Drinking Urges and Cravings: Why they happen and what to do about them

Episode 82 October 05, 2022 00:22:06
Drinking Urges and Cravings: Why they happen and what to do about them
Alcohol Tipping Point
Drinking Urges and Cravings: Why they happen and what to do about them

Oct 05 2022 | 00:22:06

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Hosted By

Deb Masner

Show Notes

In this solo episode, learn more about urges and cravings and how to experience them and not react to them by drinking.  

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Episode Transcript

Pod 82 Urges Welcome back to the alcohol tipping point podcast. I am your host Deb Masner. I am a registered nurse health coach and alcohol free bad ass. And today is a solo episode. Today. I want to talk about urges and cravings. I want to talk about what they are and how you can manage them and not just kind of struggle through them and white knuckle through them. How you can really use some tools to allow them and just surf through them. I know that it is so common when we are changing our drinking, that we do end up with these cravings, you know, typically around five o'clock at night, just that really strong desire to drink. Or maybe it happens when you get super stressed. Are you good enough fight with your kid or your husband or partner or whoever? It just seems like our autopilot, our automatic reaction is just like, I need a drink. Right? And so it can be really helpful to, instead of. Automatically going to drinking to sit here with that feeling. That you have. That leads you. To drink. So sometimes that is an uncomfortable feeling. And we don't like to sit with uncomfortable feelings. Just society in general, like we are told not to feel pain. Not to be sad to buck up, you know, like you should be happy all the time and content all the time. And I mean, that's just not true. Right. Life is 50 50. I mean, sometimes it's awesome. And sometimes it's awful. And then there's the in between moments. So when we can really learn to sit in uncomfortableness without checking out without numbing out, then we become so powerful. So today let's just talk specifically about urges and cravings. You know, if you ever feel like you struggle with them. If you find that it's hard to stop at one drink. If you're having a problem with your drinking. I just want to remind you that you're not alone. I mean, this is something that is common for a lot of people and even people who wouldn't even say they have a problem with drinking. You do tend to see in a lot of situations, like people turn into drink, right? Like you break up with your boyfriend or going through a divorce and near girlfriends, like I'm on my way with a bottle of wine. Or how about that phone call or you sitting down, you might want to pour yourself a drink when there's something like super stressful or anxious or fear inducing that someone's going to tell you. I mean, we see it in the movies. You know, it's like, Oh, I need a drink. Like I need to drink at this. So. I just want you to know that it's totally normal. You are not alone. And there is a way out. So just to kind of review what urges or cravings are. And I use them interchangeably. I mean, I think you could get real nuanced with them, but I think of an urge and a craving as the same thing. It's an intense urgent or abnormal desire or a longing or impulse for something. And this case, we're talking about an impulse, a need. A hunger, a thirst, a less. Yearning hankering for a drink. So that's simply what an urge or a craving is. Well, I think is so interesting about cravings is if you don't have the craving or to drink, you just wouldn't do it right. There's lots of things we don't have cravings or urges to do. I mean, one thing that comes to mind is I have like zero craving for Cheerios. It was totally random, but you know, I'm just like, man, I could take it or leave And I have gotten to the point with drinking, where I have zero desire to drink. You know, I just kind of felt meth about alcohol. But full disclosure, you know, it took me a long time to get to that point. And I tell you that just so that you can have hope that you will also get to the point where you just don't have the desire to drink anymore. I do want to give a little bit of background about your brain again because I think it's helpful when we think about. Our emotions and how our brain works. So I've described the brain as a mullet, right? It's business in the front it's party in the back. So you have this front business part of your brain. That's what handles rational thought. And decision-making. And it's the part of your brain that logically knows drinking is not serving you. Right. And then there's the lower part of the brain. That's the back of the brain. You're back. You're like flowing party mullet. That's your survival side of the brain. That's this lower primitive brain and it is all emotions, sex, eating, fighting, and flighting right running away or fighting. And it's your lower brain that moves you towards pleasure and away from pain. And it hates feelings of pain or suffering, and it doesn't matter where those feelings come from. You know, it could be a real threat, like a mountain lion, or it could be the feeling of a threat, like a traffic jam. So in order to survive these feelings, our lower brain takes a shortcut to relief. And one of the quickest shortcuts to relieve this distress, this uncomfortable, painful feeling is alcohol. Right? So alcohol is one of the speediest shortcuts. To avoid pain and it's also one of those shortcuts to pleasure. And so logically we know the short-term effects of alcohol don't last. But our lower brain, it doesn't care. So when we're thinking about a craving, it's a powerful desire. It's a yearning, it's