's a challenging situation, but your resilience and understanding can make a world of difference! Here's how to navigate this journey while maintaining your own well-being and nurturing your relationship.

  • Acknowledge your feelings. First and foremost, it's important to acknowledge your feelings. It's normal to experience a range of emotions from sadness to anger, frustration, and helplessness. Recognizing and accepting these feelings is not a sign of weakness — it's a healthy way to understand your own needs in the relationship. 
  • Learn about alcohol misuse. Understanding alcohol misuse can be a game changer. It's a complex issue that affects both the brain and behavior. This knowledge can foster empathy and patience, helping you handle the ups and downs more effectively. 
  • Seek support. This journey isn't meant to be walked alone. Seek support from friends, family, or join support groups like Al-Anon, where you can share experiences with others in similar situations. These groups offer both emotional support and practical coping strategies. 
  • Set healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries is crucial. It’s about protecting your well-being while encouraging your spouse to take responsibility for their actions. Boundaries might include not accepting disrespectful behavior or insisting that your spouse does not drink during family times. Boundaries aren’t just about setting rules; they're about creating a safe, respectful environment.
  • Take care of yourself. Self-care is not selfish! It's essential. Make sure you’re taking time for yourself: engaging in a hobby, exercising, or simply enjoying some quiet time. Your mental and physical health are crucial, and nurturing them will help you cope better and bring a positive energy to your relationship.
  • Be realistic. Understand that change takes time, and there may be setbacks along the way. Celebrate small victories and be patient with the process. It's important to remain hopeful — but realistic — about the challenges of recovery from alcohol misuse.

Part 4. Turning the Tide

If this all sounds a bit daunting, there's good news: recognizing these challenges is a huge step towards addressing them. With the right tools, support, and a dash of perseverance, steering your marriage back to a healthier place is absolutely possible.

The Power of Communication

Open, honest communication can be a lifeline when it comes to marriage problems. The right approach can pave the way for mutual support and recovery.

  • Open and honest dialogue. Open and honest dialogue freshens and invigorates your relationship. It's about sharing your thoughts, fears, and hopes in a candid yet respectful way — without blame or criticism. Whether it's sharing how your partner's drinking affects you or discussing your own struggles with alcohol, these conversations are the bedrock of mutual understanding.
  • The right time and place. Timing and setting are key for effective communication. Aim for moments when both of you are calm and free from distractions. This might mean setting aside a specific time to talk when you’re both relaxed, not immediately after a booze-related incident.
  • Listening is as important as speaking. Good communication is a two-way street! Active listening involves fully concentrating, understanding, responding, and then remembering what is being said.
  • Use "I" statements. "I" statements are powerful. They allow you to express your feelings without sounding accusatory or confrontational. For instance, saying "I feel worried when you drink too much" is more effective than saying "You drink too much." It's a way to take ownership of your feelings and invite your partner to understand your perspective without feeling attacked.
  • Non-verbal communication counts! Communication isn’t just about words. Your body language, tone of voice, and even your facial expressions convey volumes. A gentle tone and open posture can set a positive tone for the conversation, making it easier for your partner to open up.
  • Keep it consistent. Make communication a regular part of your relationship. Regular check-ins or scheduled times to talk can help keep the lines of communication open. It’s not just about talking when there’s a problem; it’s about maintaining an ongoing dialogue.

Action Steps for Turning the Tide

Finally, here are some additional action steps to help you and your partner address the challenge of alcohol misuse head-on in your marriage.

  • Seek professional help. Engage with a healthcare provider or a therapist who specializes in addiction. This could involve medically supervised detoxification, individual therapy, couples therapy, and support groups like Al-Anon for the non-drinking spouse. Therapy provides a safe space to explore the issues and learn coping mechanisms while under the guidance of a professional.
  • Create a booze-free home. Remove alcohol from your home environment to eliminate temptation and triggers. While it might seem like a simple step, it is a powerful tangible symbol of solidarity, mutual support, and commitment to a new lifestyle!
  • Establish healthy routines. Incorporate regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep into your daily routine. These habits can improve mood, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being, making it easier to cope with any challenges that come up.
  • Set boundaries. Establish clear boundaries around alcohol. Discuss and agree upon these boundaries to make sure they’re specific and realistic. Boundaries might include no drinking during family events or deciding on a plan of action if things don’t go as planned. 
  • Develop a support network. Build a support network of friends, family, and community members who understand what you’re going through. They can provide emotional encouragement and practical help if you need it.
  • Celebrate milestones. Acknowledge and celebrate milestones in your alcohol journey — or your partner’s. Whether it’s one week or one year, recognizing these achievements can boost morale and motivate continued progress. Creating new, booze-free traditions to mark these occasions is a great way to celebrate achievements while bringing you closer and creating new memories.

Wrapping Up

Alcohol misuse can indeed put a strain on marriage, but it doesn’t have to be the narrative of your relationship. With the right tools, understanding, and action, both partners can work towards a healthier, happier union free from the shadow of alcohol.

It’s not just about navigating away from alcohol; it’s about steering towards a shared vision of your life together. Take it one step at a time, support each other, and keep your eyes on the horizon of a fulfilling, alcohol-free future.

Triggers and Cravings
2023-10-26 9:00
Triggers and Cravings
Why Do I Have Alcohol Cravings When I'm Stressed?
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If we’ve used alcohol to decompress or relax in the past, our brain has formed an association between drinking alcohol with a feeling of relief and reward. So whenever we’re stressed, our brain recalls the positive experience with alcohol and sends a “craving” signal.

10 min read

Rethink Your 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!

Read Full Article  →

Many of us can probably relate: we’re driving home from a stressful day at the office and can’t wait to walk in the door, uncork a bottle of wine, and plop down on the couch. Or we reach the end of a week from hell and want nothing more than to crack open a cold beer. In other words, when our stress levels spike, so do our alcohol cravings.

There’s a well-established link between stress and alcohol use. In fact, many people who struggle with alcohol misuse report social stressors such as family or workplace conflict as triggers of craving and relapse. But, why do we crave alcohol when we’re stressed? Let’s dive in!

Understanding Why Cravings Happen

drunken man sleeping bar counter

Drinking alcohol activates our brain’s reward system. Like other drugs, alcohol floods our brain with dopamine — that “feel good” chemical that keeps us coming back for more. As soon as we start drinking, our dopamine levels spike, creating a sense of happiness or euphoria and an apparent ease of stress and anxiety.

When we use alcohol to destress, decompress, or relax (as many of us do) our brain begins to form associations. It starts connecting drinking alcohol with a feeling of relief and reward. As we continue to use alcohol in these moments, the association is strengthened in our brain’s pleasure center.

If this association becomes strong enough, even just the thought of having a drink can increase dopamine levels. When we do consume alcohol, even more dopamine is released. As the dopamine continues to ramp up, it can lead to an acceleration of consumption. In other words, what we said would be just one drink to “take the edge off” suddenly becomes several.

Eventually, cravings become an automatic response to a trigger, such as a stressful situation. Our brain immediately remembers the positive experience with alcohol and sends signals, or cravings, that encourage the behavior.

Besides stress, there are many different types of triggers, both internal and external. Internal triggers include memories, thoughts, or other emotions like sadness, anger, or anxiety that prompt the urge to drink. External triggers refer to environmental cues that we link to alcohol, such as particular places, times, people or situations. This is why a craving can occur spontaneously — for instance, by seeing those around us drinking or walking by our favorite bar.

Illustration of body's stress response system

Alcohol’s Effects on Stress

Interestingly, while many of us have learned to turn to alcohol for relaxation and as a way to deal with stress, the relationship between alcohol and stress is complicated. Research indicates that alcohol triggers chemical changes in our brain that lead to short-term relaxation, but long-term stress. Alcohol also changes how our body responds to stress, making it harder to cope without it. 

Here’s how it works: as a depressant, alcohol has the power to calm us down and make us feel more relaxed in the moment. However, alcohol also activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis — a major part of our body’s stress response system. 

The HPA axis regulates metabolism, the immune system, and the autonomous nervous system to help our body maintain homeostasis. Adding alcohol to our system throws off this balance, making it harder to return to a healthy state. 

Alcohol causes higher amounts of cortisol, the stress hormone, to be released in our brain, altering its chemistry and resetting what our body considers “normal.” It also shifts our hormonal balance and changes the way our body perceives and responds to stress. 

