Tag Archives: cravings

Relapse signature

Working on our early warning signs is one way of avoiding a complete relapse.  They are a set of symptoms that can occur in a specific order, over a particular period of time, that indicate a relapse is possible and impending.

You need to think about what changes that you experience in your thoughts, perceptions, feelings and behaviour prior to your last bout of drinking, whether you were moderating already, or had stopped completely .  It is also helpful to identify events which might trigger these sorts of changes and I’ll cover those in more detail in another post

The early warning signs can take place over a period of several weeks or months and are usually noticeable between four weeks and two days before a relapse and include:

  • Subtle changes in thinking – in terms of the way you think and what you think about.  For me this is getting wistful about drinking, the cravings being rekindled and becoming preoccupied with the thought  of drinking again.
  • Change in the way you feel.  So I get this sense of ‘f*ck it’ that gets stronger and stronger.  I can almost taste the booze in my mouth.
  • Changes in the way you behave.  So I start to look for, or provoke, reasons to drink or I withdraw.
  • Changes in relationships with other people.  I might pick a fight to enable me to storm off to the off-license because I’m upset and I deserve a drink now.  I might stop reaching out to the communities that would challenge these thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

If you were to look back you could almost pin-point the moment when you went from happily not drinking to unhappily not drinking, from happy sober person to dry drunk.

So if you find yourself experiencing what feels like early warning signs you can practice asking yourself questions such as:

  1. “What am I thinking about?”
  2. “How am I feeling?”
  3. “Is this my usual way of thinking/feeling?”

I usually out myself to Mr HOF or you guys 😉  What was your relapse signature?

Sober safety plan

It is standard practice in my day job that if there is a worrying behaviour being demonstrated by a young person or they are involved in a difficult situation we would implement a safety plan to help them manage it and to ensure that we have assessed any risk to them posed by this.

For my drinking I have this ‘safety’ plan in my head but you could easily commit it to paper much like the changing behaviour contract detailed in this post.  This is a plan of action for when the cravings strike.  Obviously the best scenario is that you manage your triggers, as detailed here, so that it doesn’t reach a craving crescendo but sometimes it is just unavoidable.

My safety plan if a craving strikes is:

  1. Use the 15 minute rule which you can find here
  2. If that didn’t working, I’d talk to my husband (who is 6 days ahead of me)
  3. If that didn’t work I’d email my sober penpal Belle
  4. It that didn’t work I’d blog about  it
  5. If that didn’t working go to bed, irrespective of how early it is, and see how it is tomorrow
  6. If that didn’t work I would then find an AA meeting.  I haven’t yet reached this point and know from my fellow bloggers that this can be a saving lifeline and I would use it.

I found it important to try and contingency plan a worse case scenario because I did not want to drink under any circumstances and I knew that wolfie would strike if I wasn’t sure of what my ‘in case of emergency’ action plan was!

Physical preparation

Having nursed alcoholics I knew what a toll alcohol takes on the body physically so before I stopped I wanted to start addressing that.

B vitamins, especially B1, B2, B3 and B6, are destroyed by alcohol, which primarily affects the liver and nervous system.  When we were detoxing patients on the ward they would all receive daily multivitamins, thiamine and folic acid, intravenously if they could not take it orally.

I started taking a daily multivitamin & multimineral and a 1000mg Vitamin C.  Milk thistle is also good for liver detoxification.

If you read Patrick Holford Optimum Nutrition Bible he recommends for alcoholism:

Multivitamins and multiminerals

Antioxidant complex

Vitamin C 1000mg

Adaptogenic herbs, plus tyosine – which helps to prevent emotional and physical lows after stopping.

Bone mineral complex (including calcium and magnesium)

Glutamine powder twice a day in water on an empty stomach – which  helps the gut and reduces cravings.