a hungry, and it's an urge for a drink. And cravings are downright uncomfortable and painful. And we are hardwired to avoid pain. So our lower brain kicks in and it looks for the fastest way to relieve the pain and provide pleasure instantly. And that's what it does. And what does it learn to turn to drinking? So I just like to give that background on cravings and how your brain works. And just again, to remind you, like, this is what it was made to do. This is, this is how we have learned to survive. For so many years. And in fact, it's kind of interesting because every organism, it doesn't matter if it's like a tiny amoeba and a little Petri dish. And if you. Introduce acid to the amoeba. It will go away from it. It because it's going away from pain. And so every organism is hardwired to move you towards pleasure and away from pain. And that's just how we work. Right. And it can be a good thing. The good thing is that it's your brain and your brain is super powerful. Now let's talk about. Emotions in relation to urges. So emotions are going to prime your body to take action. That is like every emotion gives you the impulse to act in a certain way. And we could also call that impulse an urge, right? So we have really learned to tire our emotions into the urge to drink. So if you think about like in anger, we may feel the urge to shout or smash something or just like prove I'm right. Damn it. Or we turn to drinking. And say we're sad. When we're sad, we might have the urge to cry, curl up into a ball just, or have someone like cuddle us or we drink. And then say you're in fear. The urge might be to run away and hide or. Like start pacing or start talking too fast or we want a drink. Same thing with anxiety. So, you know, like we have just learned our brain has learned. That drinking is the action that we take when we feel an emotion. And so. That's okay. That's normal, like I said. And so what we want to do instead of turning to drinking. Is, we don't want to answer our cravings or urges. Right. We want to take a break. We want to have a pause between that feeling or emotion. And that action behavior of drinking. And so one way to do this is just to become more mindful. And so what we have been doing in the past with our cravings is we have maybe just been resisting them. Right. Just resisting them with all our might. Using whatever means necessary not to drink, you know, distracting yourself, pushing it away, punishing yourself, throwing it away, dumping soap in it, telling yourself you can't, you shouldn't, you're the worst for even considering it. Right. And that's just layering on. Pain. You know, it's just like jumping up and down and screaming. It's pounding your head on the wall over an itch that you can't reach. It doesn't make the itch go away. It just creates unnecessary suffering in the process. And so navigating urges and cravings. It can require like a counterintuitive solution. And so that solution is to slow down and be mindful. And what you want to do is listen to understand. Not to respond. So that is just a quote. Again, it's listen to understand. Not to respond because we have given into this craving, this urge so much. So can you slow down? And just check in with yourself. Right. So when we're working on changing the way we drink and those urges, urges and cravings come. You know, our knee-jerk reaction is just to argue and fight with them. Then we feel tension and tightness. And we can feel an increase in the intensity of these urges and cravings. And then we can recognize the craving and then we immediately respond with defensiveness. So it's just, it's a fight, right? It sounds really tense. It's it's a fight. So instead of fighting Listen to it. So, what does that look like? That looks like relaxing into the urge, turning towards it, opening up to the urge, allowing it to be there. Accepting that it's there. And understanding it. So we want to not just notice that it's there, but look into it and get curious about Be like a scientist, be like an anthropologist, like really get curious about that urge. And here are some questions that might help you. When you were feeling that. So, what does it feel like in your body to have this urge? Is it tight? Is it tense? Is it tingly? I really get curious about what your body is experiencing. And is it increasing intensity in intensity? You know, if you had to rate it on a scale of one What would you give that urge at that moment? And do you notice it skidding? Worse or better? And then how does it change if you take a deep breath? Focus on relaxing into it. Just allowing it just saying like, oh, hello. Hello, I'm having the urge to drink. And then how does it change if you tense up and you try to push it away? You know, puck off urge. All right. I can't, I can't, I shouldn't, I can't. I said I wouldn't drink. I'm not going to drink. Right. How does that feel? And then could you compare it to the last urge you had? What's different about Is it different? Again, you're just getting curious. You're just being a scientist You know what triggered this one? What happened? Why are you feeling this, you know, really helpful tools to do use the halt acronym? And what that stands for is the H and halt is hungry. Are you hungry? A lot of the times our urges or cravings are honestly more physiological than we realize it's that our blood sugar is low. My number one tip is always eat beat E like, if you were changing your drinking now is not the time to diet. Now's the time to eat, eat whatever you want. I don't care, but just make sure you are eating because people are heavy drinkers have chronically low blood sugar. And so getting back. Into normal regulation of your blood sugar is so important. So H N halt is for hunger. Are you hungry? The AE