How to Deal with Alcohol Cravings: 16 Ways to Beat Your Cravings (Plus CMT Vs MBRP)

When you are attempting to make changes to your drinking habits or drug use, it can be frustrating trying to figure out how to control urges. You might be doing your best to avoid taking drugs or drinking, but you still find yourself having drug and alcohol urges or cravings. Not all is lost, however.  There are a number of ways to manage and reduce urges or cravings.

There is no single best method or silver bullet. Some methods are more helpful early on in your efforts to change your drinking, whether it be to cut back or to stop drinking entirely. Other methods are considered somewhat more advanced strategies.

The list we present here is based on empirical research on clinical protocols for addressing alcohol cravings in treatment. The good news is that using these methods can improve our ability to manage and reduce urges.

These ways to fight alcohol cravings can be helpful for those individuals making changes in their drinking on their own and not in an alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction treatment program. 

16 Ways to Deal With Alcohol Cravings

First the highlights.

  1. Keep Track
  2. Avoid Triggers to Drinking (or overdrinking)
  3. Distract yourself
  4. Question the Urge
  5. The DISARM method
  6. Drink Refusal
  7. Medications
  8. Meditation
  9. Urge Surfing
  10. Studying the Urge
  11. Countering the Urge
  12. Reach out for support
  13. Other relaxation techniques
  14. Engage in healthy activities
  15. Create a sober living environment
  16. Visualize your goals and rewards

Not yet sure where you stand with alcohol? Take our free assessment.

1. Keeping Track

Here are some good reasons to keep track of your alcohol cravings:

  • Keeping track can help you identify your “triggers” to drinking if your goal is to abstain or cut back.  This includes external triggers – environmental cues like social situations, certain people, work responsibilities, financial troubles, etc. – and internal triggers – thoughts and feelings like sadness, stress, joy, anxiety, grief, boredom, etc.
  • Keeping track can help you realize that the alcohol cravings aren’t always there or getting worse. Urges come and go. Fortunately, while urges may make you uncomfortable, they can’t hurt you.
  • Keeping track can help show you that sometimes you can use urges to your benefit. For instance, if you have an urge to drink when you’re feeling anxious, the urge can be a signal to figure out better ways to manage your feelings of anxiety and how you deal with stress.

At CheckUp & Choices, we have a program specifically designed to help you track and confront your alcohol cravings. In our app we ask people to keep track of the date, time, intensity (1–10), and duration of their alcohol cravings. Taking note of everything allows you to realize that urges increase and decrease in intensity over time. And keeping track over time gives you the chance to see if your efforts to reduce your urges and cravings are working. Or not.

2. Avoid Triggers

Avoiding things that trigger alcohol cravings can be a helpful strategy early on in your efforts to change your drinking and manage your urges. If, for example, you usually drink Friday afternoons or evenings after work with drinking buddies or the gals, make plans to do something else during that time with other friends or family members who aren’t into drinking or drinking heavily. Set up a dinner date with your spouse. Go work out. Have friends over for dinner that you make (unless drinking alcohol while you’re cooking is part of your routine). These are just examples.

3. Distract Yourself

Sometimes you can’t avoid internal triggers which may be feelings you have or a physical sensation that comes on from time to time. Once you begin to crave alcohol, distract yourself with something that takes your attention. Maybe that would be watching an interesting documentary, doing a cleaning chore, or lifting weights. Or go out and run an errand. Check back in with yourself in 30 – 45 minutes and see if the urges intensity has changed. And if the first distraction isn’t helpful, try another. Or use another strategy altogether.

4. Question the Urge

Think of the urge as a cue, a signal. It’s telling you that there is something going on at the present moment that is making these cravings happen. It might be telling you to have a drink, but it’s not controlling you. While having an urge can be uncomfortable, it won’t hurt you. With practice, the urge can become a signal that it’s time to use an urge coping strategy.