He also says that a very alkaline diet reduces the cravings for alcohol and recommends a diet high in whole grains, beans and lentils and frequent meals containing protein such as nuts, seeds, fish,, chicken, eggs or milk produce.  Soberistas are currently running a Love Your Liver 14 day Detox, Cleanse & Rejuvenate Programme put together by their Nutritional Therapist, Clare Shepherd which you can find here.

Oh and lots and lots of water.

He also warns that sugar addiction is often substituted for dependency on alcohol, as booze is just liquid sugar, so avoiding sugar and stimulants is recommended.  I can attest for the sweet tooth but have personally decided to let it slide as I am less than 6 months without a drink and I would rather put not drinking before anything else at this point in time.  The sugar issue will be addressed once being sober is a stable part of my life.

Edited to add 14th May 2016:

Chronic drinking interferes with absorption of critical vitamins by pancreas

Chronic exposure to alcohol interferes with the pancreas’ ability to absorb vitamin C, potentially predisposing the body to pancreatitis and other pancreatic diseases, a new study in the American Journal of Physiology — Cell Physiology reports.

So that 1 gram of Vitamin C is a really good idea 🙂

Deconstructing the buzz

Last night I went to the cinema to watch the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, Scorsese’s new film.  Going to the cinema is one of my sober treats – a good film, bottle of water and bag of liquorice and I’m happy 🙂

Jordan Belfort, the film’s lead character played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is the wolf of wall street and for me he is the human personification of ‘wolfie’ complete with glass of red wine.


He develops a massively chronic addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex and money during the film.  You also see him get clean and sober for 2 years, which he hates and says as much, and is very much the epitome of what I would call a ‘dry drunk’.

Early on in the film you see the seeds of his drug addiction take root when you see him take his first hit off a crack pipe.  The acting and filming is superb and he portrays so well the effect of the drug as he inhales and exhales and it hits his brain.

And this is when the light bulb went off in my head – that was it, that was what I was chasing when I drank.  That first drink when alcohol crosses your blood-brain barrier initially and shifts your consciousness making the edges of life fuzzy.  That was what I craved.  Any drink beyond that was drunk hoping for that moment to be recreated again but it had passed.  Now I truly understood what people meant when they said that it was that first drink that was the problem – it was all a mirage.

During the film he took more drugs, drank more, had more sex, earned more money but it had gone from a desire or a want to a need that he now couldn’t live without.  That was me and booze too.  The drinking at the end was determined and not pleasurable – almost a chore but I kidded myself that it was fun despite knowing the next morning it would be far from fun.

I feel like these blogs about my drinking days have been hard-work and heavy going and I’m keen to finish this series of recollections on a lighter note!  So I’ll share this comedy sketch from BBC Radio 4 where the characters of Winnie the Pooh stage an intervention for Pooh Bear because of his honey issues 🙂


Starts at 12.15 mins and lasts just over 3 1/2 minutes.

The 15 minute rule

I’ve been thinking about the fact that I started this blog on day 37 in my sobriety so you, the reader, have no understanding of how I got to that point.  So I’m going to work backwards from then to try to explain what happened and what tools I used.  It won’t be a day by day recall of that time, because I simply can’t remember the details, but will be a broad brush stroke picture, with edited highlights and low-lights, some of which I have already written about such as here.

This was the number one tool I used in the early days and when I was trying to moderate before stopping.

It is based on the premise that you have the power, you are in control and nobody can stop whether you chose to drink or not.  This may sound obvious but I had drunk for so long it had become habitual and I had become Pavlovian in my response.  The clock hit a certain time of the day = wine o’clock.  Feeling emotionally overwhelmed (both positively or negatively), unable to cope, exposed or sensitive = pick up a drink.  I drank on automatic pilot.  So this tool is about being mindful of your drinking, your triggers and trying to delay and unpick what is going on.

So when the cravings hit, I would check the time, and tell myself that I had felt the urge, but that I was going to choose not to pick up a drink for 15 minutes.  If after this amount of time I still had the urge to drink, then I could.  It was my choice, I had the power and the control – even if in the past it hadn’t felt that way.  I was reconditioning my brain with the experience that I could choose to wait or choose to drink.