In fact, studies have found that people who drink heavily are more likely to experience higher anxiety under stress compared to people who don’t drink or who drink in moderation. Although alcohol seems to provide temporary relief from stress, people who drink more will have higher levels of stress over the long term.

How To Stop Alcohol Cravings Linked to Stress

Now that we know that alcohol actually leads to more stress, it’s best to avoid turning to it as a coping mechanism. But, what happens when that craving comes? What are some healthier alternatives to managing stress? And what are some methods to stop alcohol cravings?

We need to be careful not to replace our alcohol craving with something equally addictive, like smoking or gambling. Instead, we should focus on doing things that support our overall health and well-being.

Keep in mind that when a craving for alcohol strikes, it can help to acknowledge it and remind ourselves that it will usually go away in a few minutes. Here are some healthier alternatives to turn to when we’re feeling stressed: 

  • Get moving. Physical activity is one of the most effective tools for managing stress and cravings alike. Even just walking can lead to the release of endorphins, helping ease stress and enhance our mood. Regularly walking outside is particularly beneficial; time in nature has been shown to promote calmness and reduce tension. 



    The key is to find something you enjoy doing, whether that’s going for a run, doing yoga or Tai Chi, or taking a group exercise class. Plus, in the long-term, exercise helps combat the physical effects of stress, keeping your heart healthy and strong. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is another effective tool for reducing stress and anxiety. It’s been shown to reduce activity in the amygdala, part of the brain central to switching on the stress response. Similarly, mindfulness anchors you in the present moment and can help interrupt the stress response by allowing you space to respond instead of react. 



    You can practice mindfulness by bringing awareness to your emotions, allowing them to exist, not judging them, and remembering that they will eventually pass. You can also practice gratitude by making a list of the things you’re thankful for, as this helps train the brain to focus on the positive. 

  • Use relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation, can help lower stress and stop alcohol cravings. These techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for helping your mind and body relax.

At Reframe, we help people not only cut back on their alcohol consumption, but build healthier habits that lead to enhanced physical and mental well-being. If alcohol has been your go-to stress reliever for years, you’re not alone! Reframe has helped millions of people like you develop a healthier way of living.

Many of us can probably relate: we’re driving home from a stressful day at the office and can’t wait to walk in the door, uncork a bottle of wine, and plop down on the couch. Or we reach the end of a week from hell and want nothing more than to crack open a cold beer. In other words, when our stress levels spike, so do our alcohol cravings.

There’s a well-established link between stress and alcohol use. In fact, many people who struggle with alcohol misuse report social stressors such as family or workplace conflict as triggers of craving and relapse. But, why do we crave alcohol when we’re stressed? Let’s dive in!

Understanding Why Cravings Happen

drunken man sleeping bar counter

Drinking alcohol activates our brain’s reward system. Like other drugs, alcohol floods our brain with dopamine — that “feel good” chemical that keeps us coming back for more. As soon as we start drinking, our dopamine levels spike, creating a sense of happiness or euphoria and an apparent ease of stress and anxiety.

When we use alcohol to destress, decompress, or relax (as many of us do) our brain begins to form associations. It starts connecting drinking alcohol with a feeling of relief and reward. As we continue to use alcohol in these moments, the association is strengthened in our brain’s pleasure center.

If this association becomes strong enough, even just the thought of having a drink can increase dopamine levels. When we do consume alcohol, even more dopamine is released. As the dopamine continues to ramp up, it can lead to an acceleration of consumption. In other words, what we said would be just one drink to “take the edge off” suddenly becomes several.

Eventually, cravings become an automatic response to a trigger, such as a stressful situation. Our brain immediately remembers the positive experience with alcohol and sends signals, or cravings, that encourage the behavior.

Besides stress, there are many different types of triggers, both internal and external. Internal triggers include memories, thoughts, or other emotions like sadness, anger, or anxiety that prompt the urge to drink. External triggers refer to environmental cues that we link to alcohol, such as particular places, times, people or situations. This is why a craving can occur spontaneously — for instance, by seeing those around us drinking or walking by our favorite bar.

Illustration of body's stress response system

Alcohol’s Effects on Stress

Interestingly, while many of us have learned to turn to alcohol for relaxation and as a way to deal with stress, the relationship between alcohol and stress is complicated. Research indicates that alcohol triggers chemical changes in our brain that lead to short-term relaxation, but long-term stress. Alcohol also changes how our body responds to stress, making it harder to cope without it. 

Here’s how it works: as a depressant, alcohol has the power to calm us down and make us feel more relaxed in the moment. However, alcohol also activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis — a major part of our body’s stress response system. 

The HPA axis regulates metabolism, the immune system, and the autonomous nervous system to help our body maintain homeostasis. Adding alcohol to our system throws off this balance, making it harder to return to a healthy state. 

Alcohol causes higher amounts of cortisol, the stress hormone, to be released in our brain, altering its chemistry and resetting what our body considers “normal.” It also shifts our hormonal balance and changes the way our body perceives and responds to stress. 

In fact, studies have found that people who drink heavily are more likely to experience higher anxiety under stress compared to people who don’t drink or who drink in moderation. Although alcohol seems to provide temporary relief from stress, people who drink more will have higher levels of stress over the long term.

How To Stop Alcohol Cravings Linked to Stress

Now that we know that alcohol actually leads to more stress, it’s best to avoid turning to it as a coping mechanism. But, what happens when that craving comes? What are some healthier alternatives to managing stress? And what are some methods to stop alcohol cravings?

We need to be careful not to replace our alcohol craving with something equally addictive, like smoking or gambling. Instead, we should focus on doing things that support our overall health and well-being.

Keep in mind that when a craving for alcohol strikes, it can help to acknowledge it and remind ourselves that it will usually go away in a few minutes. Here are some healthier alternatives to turn to when we’re feeling stressed: 

  • Get moving. Physical activity is one of the most effective tools for managing stress and cravings alike. Even just walking can lead to the release of endorphins, helping ease stress and enhance our mood. Regularly walking outside is particularly beneficial; time in nature has been shown to promote calmness and reduce tension. 



    The key is to find something you enjoy doing, whether that’s going for a run, doing yoga or Tai Chi, or taking a group exercise class. Plus, in the long-term, exercise helps combat the physical effects of stress, keeping your heart healthy and strong. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is another effective tool for reducing stress and anxiety. It’s been shown to reduce activity in the amygdala, part of the brain central to switching on the stress response. Similarly, mindfulness anchors you in the present moment and can help interrupt the stress response by allowing you space to respond instead of react. 



    You can practice mindfulness by bringing awareness to your emotions, allowing them to exist, not judging them, and remembering that they will eventually pass. You can also practice gratitude by making a list of the things you’re thankful for, as this helps train the brain to focus on the positive. 

  • Use relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation, can help lower stress and stop alcohol cravings. These techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for helping your mind and body relax.

At Reframe, we help people not only cut back on their alcohol consumption, but build healthier habits that lead to enhanced physical and mental well-being. If alcohol has been your go-to stress reliever for years, you’re not alone! Reframe has helped millions of people like you develop a healthier way of living.

Triggers and Cravings
2023-10-26 9:00
Triggers and cravings
How To Stop Alcohol Cravings
This is some text inside of a div block.

Alcohol cravings are common. Why exactly do they happen, though? And what can we do about them? Learn the science-backed strategies and insights.

18 min read

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!

Read Full Article  →

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.

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.

Triggers and Cravings
2023-10-05 9:00
Triggers and Cravings
HALT: Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, and Tiredness
This is some text inside of a div block.

HALT at the start: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Learn the science behind these triggers and master cravings. Turn HALT into a tool for healthier habits.

18 min read

Unlock the Healthiest YOU 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!

Read Full Article  →

It's Friday night, and you're at a bar with your friends. The atmosphere is filled with laughter and banter; the drinks are flowing. But as you sip on that cocktail, there's a subtle nudge in the back of your mind reminding you of your recent commitment to reduce your alcohol intake. Yet something about this setting, this night, makes it hard to resist that next drink.

There’s no getting around it: the environmental factors and emotional states we find ourselves in often serve as triggers for undesirable habits, such as excessive drinking. Research shows that understanding these triggers and implementing coping strategies can aid in cutting back or quitting altogether. One such effective strategy is HALT — an acronym for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. Any of these HALT states impacts our ability to make and stick to our drinking goals.

