By Margaret R. Kohut, MSW Master Addiction Counselor (Ret.)
Anyone who has ever been through alcohol withdrawal of any kind can tell you that it is pretty awful. I won’t lie to you and pretend otherwise. However, did you know that a very large part of alcohol craving is psychological, not physiological? It’s true! Here is the breakdown:
Physical Effects of Alcohol
When you have been drinking heavily for a long time, your body becomes used to the physical presence of alcohol. Alcohol is a toxin to your body and your organs, especially your brain and liver, have to adjust to its presence as your new “normal.” Luckily, our bodies take care of us like this or it is doubtful whether we would live past infancy. Your liver is responsible for metabolizing (breaking down and eliminating) the toxic substances we put into our bodies either accidentally or on purpose. For example, one of my dogs just loves to eat my husband’s Italian leather shoes. This is not good because shoe leather is full of toxic tanning materials. Her liver alters its composition so that all she gets is a three-day bellyache.
Consuming alcohol is a bit like eating a leather shoe. It’s not good for you and your body alters many of the poisons it contains. Eventually the hangover (overdose) symptoms pass. When you stop drinking, your body has already adjusted to the presence of alcohol so you feel the urge to drink to stop your cravings. After about 72 hours, those cravings will have greatly lessened or even disappeared.
Psychological Effects of Alcohol
Psychological cravings are much more difficult to defeat, but you can do it! When I stopped smoking 23 years ago, I experienced some nicotine withdrawal but mostly I missed smoking while doing certain things. These included driving, talking on the phone, reading, watching TV, writing, hanging out after a good meal and whenever I was bored. I missed smoking and doing these things long after my cravings for nicotine had disappeared. Sometimes I still miss it.
Ω See this Omega symbol? Your psychological craving for alcohol begins and ends exactly like this. You start out feeling fine after your last drink – about two to three hours ago. Then, as the moments tick by, your mind wants to go through your ritual of drinking and watching TV, playing cards, etc. The urge grows stronger and stronger until you really want to engage in your drinking behavior not just for the alcohol alone. Imagine it has peaked at the top of the Omega symbol. Psychological cravings are enormously powerful because they make us feel secure and normal. Like me driving without smoking…it just felt wrong. It is the same way with your cravings to drink.
During these moments of intense psychological craving, you have to do only one thing: be patient. You can wait it out because it will pass, all on its own. Like the Omega symbol, you will feel the urge go down, and down, until it has passed and you have beaten that craving. Sure, the cravings will come again, but once you’ve beaten them and know that it can be done, you won’t dread them anymore. You will know that giving into cravings is extremely dangerous, and that you can beat them, using positive thinking.
Here is a word of advice: instead of drinking, please don’t take up smoking or eating leather shoes. Waiting for a physical or psychological craving to pass can be difficult, but it you stay determined to live a sober lifestyle, the time will soon come when you will have kicked the cravings forever. You can get through alcohol withdrawal.
Start controlling your drinking in the privacy of your own home without going to groups or expensive counseling with the How To Give Up Alcohol Course.