If you’re anything like me, you might feel that finishing work, meeting up with friends, cooking dinner, or pretty much any other situation you find yourself in is an excuse for you to drink. For me, drinking symbolized fun, relaxation, and adult time, and my brain constantly looked for reasons to drink. But what I needed to do was learn how to manage my urges.
Urges usually happen when we experience a trigger. So many of us try to manage our urges in different ways, like ignoring them or resisting them, but this doesn’t always serve us. If we want to improve our relationship with alcohol, we need to learn to manage our urges appropriately.
In this episode, I talk about urges, why we get them, and why it can be difficult to manage them. I share different ways to manage an urge and a framework to help you become more emotionally resilient. Tune in to learn how to retrain your brain, change your relationship with alcohol, and stop that one drink from turning into many more!
Sherry: You are listening to the Drink Less Lifestyle podcast with Dr. Sherry Price, episode number 4.
Female Announcer: Welcome to Drink Less Lifestyle, a podcast for successful women who want to change their relationship with alcohol. If you want to drink less, feel healthier and start loving life again you’re in the right place. Please remember that the information in this podcast does not constitute medical advice. Now, here’s your host, Dr. Sherry Price.
Sherry: Well, hello, everyone. How are you doing today? Today I cannot wait to talk to you about one of my favorite tools that I use in my coaching program and it is how to appropriately manage an urge. Have you ever had an urge for a drink? It’s that intense feeling or desire that you just want to pour a drink or just get me a cocktail. Urges happen generally around what we see or when we experience a trigger.
Triggers like transitioning from work time to home life or family life. Another trigger could be cooking dinner. Another trigger can be meeting up with certain friends. It also could be like the time of day. For me, it was between 5 and 6pm. It could be that your husband or significant other has gone off to work and you’re at home with the kids. Maybe you use alcohol as a sleep aid.
If you’re like me, maybe it’s all these triggers and then some. I had so many triggers that led to urge and desire for drinking. Friends, family, vacations, being on an airplane, being at an airport, camping, skiing. Actually, I think my brain just looked for reasons to drink all the time. It’s almost if like alcohol was available it must be consumed. It must be time for me to drink.
This is how I trained my brain to think about alcohol. That I should be able to have it whenever it’s available because heck, why not? I mean, it’s what us adults get to do and drinking, for me, really symbolized fun and relaxation and adult time. So, today I want to really dive deep into how we manage an urge. I want to say how we manage an urge is everything because we’re going to talk about all the ways you can manage the urge but there is one proper way that if you manage the urge in this fashion the urges actually diminish over time and they go away.
So, let’s dive into the four different ways that you can manage an urge. So, the first way is to feed the urge. Whenever you have that urge and I call it that desire, that intense desire to drink, so whenever you have that urge to drink and you cave and feed it, you are actually strengthening that habit cycle. You are actually strengthening the urge and when you do this the urge will come back.
Think of it as like you have this trigger and then your response is to drink and so this feedback loop when you drink creates that pattern in your brain like when I have urge or desire I drink. It just keeps reinforcing that habit loop that’s inside the brain. Then, that pathway in the brain gets deeper rooted the more you practice it. It becomes like a super highway in your brain. It’s like a six-lane freeway and this is why drinking can feel so automatic and feel like you just can’t stop. It’s why that one glass turns into so many more.
Feeding this habit loop by feeding the urge is quite dangerous. It perpetuates the cycle. It makes us feel stuck, it makes us feel that our drinking is out of control, and it also makes us feel powerless. So, I don’t recommend feeding the urge. Now, we can drink in a way that doesn’t actually feed this habit loop. We can learn how to extinguish this neural pathway that’s been created in our brain so that that pathway and that habit is no longer in control, but how we can learn to remain in control of our drinking at all times.
That’s the space I’m in now. I don’t feel like alcohol controls me when I drink. I say if I’m going to have one drink, I actually have one and stop. Sometimes, I don’t even feel compelled to finish that drink. This became so clear to me, I was just over the weekend out celebrating birthdays with some of my girlfriends and I watched as I didn’t even feel like I needed a drink, but all the ladies felt it was festive and wanted to drink and some of them kept drinking.