HALT's Components and Neurobiology

While HALT serves as an easy-to-remember acronym, each of its components — hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness — holds profound implications for self-control and decision-making. Understanding these in depth adds layers to the practical utility of the HALT framework, making it a nuanced tool for self-regulation.

Hunger and Ghrelin: More Than Just a Growling Stomach

When hungry, the stomach produces the hormone ghrelin, signaling the brain it’s time to eat. But ghrelin has other roles; it also influences the dopamine pathways, which play a vital part in decision-making and risk assessment. Elevated ghrelin levels can tilt the balance in favor of immediate gratification over long-term benefits. This mechanism explains why poor food choices — or even poor choices regarding alcohol consumption — are more likely when hungry.

Anger and Adrenaline: The Fire Within

Anger triggers a fight-or-flight response, releasing adrenaline and other catecholamines. These biochemical changes prepare the body for rapid action, but they are less useful for thoughtful decision-making. Increased adrenaline reduces the operational efficacy of the prefrontal cortex (the brain’s “CEO”), lowering inhibitory control. This is why an angry person is more likely to make impulsive decisions, such as consuming more alcohol than intended.

Loneliness and Cortisol: The Stress Hormone

Feeling lonely or socially isolated can increase cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone.” Elevated cortisol levels, particularly when chronic, can disrupt synaptic regulation, impairing memory and concentration. High cortisol also affects the amygdala, making us more susceptible to emotional decision-making and risk-taking behavior. This cortisol-amygdala interaction may make loneliness a significant trigger for giving in to cravings.

Tiredness and Brain Function: A Weary Pathway

Adequate rest is crucial for optimal brain function, especially for the prefrontal cortex. Lack of sleep has been shown to impair cognitive functions like attention, working memory, and impulse control. In this state of reduced cognitive resources, our ability to make considered choices is compromised, and the likelihood of succumbing to cravings increases.

Why HALT Works

Given how each component of HALT can impair decision-making capabilities, stopping to assess our emotional and physical state can reboot our brain. By identifying and addressing these specific states, we can restore some balance to the neural pathways and hormones that play a crucial role in self-control. The key is awareness and timely intervention, and this is where HALT excels.

The Downsides of Traditional Coping Mechanisms

Willpower has been glorified as the golden ticket to self-control and positive change. Yet, time and again, even the most determined individuals find themselves grappling with the same behavioral pitfalls. Why? The answer lies in the fundamental limitations of traditional coping mechanisms, which often fail to account for the intricate relationship between emotional states and neural pathways.

The Illusion of Willpower: It's Not a Constant

Contrary to popular belief, willpower is not an inexhaustible resource; it's more like a battery that drains over the day. Psychological research has identified a phenomenon known as "ego depletion," which suggests that self-control and willpower are finite resources that get used up throughout the day. Ego depletion means that relying solely on willpower to combat triggers can be a risky proposition, especially as the day wears on and our reserves run low.

Environmental Avoidance: The Incomplete Strategy

The "out of sight, out of mind" strategy suggests that avoiding triggers —  by steering clear of bars or social situations where alcohol is present — can help manage cravings. While this method can provide temporary relief, it's not a real solution. It doesn’t address the internal emotional states, such as loneliness or anger, that may fuel our cravings in the first place. So even if external triggers are eliminated, the internal triggers remain, always lurking in the background.

Cognitive Missteps: The Rationalization Trap

Another common coping mechanism is rationalization, in which people convince themselves that indulging "just this once" won't have long-term consequences. This thought process arises from cognitive distortions that occur when the impulse-driven regions of the brain gain the upper hand over the logical, prefrontal cortex. The brain tricks itself into making exceptions, which can quickly escalate into old habits.

Emotional Escapism: Not a Viable Solution

Many people resort to alternative sources of instant gratification to suppress cravings, whether it's binge-watching TV or indulging in junk food. These activities may offer a momentary escape but fail to address the stress or emotional vacuum that triggered the craving. Emotional escapism offers a short-term fix but neglects the underlying issue, making it a less effective coping mechanism in the long run.

The HALT Alternative: A Comprehensive Approach

What sets HALT apart is its focus on identifying and tackling the root emotional and physical states contributing to cravings. By offering a more nuanced understanding of ourselves in any given moment, HALT allows for a more effective, personalized strategy to manage triggers. It bridges the gap between emotional states and neural pathways, offering a more holistic and sustainable approach to behavior modification.

Implementing HALT

While understanding the science behind HALT and its effectiveness is enlightening, the real magic begins when this framework is personalized and made actionable. Thankfully, with modern technology and some old-fashioned discipline, adopting HALT into our daily lives can be a game-changer in the fight against cravings and unhealthy habits.

1. Keep a HALT Journal

Ever found yourself craving a drink but couldn't pinpoint exactly why? That’s where the HALT journal comes into play. Keeping a pocket-sized notebook or using a dedicated app (like Reframe!) to track instances when cravings strike can serve as an emotional compass. Note the time, the situation, and your emotional state. Did the craving hit during a stressful work meeting? Or perhaps during a moment of loneliness over the weekend? 

By cataloging these instances, patterns begin to emerge, helping us identify the specific emotional states that most often lead to cravings. Over time, this self-monitoring becomes an invaluable resource for preemptive action. For example, if our feelings of loneliness often trigger cravings, we can take proactive steps to address that emotional state, such as planning social activities or speaking with a therapist.

2. Master Self-Control

If HALT serves as the emotional compass, the five-minute rule is the equivalent of "stopping to ask for directions." When a craving hits, rather than acting on impulse, wait for just five minutes. During this pause, consult your HALT journal. Does the current craving align with a previously identified emotional state? If so, this awareness alone can often reduce the urge to indulge, returning control to the rational part of the brain. These five minutes grant a moment of clarity amid emotional turbulence.

3. Keep Snacks on Hand


Hunger is a tricky emotional state: it's both physiological and psychological. When hunger strikes, the brain's ability to make rational decisions diminishes, making it more likely to give in to cravings. The solution? Keep healthy snacks like fruit or protein bars on hand. Having these easily accessible snacks serves a dual purpose: they both satiate the hunger and distract from the craving. Over time, the brain starts associating these healthy alternatives with the feeling of hunger, rewiring neural pathways and making cravings easier to bypass.

4. Learn To Manage Anger


Anger can compromise judgment and trigger cravings. While it’s a natural emotion, how we handle anger can make all the difference. Practicing deep-breathing exercises like the 4-7-8 technique — inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale completely through the mouth for 8 seconds — can help calm the nervous system and provide emotional clarity. Additionally, creating physical distance from the trigger situation often equates to emotional distance. Leaving the room or stepping outside for some fresh air can allow the emotional storm to subside, offering perspective and reducing impulsivity.

5. Lean Into Your Support Network


Loneliness is more than an emotional state; it can trigger various unhealthy habits, including drinking. One effective way to counteract this emotional state is to establish a list of friends or family who can offer emotional support. Feeling isolated? Reach out for a chat! Sometimes, even a brief conversation can provide that emotional pivot needed to shift focus away from cravings. And these conversations serve a dual purpose: they fulfill the need for human connection and also act as a distraction from the craving itself.


6. Fight Tiredness With Endorphins


Tiredness might seem like the least harmful trigger among HALT's quartet, but its impact shouldn't be underestimated. When feeling low on energy, performing quick physical activities like jumping jacks, push-ups, or even a brisk walk around the block can make a world of difference. Physical activity releases endorphins, the body's natural mood lifters. These endorphins can wake up the mind, divert attention from cravings, and inject a burst of energy to carry on with the day.


7. Embrace Digital Tools


In today's digital age, help can be just a tap away. The Reframe app has evidence-backed cravings tools to help you resist the urge to drink. Whether it's a guided meditation, a quick breathing exercise, or even a lesson in cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, our app can be an incredibly handy resource. By having our app at the ready, the immediate urge to act on a craving can be replaced by a more constructive, health-conscious activity, offering another layer of defense in the battle against bad habits.

Hope on the Horizon

There's something exhilarating about embarking on a journey toward betterment. Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows; challenges will inevitably pop up, testing your resolve and dedication. But that's what makes the journey worthwhile. Armed with HALT and a range of personalized strategies, each obstacle becomes a stepping stone toward a healthier, happier life.

