How To Stop Thinking About Alcohol

Coach reviewed by Namrata Pereira, CADC, MATC, CAMS, CCS on September 14, 2022

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Having persistent thoughts about alcohol after quitting or cutting back? Many people experience this once they give up the booze, or decide to drink less. But what can you do if thoughts about drinking keep interrupting your day? How can you stop thinking about alcohol?

In truth, thinking about alcohol all of the time is an aspect of alcohol craving, a very common phenomenon in recovery. And while these can be extremely challenging, there are things you can do about them. Below, we’ll discuss how persistent thoughts and cravings work, why they happen, and some strategies to overcome them and stay in control.

Why Am I Thinking About Alcohol All of the Time?

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While we don’t yet fully understand the science of craving, a big part of it has to do with conditioning, and your brain’s reward system.1

When most people drink alcohol, it triggers “feel-good” hormones in their brains, including serotonin, oxytocin, and particularly dopamine. The more this happens, the more your brain remembers this, and develops an association between feeling good, and drinking alcohol.

This is where external cues can come into play. For example, if you often drink when you get home from work, and you enjoy it, your brain will start to associate relaxing after work with alcohol. You may start to think about drinking when you come in the door, whether it was your plan to have a beer or not. These are examples of drinking triggers.

While there is much more to addiction than this, such “positive conditioning” is a big part of how people develop habits around substances.

There is also “negative conditioning.” This is a similar process, except that it involves drinking alcohol to cope with negative feelings. To continue with the above example, if you’ve had a stressful day, and you drink after work, the alcohol may relieve some of that stress temporarily. This can eventually lead to thoughts about alcohol when you feel stressed.

When you try to cut back or quit drinking, these thoughts and associations can become especially apparent. And once any withdrawal symptoms have passed (if you quit cold-turkey for example), such triggers and cues can become one of the major forces pressuring you to relapse. Not acting on these thoughts may even lead to feelings of severe stress and anxiety.2

Why Can’t I Stop Thinking About Alcohol?

So, why can’t you just “change the channel,” so to speak, and start thinking about something else? Why is it so hard to stop thinking about alcohol?

It turns out that cravings for alcohol may have some similarities to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).3 OCD sufferers experience obsessive thoughts that result in compulsive behaviors. Scientists believe the two phenomena may share some of the same brain circuitry. (Although it’s important to note that having thoughts about alcohol does not mean you have OCD.)

Scientists have developed scales to measure alcohol cravings, which include:

People who relapse after quitting drinking tend to get higher scores on these questionnaires. This means they report more frequent thoughts about alcohol, and more intense urges to drink.

However, having cravings or persistent thoughts about alcohol does not mean you are doomed to start drinking again. There are things you can do to manage these thoughts and urges, and many people find they can eventually overcome them.

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How to Stop Thinking About Alcohol

Woman meditating, how to stop thinking about alcohol
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

One of the most important first steps in overcoming thoughts about alcohol is learning to separate yourself from them. This is often known as “mindfulness.” Mindfulness practice comes in many forms, but what each of them have in common is that they train you to observe your thoughts without fully engaging with them or believing them.

Mindfulness doesn’t necessarily stop you from thinking about alcohol. But it can eventually make it easier to ride the cravings out, and not act on them. There are many ways to get started with mindfulness, but if you’re stuck at home, one of these meditation apps might help.

On top of learning to observe your thoughts, there are also ways to change and reduce your thoughts about alcohol.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an approach that can help you better understand your triggers and conditioning around alcohol. A therapist trained in CBT can help you learn to replace negative thoughts and behaviors with more helpful ones.

There are also medications that can help reduce alcohol cravings. Some, such as naltrexone, can block the reward response in your brain when you drink. This can gradually retrain you not to have any positive associations with alcohol. Others, such as acamprosate, can help rebalance other aspects of your brain chemistry, leading you to feel less need to drink.

Through a combination of these strategies, it’s possible to make a long-term change in your relationship with alcohol, and eventually stop thinking about it.

Finding Support

If you’d like to try some of the above strategies, but are unsure how to get started or access them, why not try an online program?

Ria Health offers access to anti-craving medication, weekly coaching meetings (including CBT strategies), expert medical support, and much more—all through a handy smartphone app. Best of all, you don’t need to identify as an alcoholic to join.

Learn more about how it works, or schedule a call with a team member today.


Have questions about online alcohol treatment?

or call (800) 504-5360

Written By:
Ria Health Team
Ria Health’s editorial team is a group of experienced copywriters, researchers, and healthcare professionals dedicated to removing stigma and improving public knowledge around alcohol use disorder. Articles written by the “Ria Team” are collaborative works completed by several members of our writing team, fact-checked and edited to a high standard of empathy and accuracy.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
Coach reviewed by Namrata Pereira, CADC, MATC, CAMS, CCS on September 14, 2022

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