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Alcohol Cravings
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How Long Do Alcohol Cravings Last During Alcohol Addiction Recovery?

Those that are recovering from alcohol use disorders, especially those trying to quit alcohol on your own, often have a lot of questions about the alcohol withdrawal symptoms that occur when first stopping alcohol use. First of all, it is important to know and understand the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, as well as the alcohol withdrawal timelines.


Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Though the exact timeline depends on how much alcohol you usually drink, how long you have been drinking, your unique health conditions, and the patterns of your alcohol use; generally the timeline for alcohol withdrawal seen in patients with a dependence to alcohol is as follows:

Stage 1 Alcohol Withdrawal

After taking the last drink of alcohol, someone who is chemically dependent on alcohol with begin feeling the early alcohol withdrawal symptoms within 8 hours. Within the first 8 hours to 24 hours of alcohol cessation, you can expect the following symptoms – starting as mild-to-moderate, and getting increasingly worse:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Gastrointestinal Upset, Stomach and Abdominal Pains
  • Headache
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite and purposeful abstinence from food or even fluids)

Stage 2 Alcohol Withdrawal

After the first 24 hours without drinking, the alcohol withdrawal will begin to move into stage 2, characterized by worsening day 1 symptoms and the addition of the following symptoms of alcohol withdrawal:

  • Increase in Blood Pressure
  • Increased Body Temperature
  • Abnormal Heart Rate, Palpitations
  • Confusion, Trouble Focusing

In between stage 2 and 3 comes the peak symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal. It is in this timeframe that severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, or delirium tremens (the DTs) will make themselves known.

Symptoms of Delirium Tremens (DTs) Include:

  • Seizures
  • Dangerously High Blood Pressure
  • Extreme Confusion
  • Hallucinations (Primarily auditory hallucinations, but mild sensory and visual hallucination can occur)
  • Fever, Dangerously High Blood Pressure
  • Tremors, Uncontrollable Shaking
  • Paranoia
  • High Anxiety, Panic Attacks, (Feeling like you will have a heart attack or die is common, as your body is sending signals that something is very wrong)
  • Sleeping an Entire Day or Longer (In some cases of DTs the patient goes into a sleep patter through the DTs, a semi-comatose state)

Stage 3 Alcohol Withdrawal

In most cases, stage 3 marks a decrease in the intensity of stage 2 symptoms. After 48-72 hours, the symptoms slowly decrease in their intensity until “stabilized” within 2-3 days. This decrease should continue for the next few days until the symptoms are more or less resolved. However, because of the possibility of prolonged alcohol withdrawal, post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), and a number of other factors, a person may feel alcohol mild withdrawal symptoms in some form or another for up to 6 months.

How long do the Urges to Drink Alcohol Last after Detox?

First of all, it is highly recommended that you go through medically-supervised alcohol detox that tapers you down before completely weening you off alcohol. This is the safest method for quitting alcohol, and will help to decrease the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms – including the urge to drink, or cravings for alcohol.

If you quit alcohol on your own – not using a medically assisted alcohol detox program – alcohol withdrawal symptoms can persist for longer, fluctuate in intensity, and put you had higher risk of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Self-detox, improper alcohol detox, and lack of alcohol counseling in the initial withdrawal stages can lead to increased urges in early recovery, or relapse due to uncontrollable urges to drink alcohol.

Why Some Alcoholics Have No Urge to Drink Again After Detox

The urge to drink alcohol is purely a mental symptom of alcohol dependence. The body has no need for alcohol unless you are chemically dependent on alcohol due to alcohol abuse. Many recovering binge drinkers and chronic alcohol abusers find that after alcohol detox, they have no craving for, or urge to drink alcohol.
It really comes down to how you look at alcohol use. If you know that alcohol is not going to give you any pleasure, and will only cause more harm than it has already done, it is much easier to resist these inflated mental “urges” to drink.

Some patients that suffer acute alcohol withdrawals, DTs, or severe alcohol withdrawals have stated that the experience was so bad that it made them never want to drink again – because they never want to feel that way again. The urges might still be there in the first few months of recovery, but they are able to resist those urges until they subside completely within the first year of sobriety.

Still, some recovering chronic alcohol users still have it in their mind that alcohol will give them benefits, or they don’t consciously recognize the negative outcomes associated with their choice to drink or not drink. Some foolishly still believe that alcohol can be fun in moderation, or simply want the feelings alcohol gave them in the past. These are not physical urges for alcohol, they are purely mental, and if you are feeling these urges, they need to be dealt with mentally – in the form of alcohol counseling.

How Alcohol Counseling and Alcohol Treatment Suppress Urges to Drink in Recovery

Alcohol treatment programs utilize counseling and mental health treatment to deal with the mental effects of alcohol addiction. Alcohol counseling can help dramatically improve many of the mental symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including the subsequent bouts of depression or anxiety that hit in the first months of sobriety.

Even more importantly, alcohol counseling uses therapies to tackle the mental urges to drink. Therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Alcohol Abuse are used to help you to realize that drinking again will not give you any pleasure, will not make you feel better, will not get rid of the urge to drink, and can only cause more harm. Once you have made this connection in your mind between alcohol and negative repercussions, resisting the urges is much easier.

A common saying in addiction recovery is “alcohol creates a need for itself.” You don’t need alcohol, but the addiction to alcohol can make you believe you do.

The Best Ways to Fight Urges to Drink in Early Recovery from Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

So many recovering alcoholics and former drinkers worry about the urges for alcohol that occur in early recovery, and believe that alcohol urges – like alcohol withdrawal symptoms – will never go away. This is truly a frightening thought, but unfounded. Alcohol urges and symptoms do go away, and they decrease every day that you stay sober.

Sure there will be times when you will be faced with a situation where you are tempted to drink (perhaps a company party, family get-together, an awkward social situation, or even times of stress), but as soon as you decide to NOT drink, you will be surprised at how quickly that urge subsides.

There are some tips for alcohol relapse prevention that can help you to overcome alcohol urges, though. Finding a non-alcoholic beverage of choice, remembering all the hard work you put into recovery, staying away from tempting situations, etc. These tips can help definitely help, but what helps the most is alcohol counseling and treatment during the beginning of your sobriety; and having aftercare options available to you, attending meetings, and having peer support work the best.

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