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Maybe you are trying to cut back on your drinking, but all you do is dwell on thoughts of alcohol. Or, you might be in addiction recovery and find yourself obsessing about drinking. If you are tired of thinking about drinking, this blog is for you.
Why Am I Always Thinking About Drinking?
To better understand why you are constantly thinking about drinking it helps to have a basic knowledge of how alcohol impacts the brain. Neuroscience shows us that when we engage in repetitive habits that initially bring us pleasure, it’s imprinted in the brain. The reward center is conditioned when alcohol triggers dopamine, the pleasure hormone.
Whether you are in recovery or just trying out sobriety, you may find yourself craving alcohol. These cravings are spurred by cues or triggers from places, situations, or people that remind you of this pleasure response. Alcohol is associated with these cues. Examples might be the habit of drinking wine with dinner or having a beer after working in the yard.
For someone who has used alcohol to relieve mental health issues, like anxiety or depression, it is also challenging. You may have acquired a habit of reaching for alcohol when you felt stressed out or wanted to relax before bedtime. The brain associates alcohol with the relaxing effects it provided, causing you to think about drinking in these situations.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
To better grasp what an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is, it is helpful to know what symptoms may point to this problem. When diagnosing AUD a clinician conducts an interview and assessment.
The intake process allows you can share about your drinking habits and what may trigger a desire to drink. You will be asked about your mental health, your physical health, and how long you have struggled with alcohol.
Based on how many of the signs and symptoms are present, your AUD is staged as mild, moderate, or severe. These are the signs and symptoms of AUD:
- Drink alone, passing out.
- Have memory blackouts.
- Focused on getting alcohol, drinking, and recovering from drinking.
- Lying about your drinking or hiding alcohol.
- Avoid friends and family so you can drink.
- Cannot control drinking, even though you want to cut back.
- Relationships start to suffer.
- Increased tolerance that results in more alcohol consumption.
- Legal trouble, like getting a DUI.
- Keep drinking even though negative consequences mount.
- Neglect work and family obligations.
- Have alcohol cravings.
- Withdrawal symptoms emerge when the alcohol wears off.
Risk Factors for AUD
Research continues to look for the exact causes of alcoholism. Questions remain, such as why one person becomes addicted to alcohol, while another who drinks as much does not. Still, chronic abuse of alcohol is the biggest risk factor for becoming alcohol dependent.
The CDC guidelines for safe drinking include:
- Excessive drinking is considered eight or more drinks in a week for women, and 15 or more drinks in a week for men.
- Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks on a single occasion for women, and five or more drinks in a single occasion for men.
In addition to the amount of alcohol consumed, these are some other risk factors for AUD:
- Family history. Genetics plays a role in who might be more prone to alcoholism. It is not known if this is purely gene-related, or if it is due to high exposure to alcohol growing up.
- Start drinking at an early age. There is a clear connection between early age drinking, such as age 13 or 14, and developing alcoholism later on.
- Trauma. People who have a history of abuse, neglect, or trauma are at a higher risk for AUD.
- Mental health. Those who struggle with mental health disorders are more prone to abusing alcohol and developing co-occurring AUD.
- Chronic stress. People who use alcohol to mitigate stress, such as a stressful job or family stress, are at higher risk.
How Thinking About Drinking Can Threaten Recovery
If you are in recovery for AUD and are plagued by constant thoughts of drinking, you may find yourself feeling tempted. The threat of relapse in recovery is very real and extremely common. The more you entertain thoughts of drinking, or daydream about your drinking days, the more your recovery is threatened.
When you obsess about drinking, you make yourself vulnerable to relapse. One stressful life event, such as the loss of a loved one, losing your job, or divorce can trigger a relapse. When you find yourself teetering, it’s time to be proactive. Do not ignore the warning signs. When you become tired of thinking about drinking, call your sponsor, attend a meeting, or see your therapist for support.
How Can I Stop Thinking About Drinking?
If you are tired of thinking about drinking and want to gain some control over your thoughts, there are some therapies that can help you. A comprehensive treatment program uses several evidence-based therapies to guide you toward change. These include:
- CBT. CBT is by far the therapy most utilized in addiction recovery. This is because CBT helps you make fundamental changes in the way you think and behave. The CBT therapist guides you away from dysfunctional thoughts and negative self-talk, and toward adopting healthy, positive thoughts.
- DBT. DBT helps you to change negative self-talk and self-criticism to self-acceptance. It achieves this by helping you improve in four key areas. These are mindfulness, improving interpersonal effectiveness, learning to better regulate emotions, and improving distress tolerance.
- CM. CM uses incentives to motivate continued sobriety. For example, a clean alcohol-screening test would earn a small reward or privilege to condition ongoing sobriety.
- MET. MET is an approach used early in recovery that helps you to identify and overcome any resistance to sobriety. Your therapist may pick up your feelings of ambivalence, and then help you to overcome these feelings and embrace sobriety.
- SBT. SBT is a patient-driven approach that guides you toward setting and achieving your desired recovery goals. SBT guides you in acknowledging your strengths while helping you overcome roadblocks that might prevent you from achieving your goals.