Setbacks? Sure, they'll happen. But rather than viewing them as failures, see them as learning opportunities. Each day is a new chance to make choices that are aligned with better health and well-being. With each correct choice, the dream of a healthier, more fulfilling life stops being a dream and starts becoming reality. So why wait? Every day is another chance to make the choices that bring you closer to your goals. 

It's Friday night, and you're at a bar with your friends. The atmosphere is filled with laughter and banter; the drinks are flowing. But as you sip on that cocktail, there's a subtle nudge in the back of your mind reminding you of your recent commitment to reduce your alcohol intake. Yet something about this setting, this night, makes it hard to resist that next drink.

There’s no getting around it: the environmental factors and emotional states we find ourselves in often serve as triggers for undesirable habits, such as excessive drinking. Research shows that understanding these triggers and implementing coping strategies can aid in cutting back or quitting altogether. One such effective strategy is HALT — an acronym for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. Any of these HALT states impacts our ability to make and stick to our drinking goals.

HALT's Components and Neurobiology

While HALT serves as an easy-to-remember acronym, each of its components — hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness — holds profound implications for self-control and decision-making. Understanding these in depth adds layers to the practical utility of the HALT framework, making it a nuanced tool for self-regulation.

Hunger and Ghrelin: More Than Just a Growling Stomach

When hungry, the stomach produces the hormone ghrelin, signaling the brain it’s time to eat. But ghrelin has other roles; it also influences the dopamine pathways, which play a vital part in decision-making and risk assessment. Elevated ghrelin levels can tilt the balance in favor of immediate gratification over long-term benefits. This mechanism explains why poor food choices — or even poor choices regarding alcohol consumption — are more likely when hungry.

Anger and Adrenaline: The Fire Within

Anger triggers a fight-or-flight response, releasing adrenaline and other catecholamines. These biochemical changes prepare the body for rapid action, but they are less useful for thoughtful decision-making. Increased adrenaline reduces the operational efficacy of the prefrontal cortex (the brain’s “CEO”), lowering inhibitory control. This is why an angry person is more likely to make impulsive decisions, such as consuming more alcohol than intended.

Loneliness and Cortisol: The Stress Hormone

Feeling lonely or socially isolated can increase cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone.” Elevated cortisol levels, particularly when chronic, can disrupt synaptic regulation, impairing memory and concentration. High cortisol also affects the amygdala, making us more susceptible to emotional decision-making and risk-taking behavior. This cortisol-amygdala interaction may make loneliness a significant trigger for giving in to cravings.

Tiredness and Brain Function: A Weary Pathway

Adequate rest is crucial for optimal brain function, especially for the prefrontal cortex. Lack of sleep has been shown to impair cognitive functions like attention, working memory, and impulse control. In this state of reduced cognitive resources, our ability to make considered choices is compromised, and the likelihood of succumbing to cravings increases.

Why HALT Works

Given how each component of HALT can impair decision-making capabilities, stopping to assess our emotional and physical state can reboot our brain. By identifying and addressing these specific states, we can restore some balance to the neural pathways and hormones that play a crucial role in self-control. The key is awareness and timely intervention, and this is where HALT excels.

The Downsides of Traditional Coping Mechanisms

Willpower has been glorified as the golden ticket to self-control and positive change. Yet, time and again, even the most determined individuals find themselves grappling with the same behavioral pitfalls. Why? The answer lies in the fundamental limitations of traditional coping mechanisms, which often fail to account for the intricate relationship between emotional states and neural pathways.

The Illusion of Willpower: It's Not a Constant

Contrary to popular belief, willpower is not an inexhaustible resource; it's more like a battery that drains over the day. Psychological research has identified a phenomenon known as "ego depletion," which suggests that self-control and willpower are finite resources that get used up throughout the day. Ego depletion means that relying solely on willpower to combat triggers can be a risky proposition, especially as the day wears on and our reserves run low.

Environmental Avoidance: The Incomplete Strategy

The "out of sight, out of mind" strategy suggests that avoiding triggers —  by steering clear of bars or social situations where alcohol is present — can help manage cravings. While this method can provide temporary relief, it's not a real solution. It doesn’t address the internal emotional states, such as loneliness or anger, that may fuel our cravings in the first place. So even if external triggers are eliminated, the internal triggers remain, always lurking in the background.

Cognitive Missteps: The Rationalization Trap

Another common coping mechanism is rationalization, in which people convince themselves that indulging "just this once" won't have long-term consequences. This thought process arises from cognitive distortions that occur when the impulse-driven regions of the brain gain the upper hand over the logical, prefrontal cortex. The brain tricks itself into making exceptions, which can quickly escalate into old habits.

Emotional Escapism: Not a Viable Solution

Many people resort to alternative sources of instant gratification to suppress cravings, whether it's binge-watching TV or indulging in junk food. These activities may offer a momentary escape but fail to address the stress or emotional vacuum that triggered the craving. Emotional escapism offers a short-term fix but neglects the underlying issue, making it a less effective coping mechanism in the long run.

The HALT Alternative: A Comprehensive Approach

What sets HALT apart is its focus on identifying and tackling the root emotional and physical states contributing to cravings. By offering a more nuanced understanding of ourselves in any given moment, HALT allows for a more effective, personalized strategy to manage triggers. It bridges the gap between emotional states and neural pathways, offering a more holistic and sustainable approach to behavior modification.

Implementing HALT

While understanding the science behind HALT and its effectiveness is enlightening, the real magic begins when this framework is personalized and made actionable. Thankfully, with modern technology and some old-fashioned discipline, adopting HALT into our daily lives can be a game-changer in the fight against cravings and unhealthy habits.

1. Keep a HALT Journal

Ever found yourself craving a drink but couldn't pinpoint exactly why? That’s where the HALT journal comes into play. Keeping a pocket-sized notebook or using a dedicated app (like Reframe!) to track instances when cravings strike can serve as an emotional compass. Note the time, the situation, and your emotional state. Did the craving hit during a stressful work meeting? Or perhaps during a moment of loneliness over the weekend? 

By cataloging these instances, patterns begin to emerge, helping us identify the specific emotional states that most often lead to cravings. Over time, this self-monitoring becomes an invaluable resource for preemptive action. For example, if our feelings of loneliness often trigger cravings, we can take proactive steps to address that emotional state, such as planning social activities or speaking with a therapist.

2. Master Self-Control

If HALT serves as the emotional compass, the five-minute rule is the equivalent of "stopping to ask for directions." When a craving hits, rather than acting on impulse, wait for just five minutes. During this pause, consult your HALT journal. Does the current craving align with a previously identified emotional state? If so, this awareness alone can often reduce the urge to indulge, returning control to the rational part of the brain. These five minutes grant a moment of clarity amid emotional turbulence.

3. Keep Snacks on Hand


Hunger is a tricky emotional state: it's both physiological and psychological. When hunger strikes, the brain's ability to make rational decisions diminishes, making it more likely to give in to cravings. The solution? Keep healthy snacks like fruit or protein bars on hand. Having these easily accessible snacks serves a dual purpose: they both satiate the hunger and distract from the craving. Over time, the brain starts associating these healthy alternatives with the feeling of hunger, rewiring neural pathways and making cravings easier to bypass.

4. Learn To Manage Anger


Anger can compromise judgment and trigger cravings. While it’s a natural emotion, how we handle anger can make all the difference. Practicing deep-breathing exercises like the 4-7-8 technique — inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale completely through the mouth for 8 seconds — can help calm the nervous system and provide emotional clarity. Additionally, creating physical distance from the trigger situation often equates to emotional distance. Leaving the room or stepping outside for some fresh air can allow the emotional storm to subside, offering perspective and reducing impulsivity.

5. Lean Into Your Support Network


Loneliness is more than an emotional state; it can trigger various unhealthy habits, including drinking. One effective way to counteract this emotional state is to establish a list of friends or family who can offer emotional support. Feeling isolated? Reach out for a chat! Sometimes, even a brief conversation can provide that emotional pivot needed to shift focus away from cravings. And these conversations serve a dual purpose: they fulfill the need for human connection and also act as a distraction from the craving itself.


6. Fight Tiredness With Endorphins


Tiredness might seem like the least harmful trigger among HALT's quartet, but its impact shouldn't be underestimated. When feeling low on energy, performing quick physical activities like jumping jacks, push-ups, or even a brisk walk around the block can make a world of difference. Physical activity releases endorphins, the body's natural mood lifters. These endorphins can wake up the mind, divert attention from cravings, and inject a burst of energy to carry on with the day.