It’s really interesting when you lose your desire, and I didn’t have urge for alcohol at this celebration. We don’t really have to make a big deal of it when we don’t drink, but that’s for another podcast. So, let’s talk about the next way we can handle an urge.
The first way we talked about it was to feed it and we know that that’s not good because it just further perpetuates the habit cycle. It further perpetuates more desire. The second way to handle an urge is to ignore it. This is pretty common. This is a big one that I find with my clients. It’s something that they think they’re not doing, but they actually are doing.
So, I really want you to pay attention to ignoring the urge because I feel that so many of us do this, but we don’t realize it. So, what does it look like when you ignore the urge? Well, it looks like this, when the urge comes, you do something else. You fold laundry. You clean the house. You go for a walk. You do yoga. You call a friend. Maybe you have tea instead. You occupy yourself with something else to do. Maybe you scroll Facebook or social media. What you’re doing is you’re taking the brain and your focus and you’re not thinking about the urge, you’re ignoring it and you’re throwing your focus and your attention on to something else.
I like to call this way of managing an urge, the distraction technique. So, I notice a lot of my clients come to me saying, “Okay, instead of drinking what else can I do?” That’s the wrong perspective of an urge and that’s the wrong way to manage an urge, to properly manage an urge because if you’re always looking for something else, that means you’re always going to be looking for something to substitute that drinking.
Again, you’re wanting to escape that feeling of desire by doing something else, by distracting your brain, by ignoring it, by not paying attention to it. By ignoring it, unfortunately, it doesn’t go away permanently. It may go away in the moment while your brain is focused on something else, but eventually that urge will come back and it’ll say, “Hey, I still want a drink.” Then you’ll be like, “Crap, that way of distracting myself didn’t work. I still have the urge.”
Why this doesn’t work permanently is because we actually run out of things to do. So, what happens when you don’t feel going for a walk or it’s raining outside or when there’s no tea in the house or you’re sick of tea or when there’s no laundry to do or you just don’t feel like doing your laundry.
The distraction technique, I don’t feel, is a good one for long-term success. So, think about when your distraction is over and that craving comes around and that urge comes back around and there’s no distraction, now what are you going to do? Now, you’re going to fall into the first method and feed it. You’re going to cave. You’re going to drink. You’re going to be like, “Well, that was great. I did some yoga.” Then, your brain is going to think, “Now, I need a treat. I went on a walk. Now, I need a treat for doing good behavior.”
So, that distraction technique really doesn’t work and I find that it oftentimes backfires because now we feel that since we did a good think and delayed drinking that sometimes people will reward themselves with a drink. Each time you feed that habit loop, just consider what’s going on inside the brain. The brain is saying, “Yes, I had desire, and I keep sending urges to the body, and guess what, this person keeps responding with alcohol.” That’s exactly what your brain wants.
That’s how you continue to feel powerless. That’s how you continue to feel like this is out of control and when is this going to stop and how can I make it stop? That’s where I feel so many women get to is they get so frustrated because they’re doing something else instead of the drinking, but then they’re still experiencing the same amount of urges and they don’t realize that they’re perpetuating that urge process because they’re thinking that the distraction or by ignoring the urges is the way that they will go away.
If our brain is expecting that strategy to be successful and it isn’t, guess what, then our brain thinks, “Oh my gosh, I’m defeated. I’m disappointed. This isn’t working for me. I’m broken. I have so much shame. I’m never going to get this right,” and you become so irritated with trying to cut back by using a strategy that’s actually never going to work.
Then, we internalize that making it mean that somehow, we’re flawed, we’re broken, and all it means is that we’re using the wrong strategy to get rid of these urges. That’s all it is. This is common with a few of the women that I’ve worked with who have had bariatric surgery. After the surgery they lost a lot of weight, they feel like they’ve reigned in their eating habits very well, but then they substitute it with another distraction, the alcohol.