For the duration of this 15 minute ‘waiting period’ I would try to keep myself occupied by having a bath, blog surfing  or writing down where I thought the urge to drink was coming from and writing a letter to myself about my feelings.  After the 15 minutes had passed I would check  how I was feeling and how I felt about the urge to drink.  I could choose to drink now or I could choose to wait another 15 minutes.  I could keep playing this 15 minute game for as long as I wanted, and sometimes the urge passed and sometimes it didn’t.  But it was always my choice at every 15 minute step.  If I got through the urge and the cravings passed without drinking  I would write it in my journal or would tell my husband knowing that it was another brick towards the time when I would build a wall of sobriety – thanks Belle for the sober brick analogy 🙂

Then I would congratulate myself for delaying the urge or for not drinking with some kind of treat.  A piece of chocolate, a hug from my husband or kids – a small reward for my effort.  If you are new to the sober game and want to use this tool and tell me how you’ve got on, please do either in the comments below or you can email me on ahangoverfreelife@gmail.com 🙂

(This tool is an adapted version of one from www.lifesigns.org.uk)

Neural network of a dependent drinker

These words of wisdom came from a blogger on Soberistas who goes by the name of Pip:

‘The brain is full of neural pathways and the “priorities” pathways are the ones that give us the ‘want/urge/desire/need to eat, drink water, be sociable and mate… all for survival. If we ignore them we will die.  The pathways created by an addiction will take priority over many others, giving us the ‘want/urge/desire/need (craving) to take alcohol as though the body thinks it will die if it doesn’t have it as it thinks it needs it for survival.  When we stop putting alcohol in, the brain starts sending loud messages out that it wants and needs this chemical to survive.  WE know that we won’t die, but the brain doesn’t.  If we stop using these pathways for long enough, they will narrow down.  New ones are being made with every minute/day we don’t use this chemical (alcohol).  The chemical balance of the brain returns to normal and all the receptors and dopamine, etc start working normally, without being confused by alcohol.

Cravings are the brain thinking we need this substance for survival.  Stop using the pathways and new ones are created.  Then the desire to drink lessens.’

This is supported by research which shows that several characteristics that were identified by a pruned neural network have previously been shown to be important in this disease (alcoholism) based on more traditional linkage and association studies. (Falk, 2005).

The sober blogging community is a beautiful thing.  We are forming networks of sober bloggers like our brains are forming new non-drinking neural networks.  Synchronicity in action 🙂


Day 80

PAWS for thought

This has been a hellish week-end of cravings I have to say and if I have another week-end like this soon I am likely to crack!

The lovely peeps over at Soberistas were discussing Post-acute-withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) and I’m wondering if this is what I am experiencing?  This is described on Wiki as a set of persistent impairments that occur after withdrawal from substances, including alcohol.

The symptoms include:

  • psychosocial dysfunction
  • anhedonia
  • depression
  • impaired interpersonal skills
  • obsessive-compulsive behaviour
  • feelings of guilt
  • autonomic disturbances
  • pessimistic thoughts
  • impaired concentration
  • lack of initiative
  • craving
  • inability to think clearly
  • memory problems
  • emotional overreactions or numbness
  • sleep disturbances
  • physical co-ordination problems
  • stress sensitivity
  • increased sensitivity to pain
  • panic disorder
  • generalised panic disorder
  • sleep disturbance (dreams of using, behaviors associated with the life style)

Symptoms occur intermittently, but are not always present. They are made worse by stress or other triggers and may arise at unexpected times and for no apparent reason. They may last for a short while or longer.  Any of the following may trigger a temporary return or worsening of the symptoms of post acute withdrawal syndrome:

  • Stressful and/or frustrating situations
  • multitasking
  • feelings of anxiety, fearfulness or anger
  • social conflicts
  • unrealistic expectations of oneself


Knowing the above helps me intellectualise it but doesn’t actually stop the feelings which isn’t particularly helpful.  Another early night for me then …….