7. Embrace Digital Tools


In today's digital age, help can be just a tap away. The Reframe app has evidence-backed cravings tools to help you resist the urge to drink. Whether it's a guided meditation, a quick breathing exercise, or even a lesson in cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, our app can be an incredibly handy resource. By having our app at the ready, the immediate urge to act on a craving can be replaced by a more constructive, health-conscious activity, offering another layer of defense in the battle against bad habits.

Hope on the Horizon

There's something exhilarating about embarking on a journey toward betterment. Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows; challenges will inevitably pop up, testing your resolve and dedication. But that's what makes the journey worthwhile. Armed with HALT and a range of personalized strategies, each obstacle becomes a stepping stone toward a healthier, happier life.

Setbacks? Sure, they'll happen. But rather than viewing them as failures, see them as learning opportunities. Each day is a new chance to make choices that are aligned with better health and well-being. With each correct choice, the dream of a healthier, more fulfilling life stops being a dream and starts becoming reality. So why wait? Every day is another chance to make the choices that bring you closer to your goals. 

Triggers and Cravings
2023-08-30 9:00
Triggers and Cravings
Why Do I Get the "Drunchies" After Drinking Alcohol?
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Find yourself reaching for french fries, pizza, or a bag of chips at the end of a long night of drinking? Gain insight into why we experience the “drunchies” after consuming alcohol, and learn how to prevent it.

18 min read

Take Control of Your Health 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! 

Read Full Article  →

You’ve been doing well all week. You’ve been exercising, eating healthy meals full of lean protein and vegetables, and drinking lots of water. But then Friday rolls around. You meet some friends for happy hour after work, and you eat a solid meal while drinking several cocktails. The night carries on and by the time you head home, you suddenly feel ravenous. You feel like you haven’t eaten for days and want to consume all the things you so diligently avoided during the week: pizza, fried foods, chips, and sweets. What’s going on?  

In this post, we’ll explore why we experience the “drunk munchies”— the “drunchies” — after drinking. We’ll also look at how the “drunchies” affect our health, and what we can do to avoid them. Let’s get started!

What Are the “Drunchies” and What Causes Them?

The “drunchies” are cravings for foods that are high in fat, salt, sugar, and carbohydrates after a session of moderate to heavy drinking. Pizza, french fries, or potato or tortilla chips are typically at the top of the list. Doritos Locos Tacos combo, anyone? 

This is a common experience for those who drink: one survey found that 82% of Americans are self-proclaimed drunken snackers (and more than 50% regret it the next day!). 

Interestingly, even if we consumed food before or during drinking, we still might experience a ravenous hunger later that has us reaching for those fatty foods. Why? 

Researchers have found that alcohol stimulates the same neurons in our brain that our body triggers when it goes into starvation mode. More specifically, the agouti-related peptide (AgRP) neurons — special neurons in our brain that deal with hunger and other functions — are activated during intoxication. 

In other words, our brain actually thinks it’s starving while under the influence of alcohol. Instead of our body saying, “I just got a lot of calories, so I have fuel and am full,” the opposite occurs. Although calories have been ingested, our brain encourages more food intake.

Similarly, studies have shown that alcohol intake encourages our brain to release galanin — a neurochemical that promotes a need for fatty foods. In fact, when we wake up after a night of drinking, the galanin levels in our brain are typically much higher than usual. This helps explain not only our late night jaunts for pizza, but also our cravings for a huge breakfast sandwich the morning after drinking. 

The Way Our Body Processes Alcohol Also Plays a Role

The “drunchies” can also be explained by examining how our body processes alcohol. We typically think of alcoholic beverages — especially beer — as being full of carbohydrates. As such, we assume that they raise our blood glucose level. However, unlike with carbohydrates, alcohol doesn’t turn to sugar in our body. In fact, while sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods raise our blood glucose levels, alcohol actually has the opposite effect: it makes our blood sugar drop. 

Here’s how it works: our liver is in charge of turning foods into energy for our cells, usually in the form of glucose. Alcohol, however, primarily gets broken down in the liver — and since it’s considered a toxin, our body works extra hard to get rid of it. 

While our liver is working on breaking down the alcohol, it isn’t doing its other jobs effectively, including regulating the amount of glucose in our blood. This is why our blood glucose can end up dropping. While we’re drinking, our blood sugar drops even when we eat foods that are high in sugar or carbohydrates. 

Simply put, the moment alcohol enters our bloodstream, our liver drops everything else to focus on detoxifying the harmful substance. And even when our liver does break down the alcohol, it’s converted into carbon dioxide and water — not sugar. This might explain why after drinking we often crave something sweet, like donuts or cookies.

Certain Foods Activate Our Brain’s Reward Center

You know that “feel good” feeling that comes after you start drinking? Alcohol activates our brain’s reward center and stimulates the release of dopamine — a neurotransmitter that encourages us to do more of what makes us feel good. 

But alcohol isn’t the only thing that spikes our dopamine levels. Research shows that fatty, sugary snacks activate the release of dopamine, giving us a feeling of pleasure and reward. This effect is so powerful that introducing even small amounts of high-fat, high-sugar foods into our diets can rewire our brain circuits, causing us to crave more. 

After a night of drinking, as the alcohol starts to wear off and our dopamine levels drop, our brain craves another dopamine hit. Fatty, sugary foods are often the quickest and easiest way to get our dopamine levels back up. 

Our Willpower Plays a Role, Too

Alcohol lowers our inhibitions, so while we might have successfully chosen healthy foods and maintained a balanced diet all week, after a drink or two, our willpower goes out the door. With a drink in hand, we’re more likely to grab handfuls of nuts, chips, bread, or whatever is in front of us without giving it much thought. 

This is because alcohol impacts our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and impulse control. When we consume alcohol, our prefrontal cortex has a harder time doing its job, making it easier for us to decide to indulge in junk food. Studies show that people consume more at meals when they’re drinking alcohol or have been drinking before a meal. 

The Long-Term Impact on Our Health

While one night of the “drunchies” might not seem so harmful, over time it can cause us to gain weight, putting us at a greater risk for obesity and diabetes. Alcohol alone can lead to obesity and diabetes, but when it’s combined with calorie-dense foods, we’re at an even greater risk.

Part of the problem is that indulging in fatty, salty, or sugary foods doesn’t just stop the night of a drinking session: it often continues into the next day. One study found that college students who drank alcohol not only consumed more fatty and salty foods, but were less likely to skip breakfast or brunch on the day after a night of drinking compared to mornings not following alcohol consumption. They also reported opting for greasy bacon, eggs, and cheese sandwiches instead of granola.

What many people don’t realize, however, is that these “feel-good” foods can actually make us feel worse after a night of heavy drinking. For instance, salt and fat can make us more dehydrated and worsen hangover symptoms, such as headaches.

Repeatedly giving into the drunchies can do a number on our self-esteem and motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We’re more likely to “give in” to unhealthy eating in the days that follow, given that we already fell off the wagon. Plus, any disappointment we feel in ourselves might drive us to further engage in unhealthy habits — perpetuating a dangerous cycle.

The bottom line? The more regularly we consume alcohol, the more unhealthy calories we’re likely to consume, increasing our risk of obesity and diabetes and making it more difficult to make healthy lifestyle choices. 

How Much Alcohol Causes the “Drunchies”?

There’s no known set amount of alcohol that causes the “drunchies.” Even one alcoholic beverage can affect our brain and body, triggering us to indulge in something we might not have consumed otherwise.

However, the “drunchies” typically occur with moderate to heavy alcohol consumption. The name, after all — as a combination of “drunk” and “munchies” — indicates that we’ve likely reached a level of intoxication. Generally speaking, the more alcohol we consume, the more likely we’ll find ourselves reaching for those unhealthy snacks.

Binge drinking in particular is a recipe for disaster. Not only does it put our health and safety in jeopardy, but it can lead to elevated levels of food intake given the large volume of alcohol we’ve consumed.

How to Curb Hunger When Drinking Alcohol: 7 Tips

The best way to avoid the “drunchies” is to avoid alcohol entirely or significantly cut back on our alcohol consumption. Not reaching the point of intoxication is one sure way to prevent our brain from sending the “I’m starving” signals. 

However, if we do choose to drink, here are seven tips to help mitigate the effects of alcohol: 

  1. Drink with a balanced meal. Drinking on an empty stomach is never wise and only makes us hungrier the more alcohol we consume. Try having a balanced meal either before or during drinking. Whole grains, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein are beneficial, as they nourish our body and keep us feeling full. 