Instead of using food now their urges became for alcohol. So, again, they were ignoring the urges for food and they weren’t working on those correctly, so then they replaced the food with alcohol and so these women now wind up overdrinking and then gaining weight because of the alcohol and some of their behaviors associated with when they drink. Very similar concept. So, why do we do that? Why do we go from one external distraction to another external distraction?
The reason being is because the brain doesn’t want to feel the urge. The brain is like, “I’m uncomfortable. Satisfy me somehow with something external.” So, if you know that the distraction technique or ignoring the urge doesn’t work, I just want you to consider not doing it anymore. I want you to consider maybe it’s going to work sometimes, but it’s not the way you’re going to get lasting, sustainable change and it’s certainly not the way that urges are going to diminish over time.
Let’s go to the next way I see people handling urges and that is through resistance. That is by resisting the urge. Now, think about resistance. The example I like to use here is a beach ball that you push under water. When you’re holding that beach ball under water there’s so much pressure and it really taxes our muscles to keep that ball underwater. The pressure builds, our muscles eventually fatigue and what happens when you let go of that beach ball? It comes flying up out of the water.
That’s like bottling, bottling, bottling our emotions until they explode. That’s what I see some women tend to do with their urges. They resist them. They use willpower. They white knuckle it. They say, “I’m not going to drink tonight.” They’re resisting the urge, they’re resisting their desire for the alcohol by using these techniques of willpower, white knuckling, telling themselves they don’t want it when they really do and all of this resistance increases the pressure of that urge. It increases the desire for the urge. So, if we say we’re not going to drink during the week and we say no and no and no and we’re using resistance and willpower and we’re just so committed to not drinking that we’re actually feeding the urge. So, by the time the weekend comes some people wind up binging. That’s what happened to me.
I would tell myself, “You can’t have it during the week. You’re a professional. You don’t want it to affect your work. Don’t drink.” So, I’d say, “I don’t want the drink. I don’t want the drink.” I would put up that resistance. I’d put up that fight to the urge. I would tell myself how, “It’s awful, it’s poison, I shouldn’t want it. I’m a bad person for wanting it. This is so hard. I can’t believe this; I just can’t wait till Friday. I can’t wait till I’m able to drink at 5 o’clock. I can’t wait to pour my glass of Chardonnay.”
Do you see how I’m just building and building and building this resistance which is increasing the pressure inside my body which is going to come out as a strong desire and higher desire and more urge for the drink come Friday. When I drink come Friday guess what my brain will feel. It’ll feel such relief. It’ll be like, “Yay, the beach ball just came out of the water,” and it will make my desire for the alcohol even stronger because now my brain has seen how alcohol has relieved this emotional energy and this pressure inside of my body, plus the way I’m thinking about alcohol now just makes me want it more. It glamorizes it. It puts it on a pedestal. It think that alcohol is the solution to this pressure cooker inside my body.
I would do this a lot. I would use logic. Logic was my friend, right? I’m a smart woman and I love thinking. I actually overthink a lot. So, I’d be using all this logic, like, “It’s not good for me. Think of the calories. Think of the hangover you’re going to feel. Think of the cotton mouth. Think of the disruption in your sleep.” I would try to resist my desire with logic so much that I thought that would change my desire for it.
I didn’t realize by doing this I was feeding the desire even more. So, when you try to convince yourself that you don’t want the alcohol, that’s how you know you’re resisting. You’re not being true with actually how you feel in the moment. We think that this is going to help us. We think that this is going to manifest as permanent change and it doesn’t because it’s denying what we truly feel. It’s denying how we truly think.
Any time we’re not in acceptance of where we are in our journey, acceptance of what we think, acceptance of our feelings, we’re always creating resistance and so when our thoughts are not in alignment with the energy that we’re feeling in the body and we’re trying to resist that energy, it’s like we’re in denial of our own emotions.