5. The DISARM Method

Another strategy is to “DISARM” your urges. It’s both popular and widely used in SMART Recovery® and fits best when you’re trying to abstain. It was originally developed by Joseph Gerstein MD, an early co-founder of SMART Recovery (and a good friend of ours). Here are the steps to DISARM:

  • Name the Urge – Destructive self-talk is not you, it’s your enemy. Name the urge as if it were another being. Pick a name for your urges that’s imaginative, strong, and meaningful to you. That little voice in your head that badgers and coaxes you. Label it. Some call it “The Inner Brat,” “The Alcohol Salesman,” “The Lobbyist,” “The Terrorist,” “The Whiner” or just “The Enemy.” Pick a name that fits your experience with it.
  • Awareness – Develop the early warning habit. Learn to recognize the urge when it first comes calling. Discover your earliest red flag signals so you won’t be caught off guard. Nipping temptation in the bud is easier than stopping it when it’s got a full head of steam.
  • Refusal – Immediately, firmly refuse to give in to your alcohol cravings. Don’t even consider the possibility as a choice. You have already made your decision not to drink. You’ve made it your top priority. On general principle, you don’t have to reason it out yet again. Whenever you get the idea to resume drinking, you can tell that idea to go to hell. You don’t need debate.

6. Drink Refusal

Refusing drinks in a way that is assertive without being aggressive is a skill and can help you head off people pressuring you to drink (or drink heavily). Here are the elements:

  • Make eye contact. It indicates that you mean what you say.
  • Reply in a clear, firm voice. Don’t hesitate.
  • Say “No”, then change the subject. Suggest something else. “I’d like a tonic and lime.”
  • If they keep pushing you, ask them to stop. “If you want to be my friend, chill out.”
  • Realize you don’t have to feel guilty about not drinking or stopping if you’ve reached your limit if your goal is moderation. It’s your right and your choice.
  • Practice, practice, practice your replies. Get to the point where you’re comfortable in saying no and changing the subject without creating any negative emotion.

7. Medication

Naltrexone is a prescription medication that can reduce your urge to drink or to drink heavily. It’s available as a pill (generic) and as a once monthly injection (Vivitrol) given in a physician’s office. The generic pills are relatively inexpensive. Vivitrol is a bit more expensive, but does not require a daily decision. While the FDA has not approved naltrexone for moderate drinking in the U.S., it is used for this purpose in Europe. Your primary care provider may or may not be willing to prescribe you naltrexone for cutting back on your drinking if that is your goal.

8. Meditation

Meditation and mindfulness are two hot topics these days because they can create positive feelings and improve mental health. When learned and practiced, meditation can reduce urges and cravings as well as help develop a sense of calmness and well-being. 

A colleague of ours, Dr. Sarah Bowen, has generously posted a page of resources for clients interested in meditation and mindfulness at There are 24 different MP3 files with the option of male or female voices that I highly recommend. They are free downloads.

9. Urge Surfing

The intensity of urges can increase and decrease over time. Think about these ebbs and flows as though they were waves in the ocean. When you have strong cravings, relax. Let yourself ride the swell. Feel how they come and go. The urge loses its grip on you when you realize it won’t last forever. Dr. Bowen’s MP3 files offer an excellent “urge surfing” meditation.

10. Studying the Urge

Both avoiding triggers and distraction can work well. But if that’s all you do, they can leave you tired and fearful of urges. To overcome urges and not be fearful of them, you’ll need more advanced methods. You’ll need to experience the urge, but not act on it, until the urge lessens and goes away. And it will.

As you gain confidence in not drinking or over-drinking, there’s another step you can take. Carefully expose yourself to common triggers while you’re with someone who’s supportive of you. This can help you feel confident that you won’t act on an urge you might experience. When you can sit with the urge comfortably, try it alone.

Look at the urge from an objective standpoint. First, stop and notice your thoughts and feelings. This can take practice so be patient. Think about what the urge does to you. Does it create physical sensations? How does it affect your heart rate? Your level of tension or nervousness? What does it lead you to think?

Ask yourself, “While these reactions may be unpleasant, will I really go out of my mind if I don’t give in to the urge to drink?” Note how these reactions vary across time as you respond passively to the alcohol cravings.