  2. Stay hydrated. Alcohol dehydrates us, which can sometimes trick our body by mistaking thirst for hunger. A good rule of thumb is to drink a big glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume. This slows the absorption of alcohol in our system and can help prevent dehydration. 

  3. Don’t have unhealthy snacks lying around. It’s much harder to eat something that isn’t readily accessible, so avoid having chips, candy, pizza, or other junk foods around. At a restaurant, we can ask the server not to bring a bread basket, or to take it away. 

  4. Make healthier snacking options more accessible. Similarly, if we know we’ll be tempted to eat when drinking, try making healthier snacking options available. For instance, get some hummus and chopped vegetables, sliced fruit, or air-popped popcorn to snack on.

  5. Choose your drinks wisely. Not all drinks are created equal. Some cocktails are loaded with sugar, which only intensifies hunger and cravings. Try opting for low-sugar options instead, such as a skinny margarita. 

  6. Sip slowly. We can avoid the “drunchies” by not allowing ourselves to get to the point of intoxication. Try limiting yourself to one drink every hour. We can even set an alarm on our phone to help keep us on track. Mindful drinking can be a particularly effective tool in helping us limit our consumption.

  7. Set up “do not eat” reminders on your phone. We can also try setting a reminder on our phone telling us not to eat junk food. It can be helpful to include bullet points of any goals we’re trying to achieve as a further incentive not to reach for unhealthy snacks.

The Bottom Line

The “drunchies” are real! Drinking alcohol activates neurons in our brain that send an “I’m starving” signal. Even if we consume a meal and are supposed to be “full,” our brain tells us otherwise, which can be too powerful a signal to deny. Drinking alcohol also decreases our blood sugar levels, which makes us crave fatty, sugary, carb-heavy foods. Similar to alcohol, these foods activate the release of dopamine, providing us with that “feel good” feeling and causing us to crave more. Over time, continually indulging in alcohol and these unhealthy foods can cause weight gain, putting us at a greater risk for developing obesity and all the diseases that can come with it. 

If you’re struggling to control your alcohol consumption, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and develop healthier lifestyle habits.

You’ve been doing well all week. You’ve been exercising, eating healthy meals full of lean protein and vegetables, and drinking lots of water. But then Friday rolls around. You meet some friends for happy hour after work, and you eat a solid meal while drinking several cocktails. The night carries on and by the time you head home, you suddenly feel ravenous. You feel like you haven’t eaten for days and want to consume all the things you so diligently avoided during the week: pizza, fried foods, chips, and sweets. What’s going on?  

In this post, we’ll explore why we experience the “drunk munchies”— the “drunchies” — after drinking. We’ll also look at how the “drunchies” affect our health, and what we can do to avoid them. Let’s get started!

What Are the “Drunchies” and What Causes Them?

The “drunchies” are cravings for foods that are high in fat, salt, sugar, and carbohydrates after a session of moderate to heavy drinking. Pizza, french fries, or potato or tortilla chips are typically at the top of the list. Doritos Locos Tacos combo, anyone? 

This is a common experience for those who drink: one survey found that 82% of Americans are self-proclaimed drunken snackers (and more than 50% regret it the next day!). 

Interestingly, even if we consumed food before or during drinking, we still might experience a ravenous hunger later that has us reaching for those fatty foods. Why? 

Researchers have found that alcohol stimulates the same neurons in our brain that our body triggers when it goes into starvation mode. More specifically, the agouti-related peptide (AgRP) neurons — special neurons in our brain that deal with hunger and other functions — are activated during intoxication. 

In other words, our brain actually thinks it’s starving while under the influence of alcohol. Instead of our body saying, “I just got a lot of calories, so I have fuel and am full,” the opposite occurs. Although calories have been ingested, our brain encourages more food intake.

Similarly, studies have shown that alcohol intake encourages our brain to release galanin — a neurochemical that promotes a need for fatty foods. In fact, when we wake up after a night of drinking, the galanin levels in our brain are typically much higher than usual. This helps explain not only our late night jaunts for pizza, but also our cravings for a huge breakfast sandwich the morning after drinking. 

The Way Our Body Processes Alcohol Also Plays a Role

The “drunchies” can also be explained by examining how our body processes alcohol. We typically think of alcoholic beverages — especially beer — as being full of carbohydrates. As such, we assume that they raise our blood glucose level. However, unlike with carbohydrates, alcohol doesn’t turn to sugar in our body. In fact, while sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods raise our blood glucose levels, alcohol actually has the opposite effect: it makes our blood sugar drop. 

Here’s how it works: our liver is in charge of turning foods into energy for our cells, usually in the form of glucose. Alcohol, however, primarily gets broken down in the liver — and since it’s considered a toxin, our body works extra hard to get rid of it. 

While our liver is working on breaking down the alcohol, it isn’t doing its other jobs effectively, including regulating the amount of glucose in our blood. This is why our blood glucose can end up dropping. While we’re drinking, our blood sugar drops even when we eat foods that are high in sugar or carbohydrates. 

Simply put, the moment alcohol enters our bloodstream, our liver drops everything else to focus on detoxifying the harmful substance. And even when our liver does break down the alcohol, it’s converted into carbon dioxide and water — not sugar. This might explain why after drinking we often crave something sweet, like donuts or cookies.

Certain Foods Activate Our Brain’s Reward Center

You know that “feel good” feeling that comes after you start drinking? Alcohol activates our brain’s reward center and stimulates the release of dopamine — a neurotransmitter that encourages us to do more of what makes us feel good. 

But alcohol isn’t the only thing that spikes our dopamine levels. Research shows that fatty, sugary snacks activate the release of dopamine, giving us a feeling of pleasure and reward. This effect is so powerful that introducing even small amounts of high-fat, high-sugar foods into our diets can rewire our brain circuits, causing us to crave more. 

After a night of drinking, as the alcohol starts to wear off and our dopamine levels drop, our brain craves another dopamine hit. Fatty, sugary foods are often the quickest and easiest way to get our dopamine levels back up. 

Our Willpower Plays a Role, Too

Alcohol lowers our inhibitions, so while we might have successfully chosen healthy foods and maintained a balanced diet all week, after a drink or two, our willpower goes out the door. With a drink in hand, we’re more likely to grab handfuls of nuts, chips, bread, or whatever is in front of us without giving it much thought. 

This is because alcohol impacts our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and impulse control. When we consume alcohol, our prefrontal cortex has a harder time doing its job, making it easier for us to decide to indulge in junk food. Studies show that people consume more at meals when they’re drinking alcohol or have been drinking before a meal. 

The Long-Term Impact on Our Health

While one night of the “drunchies” might not seem so harmful, over time it can cause us to gain weight, putting us at a greater risk for obesity and diabetes. Alcohol alone can lead to obesity and diabetes, but when it’s combined with calorie-dense foods, we’re at an even greater risk.

Part of the problem is that indulging in fatty, salty, or sugary foods doesn’t just stop the night of a drinking session: it often continues into the next day. One study found that college students who drank alcohol not only consumed more fatty and salty foods, but were less likely to skip breakfast or brunch on the day after a night of drinking compared to mornings not following alcohol consumption. They also reported opting for greasy bacon, eggs, and cheese sandwiches instead of granola.

What many people don’t realize, however, is that these “feel-good” foods can actually make us feel worse after a night of heavy drinking. For instance, salt and fat can make us more dehydrated and worsen hangover symptoms, such as headaches.

Repeatedly giving into the drunchies can do a number on our self-esteem and motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We’re more likely to “give in” to unhealthy eating in the days that follow, given that we already fell off the wagon. Plus, any disappointment we feel in ourselves might drive us to further engage in unhealthy habits — perpetuating a dangerous cycle.

The bottom line? The more regularly we consume alcohol, the more unhealthy calories we’re likely to consume, increasing our risk of obesity and diabetes and making it more difficult to make healthy lifestyle choices. 

How Much Alcohol Causes the “Drunchies”?

There’s no known set amount of alcohol that causes the “drunchies.” Even one alcoholic beverage can affect our brain and body, triggering us to indulge in something we might not have consumed otherwise.