is. Anxiety or anger. Did something happen that made you angry? Or are you feeling anxious about something? Are you concerned about work? Are you having the Sunday scaries, right. And then Ellis loneliness. So there, there is this real human need for connection. So are you actually just feeling lonely and what do you need to address that? Can you call someone, can you write someone a letter and send someone a text? And then the T and halt is for tired. Are you just feeling tired? Is it the end of the day? And if you're tired, like what else could you do? Honestly, taking a 10 minute walk is just as effective as taking a nap. And just amping you up. Or having coffee? I don't care. I love my coffee and I will drink it in the afternoon. You guys, I don't care. So, so that's halt. When you're thinking about what triggered this one, where did it come from? Where did this urge come from? What just happened. What was going on? Like, what was your day like? And what time of day is it when you have it? And this is the pattern. And so that's just being really just getting aware. And just being a scientist and not judging yourself and not judging the urge, just allowing So, and that's how we can change the habit loop first, noticing the urge, bringing it to consciousness and then changing the way we respond to it and reexamining the reward that we get from it. Right. And so listening to understand and connect to how the urge or craving feels in our bodies. That's just a new way to respond. And I just want to remind people, you know, when you are first changing your drinking, you may need to pull out all the stops, like using distraction techniques. And not sitting with it. And that's That is so okay. Because. You first want to get alcohol out of your system? You know, honestly it takes a good 30 days just to reset your dopamine and your other Tran neurotransmitters. Whatever you can do just to have more and more time away from drinking the better for you. So if you need to use distraction techniques, go take a walk. Eat phone a friend, like whatever you need to do, do but try to practice this, this. Kind of mindfulness with urges. And one thing we do talk about is urge surfing. Which is just a way to like, Observe your urges and just ride the wave. You know, it was actually coined back in the 1980s by some psychologists when they were doing groundbreaking work with drug And then people use this urge surfing for all kinds of behaviors, you know, over eating an urge to stay in bed all day, an urge to quit course, or avoid a challenge or yelling at someone we love. But in our case, we're going to use it to not drink. Let's talk about how you can surf an urge. Rather than be wiped out by it. Right. So, what you want to do is observe it. Like we talked about before. Just notice it with openness and curiosity, notice where you feel it in your body. And, and just accept it right. Don't judge it. Just allow And then it may be helpful to just acknowledge it and just say, I'm having the urge to drink. I'm having the urge to open a bottle I'm having the urge to go to the store. Just actually acknowledge what that specific urge is. And then you want to breathe into it and make room for And, and don't try to suppress it or get rid of it, you know, there's that saying? That that, which we resist persists and the same with drinking and cravings. So just take a deep breath and allow And then watch the urge as it rises. Like Kress might fall again. And if you notice like some difficult thoughts coming up, you can just thank your mind. Thank you mine. Thanks for, thanks for letting me Or you can name the story. Maybe you have a story like every time. Oh, that's just the story where every time I get angry, I drink or, oh, that's just the story. When I get. Home. I drink, like, that's just a story I've been telling myself. And, and it's okay. And thank you mind for bringing that up. But I'm gonna just ride this one And then it's also helpful, you know, I was talking before it's helpful to score your urge and you can score it on a scale of one to 10. So you can say I'm having the urge to drink and now it's a seven. And then just keep checking back on the urge and notice, like whether it's rising, it's peaking or it's falling. And then remember, know how. You know, no matter how huge that urge gets, you have room for it. And if you give it enough space, Then sooner or later it will crest and then it will subside. So, observe it breathe into it, open up around it, make lots of space, allow it to come and stay and go in its own good time. And then at the same time, you can also check in with your values. And ask yourself, like, what action can I take right now? And study it instead of trying to resist or control my urge to drink, what action can I take right now that will enhance my life and the longterm. And then whatever that answer is, go ahead and do that. Because if your value right now, if your value is health, And drinking isn't aligned with your value of health. Then what is something you can do instead that will enhance your life and your health in the longterm. Maybe that is that walk that you take, maybe it's straight drinking water. We all know we need to drink more water, right? So giving yourself an alternative action. All right. And then I just want to let you know, there are a lot of urge surfing, guided mindfulness meditations. You can find easily on YouTube for free or insight. Timer is a great free app. If you want to listen to an urge surfing, guided mindfulness meditation, and that can be really helpful So that's all I have for y'all today. Talking about urges and cravings. I hope that you found this helpful. And thank you for listening. And I will talk to you next week.

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