11. Countering the Urge

Talk to yourself. Out loud if possible. What are your reasons for changing your drinking habits in the first place?  How good will you feel later if you’ve been successful and not given into the urge?

Consider how giving into an urge keeps it alive while not giving into the urge slowly kills it. While you can’t make the urge go away, you can see it for what it is. It is all that remains of your relationship with alcohol.

Sometimes you can use the urge to help identify a problem. Is something going on in your life right now that’s creating some negative feelings? Did you have some fleeting thought that didn’t seem like a big deal, but maybe caused this craving? Were you spending time with someone and suddenly had the urge to drink?

You can’t always change the situation that’s creating these feelings. But you may be able to change how you respond. One way or another, if you can change your response to the urge, you can then change your response to the negative feelings.

12. Reach out for support: 

Seek support from friends, family, or support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Talking to someone who understands what you’re going through can provide encouragement and help you stay motivated.

13. Practice relaxation techniques: 

Engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. These techniques can help reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for alcohol cravings.

14. Engage in healthy activities: 

Find alternative activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. Focus on hobbies, exercise, or spending time with loved ones. These activities can distract you from cravings and provide a healthier outlet for stress and emotions.

15. Create a sober living environment: 

Remove alcohol from your home and surround yourself with a supportive and alcohol-free living environment. This can help reduce the accessibility and temptation of alcohol.

16. Visualize your goals and rewards: 

Take a moment to visualize the benefits of sobriety and the positive changes that will come from overcoming alcohol cravings. Remind yourself of your long-term goals and the rewards that await you on your journey.

Our Programs are Scientifically Proven to Work. Get Started Now

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Vs Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP)

How do we think about the various tips & tricks presented here and elsewhere? It turns out that most of these tactics have either been derived from or can be categorized under 2 popular treatment approaches to treating alcohol and substance abuse in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP). Managing alcohol cravings can be a significant challenge for individuals who are trying to cut back or quit drinking entirely. Various philosophies and approaches have been developed to address this issue, two of which include:

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?: 

This approach is based on the understanding that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interconnected. The aim of CBT is to challenge and change unhelpful cognitive distortions (thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes) and behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and developing personal coping strategies that target solving current problems. CBT teaches individuals to recognize situations in which they are most likely to drink, avoid these circumstances if possible, and cope with other problems and behaviors that may lead to their alcohol use. In terms of cravings, it could involve identifying triggers, developing distraction techniques, and practicing mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP)?: 

This approach combines traditional cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention strategies with mindfulness meditation. The objective is to increase awareness and acceptance of one’s experiences, even the discomforting ones like cravings, instead of attempting to suppress or avoid them. Practitioners of MBRP believe that the ability to sit with discomfort, observe it without judgment, and let it pass can significantly reduce the power of a craving. This philosophy can include techniques such as urge surfing, where one imagines the craving as a wave, peaking in intensity and then naturally subsiding.

Remember, it’s essential for anyone struggling with alcohol use to seek professional help. Different approaches work for different individuals, and a healthcare provider can help tailor a treatment plan that fits the individual’s unique needs. Also, there is medication available that can help manage cravings. These should be used under the direction of a healthcare provider.

Hopefully these methods for handling urges to drink (updated for 2023) along with a better understanding of the different treatment approaches they’re derived from, can give you some self-control and confidence and ultimately help you in your goal of quitting drinking or cutting back on drinking.

If you are interested in changing your relationship with drugs or alcohol or would simply like to learn more about your own habits, take our free screener. You might be surprised by what you learn!

About the Author

Dr. Reid K. Hester, Ph.D.

Dr. Reid K. Hester, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, researcher, and the Co-Founder of CheckUp & Choices, serving as the Director of its Research Division.

Dr. Hester has published over 60 journal articles on the topic of substance misuse and digital interventions including in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, the Journal of Medical Internet Research, and The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.

A leader in his field, his opinions, online resources and research have been featured in The New York Times, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Vogue, and Men’s Health among others

Dr. Hester received his masters and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the Washington State University in 1979.