However, the “drunchies” typically occur with moderate to heavy alcohol consumption. The name, after all — as a combination of “drunk” and “munchies” — indicates that we’ve likely reached a level of intoxication. Generally speaking, the more alcohol we consume, the more likely we’ll find ourselves reaching for those unhealthy snacks.

Binge drinking in particular is a recipe for disaster. Not only does it put our health and safety in jeopardy, but it can lead to elevated levels of food intake given the large volume of alcohol we’ve consumed.

How to Curb Hunger When Drinking Alcohol: 7 Tips

The best way to avoid the “drunchies” is to avoid alcohol entirely or significantly cut back on our alcohol consumption. Not reaching the point of intoxication is one sure way to prevent our brain from sending the “I’m starving” signals. 

However, if we do choose to drink, here are seven tips to help mitigate the effects of alcohol: 

  1. Drink with a balanced meal. Drinking on an empty stomach is never wise and only makes us hungrier the more alcohol we consume. Try having a balanced meal either before or during drinking. Whole grains, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein are beneficial, as they nourish our body and keep us feeling full. 

  2. Stay hydrated. Alcohol dehydrates us, which can sometimes trick our body by mistaking thirst for hunger. A good rule of thumb is to drink a big glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume. This slows the absorption of alcohol in our system and can help prevent dehydration. 

  3. Don’t have unhealthy snacks lying around. It’s much harder to eat something that isn’t readily accessible, so avoid having chips, candy, pizza, or other junk foods around. At a restaurant, we can ask the server not to bring a bread basket, or to take it away. 

  4. Make healthier snacking options more accessible. Similarly, if we know we’ll be tempted to eat when drinking, try making healthier snacking options available. For instance, get some hummus and chopped vegetables, sliced fruit, or air-popped popcorn to snack on.

  5. Choose your drinks wisely. Not all drinks are created equal. Some cocktails are loaded with sugar, which only intensifies hunger and cravings. Try opting for low-sugar options instead, such as a skinny margarita. 

  6. Sip slowly. We can avoid the “drunchies” by not allowing ourselves to get to the point of intoxication. Try limiting yourself to one drink every hour. We can even set an alarm on our phone to help keep us on track. Mindful drinking can be a particularly effective tool in helping us limit our consumption.

  7. Set up “do not eat” reminders on your phone. We can also try setting a reminder on our phone telling us not to eat junk food. It can be helpful to include bullet points of any goals we’re trying to achieve as a further incentive not to reach for unhealthy snacks.

The Bottom Line

The “drunchies” are real! Drinking alcohol activates neurons in our brain that send an “I’m starving” signal. Even if we consume a meal and are supposed to be “full,” our brain tells us otherwise, which can be too powerful a signal to deny. Drinking alcohol also decreases our blood sugar levels, which makes us crave fatty, sugary, carb-heavy foods. Similar to alcohol, these foods activate the release of dopamine, providing us with that “feel good” feeling and causing us to crave more. Over time, continually indulging in alcohol and these unhealthy foods can cause weight gain, putting us at a greater risk for developing obesity and all the diseases that can come with it. 

If you’re struggling to control your alcohol consumption, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and develop healthier lifestyle habits.

Triggers and Cravings
2023-08-11 9:00
Triggers and Cravings
Why Do I Crave Alcohol When I'm Bored
This is some text inside of a div block.

Uncover the science behind why we reach for alcohol when we're idle and discover unique, fun ways to outsmart your brain and break the cycle. Let's turn our “boring” moments into exciting opportunities!

12 min read

Ditch Boredom and Explore New Possibilities 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!

Read Full Article  →

We've all felt it — that nagging sensation of boredom. Contrary to popular belief, it's not just a result of having nothing to do. In fact, boredom is a genuine emotion, akin to happiness or sadness. When this emotion surfaces, it reveals our disconnection or lack of interest in our surroundings or activities. And how does our brain react? It searches for a spark, something to stimulate and captivate us. This might explain why, in such moments, we impulsively reach for distractions, like the remote or a social media scroll. 

But why do some of us reach for alcohol? If you’ve found yourself noticing, “It seems that I drink because I’m bored and lonely,” the answer lies in our brain's reward system. Understanding this relationship between boredom and alcohol is crucial for breaking an unhealthy cycle of drinking out of boredom and finding more fulfilling ways to spend our time.

The Boredom Dilemma

tired young attractive man sleeps work place has much work being fatigue exhausted

Boredom, a state we’ve all experienced, can be a tricky beast. But remember that, scientifically, boredom is an emotion — just like appiness or sadness. It typically occurs when we find ourselves disengaged from what's going on around us or when there's a lack of interest or enjoyment in our activities.

In such scenarios, our brain searches for something exciting or rewarding, leading us towards behaviors that can stimulate and intrigue us. It's why we might suddenly find ourselves reaching for that remote, a candy bar, or for some, a bottle of alcohol.

The Dopamine Connection

Consuming alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in our brain's reward system. Dopamine is like a pat on the back from our brain. It signals a feeling of satisfaction, pleasure, or reward, encouraging us to repeat the behavior that led to this good feeling.

So, when we're bored and our brain is looking for that dopamine hit, it can often recall that alcohol was a past source of reward. That's why we might find ourselves reaching for a drink when we're simply sitting and not doing much.

Alcohol and Adaptation

Over time, with regular alcohol consumption, our brain starts to adapt. Our reward system gets recalibrated to account for the frequent dopamine hits coming from the alcohol. Our brain starts needing more and more alcohol to experience the same level of reward or pleasure, resulting in increased alcohol consumption.

But it's not just about seeking pleasure. Our brain also becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol and starts to see it as the “new normal.” So when there's no alcohol, things seem a bit off. The brain starts to signal the craving for alcohol, not just to seek pleasure but also to restore what it perceives as normalcy.

The Boredom Drinking Loop

Now that we've discussed how our brain processes boredom and alcohol, we can see how the two are linked. When we're bored, our brain seeks stimulation. Drinking when bored provides that in the form of dopamine release. Over time, as our brain adapts to the frequent presence of alcohol, it starts to associate alcohol not just as a source of pleasure but also as a means to escape boredom. This is how we enter (and get caught in) the boredom-alcohol loop.

Reframing Boredom To Stop “Bored Drinking”

Understanding this connection is the first step towards breaking the cycle. The next is learning to see it differently.

Instead of seeing boredom as an absence that needs to be filled, we can instead see it as an exciting opportunity for something new to arise. After all, some of the greatest discoveries happened as a result of boredom! Here are a few famous examples:

  • Sir Isaac Newton's law of gravity. The story goes that during a period of isolation (and probably boredom) during the Great Plague of London, Sir Isaac Newton observed an apple falling from a tree. This observation led him to contemplate the forces at work, eventually formulating the Law of Universal Gravitation.
  • The discovery of the structure of benzene by Friedrich August Kekulé. The German chemist famously came up with the ring structure of benzene during a daydream. Bored with his work, he stared into a fire and envisioned the snake-like structure of the benzene molecule, a groundbreaking discovery that greatly contributed to organic chemistry.
  • The creation of Post-it Notes by Spencer Silver and Arthur Fry. Post-it Notes were invented at 3M by scientists Spencer Silver and Arthur Fry. While trying to develop a super-strong adhesive, Silver accidentally created a weaker one instead. It was Fry who later, perhaps in a moment of boredom or frustration, realized that this "failed" adhesive could be used to create repositionable bookmarks, leading to the invention of Post-it Notes.

These stories remind us that boredom isn't merely a state of inactivity or idleness — it can also be a time for reflection, creativity, and unexpected discovery.

Break the Boredom Drinking Loop

  • Recognize your triggers. Understanding when and why you're reaching for alcohol is crucial. The next time you feel the urge, note down what you were doing, feeling, and thinking. This can help you identify patterns and triggers.
  • Find healthy alternatives. Swap out alcohol for healthier options that also stimulate dopamine release. This could include exercise, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us stay present and engaged with what's happening around us. This can reduce feelings of boredom and help manage cravings.
  • Create a "boredom jar." Fill a jar with slips of paper, each containing an engaging activity that you enjoy — maybe painting, reading a new book, learning a magic trick, or trying a new recipe. Whenever boredom hits, reach for this jar instead of a drink.
  • Start a creative project. Always wanted to build a treehouse or make your own furniture? Now might be the perfect time to start! It will keep you occupied and provide a sense of accomplishment once finished. Art is another great way to express feelings and combat boredom. You could try your hand at painting, sculpture, digital art, or pottery.
  • Explore the great outdoors. Nature can provide a refreshing change of scenery and a break from routine. Try hiking, bird watching, or just a leisurely stroll in the park.
  • Try "micro-adventures." Micro-adventures are short, simple, local adventures that require very little planning or resources. It could be as simple as exploring a part of your city you've never been to, camping in your backyard, or even trying a new cuisine at a local restaurant.
  • Start learning clubs. Start or join a club dedicated to learning new things — a new language, astronomy, cooking techniques, etc. This will keep you engaged in a non-alcohol-related social group and give you something to look forward to.
  • Redecorate your living space. Changing your surroundings can make things feel fresh and new. Try moving furniture around, painting a wall with a new color, or DIY-ing some decor.
  • Volunteer. Volunteering not only takes up free time, but it also allows you to give back to your community, meet new people, and learn new skills.
  • Grow your own food. Start a small vegetable or herb garden. This can be therapeutic, rewarding, and it's a gift that keeps on giving.
  • Try virtual reality (VR) experiences. VR technology can transport you to a whole new world, making you forget about boredom. From VR games to virtual tours of museums or even space, the options are endless.
  • Use supportive apps. Apps like Reframe are designed to help you understand and manage your cravings, providing science-backed strategies right at your fingertips.

Adventure Awaits

Boredom can indeed lead to cravings for alcohol, but it doesn't have to be this way. With understanding and a few targeted strategies, you can retrain your brain to seek healthier, more fulfilling ways to escape boredom. 

Remember, the journey to managing alcohol cravings is unique for each person. It's about finding what works best for you, so feel free to modify these actions to suit your lifestyle, interests, and resources. You're not just cutting back on alcohol; you're creating a more engaging, fulfilling life!

We've all felt it — that nagging sensation of boredom. Contrary to popular belief, it's not just a result of having nothing to do. In fact, boredom is a genuine emotion, akin to happiness or sadness. When this emotion surfaces, it reveals our disconnection or lack of interest in our surroundings or activities. And how does our brain react? It searches for a spark, something to stimulate and captivate us. This might explain why, in such moments, we impulsively reach for distractions, like the remote or a social media scroll. 

But why do some of us reach for alcohol? If you’ve found yourself noticing, “It seems that I drink because I’m bored and lonely,” the answer lies in our brain's reward system. Understanding this relationship between boredom and alcohol is crucial for breaking an unhealthy cycle of drinking out of boredom and finding more fulfilling ways to spend our time.

The Boredom Dilemma

tired young attractive man sleeps work place has much work being fatigue exhausted

Boredom, a state we’ve all experienced, can be a tricky beast. But remember that, scientifically, boredom is an emotion — just like appiness or sadness. It typically occurs when we find ourselves disengaged from what's going on around us or when there's a lack of interest or enjoyment in our activities.

In such scenarios, our brain searches for something exciting or rewarding, leading us towards behaviors that can stimulate and intrigue us. It's why we might suddenly find ourselves reaching for that remote, a candy bar, or for some, a bottle of alcohol.

The Dopamine Connection

Consuming alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in our brain's reward system. Dopamine is like a pat on the back from our brain. It signals a feeling of satisfaction, pleasure, or reward, encouraging us to repeat the behavior that led to this good feeling.

So, when we're bored and our brain is looking for that dopamine hit, it can often recall that alcohol was a past source of reward. That's why we might find ourselves reaching for a drink when we're simply sitting and not doing much.

Alcohol and Adaptation

Over time, with regular alcohol consumption, our brain starts to adapt. Our reward system gets recalibrated to account for the frequent dopamine hits coming from the alcohol. Our brain starts needing more and more alcohol to experience the same level of reward or pleasure, resulting in increased alcohol consumption.

But it's not just about seeking pleasure. Our brain also becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol and starts to see it as the “new normal.” So when there's no alcohol, things seem a bit off. The brain starts to signal the craving for alcohol, not just to seek pleasure but also to restore what it perceives as normalcy.

The Boredom Drinking Loop

Now that we've discussed how our brain processes boredom and alcohol, we can see how the two are linked. When we're bored, our brain seeks stimulation. Drinking when bored provides that in the form of dopamine release. Over time, as our brain adapts to the frequent presence of alcohol, it starts to associate alcohol not just as a source of pleasure but also as a means to escape boredom. This is how we enter (and get caught in) the boredom-alcohol loop.

Reframing Boredom To Stop “Bored Drinking”

Understanding this connection is the first step towards breaking the cycle. The next is learning to see it differently.

Instead of seeing boredom as an absence that needs to be filled, we can instead see it as an exciting opportunity for something new to arise. After all, some of the greatest discoveries happened as a result of boredom! Here are a few famous examples:

  • Sir Isaac Newton's law of gravity. The story goes that during a period of isolation (and probably boredom) during the Great Plague of London, Sir Isaac Newton observed an apple falling from a tree. This observation led him to contemplate the forces at work, eventually formulating the Law of Universal Gravitation.
  • The discovery of the structure of benzene by Friedrich August Kekulé. The German chemist famously came up with the ring structure of benzene during a daydream. Bored with his work, he stared into a fire and envisioned the snake-like structure of the benzene molecule, a groundbreaking discovery that greatly contributed to organic chemistry.
  • The creation of Post-it Notes by Spencer Silver and Arthur Fry. Post-it Notes were invented at 3M by scientists Spencer Silver and Arthur Fry. While trying to develop a super-strong adhesive, Silver accidentally created a weaker one instead. It was Fry who later, perhaps in a moment of boredom or frustration, realized that this "failed" adhesive could be used to create repositionable bookmarks, leading to the invention of Post-it Notes.

These stories remind us that boredom isn't merely a state of inactivity or idleness — it can also be a time for reflection, creativity, and unexpected discovery.

Break the Boredom Drinking Loop

  • Recognize your triggers. Understanding when and why you're reaching for alcohol is crucial. The next time you feel the urge, note down what you were doing, feeling, and thinking. This can help you identify patterns and triggers.
  • Find healthy alternatives. Swap out alcohol for healthier options that also stimulate dopamine release. This could include exercise, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us stay present and engaged with what's happening around us. This can reduce feelings of boredom and help manage cravings.
  • Create a "boredom jar." Fill a jar with slips of paper, each containing an engaging activity that you enjoy — maybe painting, reading a new book, learning a magic trick, or trying a new recipe. Whenever boredom hits, reach for this jar instead of a drink.
  • Start a creative project. Always wanted to build a treehouse or make your own furniture? Now might be the perfect time to start! It will keep you occupied and provide a sense of accomplishment once finished. Art is another great way to express feelings and combat boredom. You could try your hand at painting, sculpture, digital art, or pottery.
  • Explore the great outdoors. Nature can provide a refreshing change of scenery and a break from routine. Try hiking, bird watching, or just a leisurely stroll in the park.
  • Try "micro-adventures." Micro-adventures are short, simple, local adventures that require very little planning or resources. It could be as simple as exploring a part of your city you've never been to, camping in your backyard, or even trying a new cuisine at a local restaurant.
  • Start learning clubs. Start or join a club dedicated to learning new things — a new language, astronomy, cooking techniques, etc. This will keep you engaged in a non-alcohol-related social group and give you something to look forward to.
  • Redecorate your living space. Changing your surroundings can make things feel fresh and new. Try moving furniture around, painting a wall with a new color, or DIY-ing some decor.
  • Volunteer. Volunteering not only takes up free time, but it also allows you to give back to your community, meet new people, and learn new skills.
  • Grow your own food. Start a small vegetable or herb garden. This can be therapeutic, rewarding, and it's a gift that keeps on giving.
  • Try virtual reality (VR) experiences. VR technology can transport you to a whole new world, making you forget about boredom. From VR games to virtual tours of museums or even space, the options are endless.
  • Use supportive apps. Apps like Reframe are designed to help you understand and manage your cravings, providing science-backed strategies right at your fingertips.

Adventure Awaits

Boredom can indeed lead to cravings for alcohol, but it doesn't have to be this way. With understanding and a few targeted strategies, you can retrain your brain to seek healthier, more fulfilling ways to escape boredom. 

Remember, the journey to managing alcohol cravings is unique for each person. It's about finding what works best for you, so feel free to modify these actions to suit your lifestyle, interests, and resources. You're not just cutting back on alcohol; you're creating a more engaging, fulfilling life!

Triggers and Cravings