When you’re in denial of your own emotions you can’t get anywhere. You can’t experience change and you can’t change how you feel because you’re actually in denial about how you actually feel. So, what you have to do is get to a place of acceptance which brings me to the last way that we manage an urge and this is the most effective way to manage an urge and that’s by allowing it.
Yes, allowing it, noticing it, focusing on it. Don’t take your brain to some other distraction, don’t take it away from how you’re feeling, but focus in on how you’re feeling. This is also how I say connect with yourself. Find out what’s true in terms of your energy that’s vibrating inside your body because that’s all emotions are. An urge is just a type of emotion. It’s the emotion of desire.
So, when we have the urge or the desire, we need to connect with that. We need to allow it to be there. We don’t want to run from it. We don’t want to pretend we don’t feel it. We don’t want to feed it. We want to be with it. This is a skill. This is not something the brain wants to do because the other three methods, do you know what happens with the other three methods? The brain thinks it’s getting somewhere. The brain thinks, “If I allow this emotion it’s going to take over and it’s going to make me weak,” when the exact opposite is true.
When you allow the emotion to be there without feeding it, without distracting from it and without saying you don’t want it to be there the body learns that it’s no longer harmful. The body learns it’s okay to have urge, it’s not going to harm me. It’s not going to kill me. I can just sit with it.
This sounds intellectually, “Yeah, I can do that.” I laugh because when I’m coaching the women they say, “Yes, I allow the urge,” and when they explain to me what they did in the moment, they didn’t allow the urge. Most of them ignored it or did the distraction technique, but here their brain is thinking they allowed it because they didn’t drink. It’s not just the action of not drinking, it’s also the action that you sit and you discover what desire feels like in your body.
Just to give you some really practical tips on how to do this I’d say you sit and be with yourself. You sit, not in front of the TV, not looking at your phone. You sit somewhere, could be on your couch and you sit there for however long the urge lasts. It could be five minutes, it could be less, it could be a little longer. It’s not going to last all night.
When you sit there using as many adjectives as you can to describe the sensation in your body. What does it feel like? Is it moving? Where is it in your body? Is it in your extremities or is it in your torso? Or is it an all over body feeling? Does it feel like sparks are connecting? Does it feel like an uneasiness? What if you got to say what color it was, how would you describe it in terms of a color?
I also think it’s fascinating to think about is the urge’s energy changing. Is it dynamic or is it static? Is this this constant buzz inside of my heart or stomach or do I feel it like crescendo and de-crescendo? I’ll tell you in a lot of rehab and publications that are out there about managing an urge, they call it a wave. They call it surfing the urge because, for me, it was an increase and then a decrease. So, a crescendo then a de-crescendo.
So, the urge worked up, got higher of intensity, more intense and then it would fade. It would go away for a while and then moments later it would come back, it would peak like a wave, and then it would subside. I loved feeling that eventually because do you know what my brain began to understand? That I don’t have urge from 5 o’clock on. I don’t have urge throughout the entire evening. I actually only have a few urges per night, and they go away. If I can sit and be with them for however long they lasted I noticed over time and here’s the beautiful and that’s why you want to do this process is because they actually diminish.
What felt like a 12-foot wave at first coming on with an intense urge over time I started to notice that it was like now it’s an 8-foot wave, now it’s a 6-foot wave, and then as time went on and I experienced more urges this way they just became lapping waves like on a lake.
This is the beauty of allowing an urge because when you allow them, they actually diminish over time. That’s what we want. We want freedom from these urges. We don’t want them to be there all of the time. Now, I want to tell you if you allow an urge and the next time you distract from it and the next time you allow it and the next time you cave and give in to it doesn’t mean you have to keep allowing them consecutively. Every time you allow an urge, you’re actually rewiring the brain. You’re actually setting down a new neural network inside the brain’s pathway that’s saying, “Oh, I can do this.”
So, each time you do it you’re adding to that framework that’s been laid down in the brain, so this neuroplasticity concept which is great because now the brain is learning, “I can change.” The brain is learning that this is just a process and a skill set that I need to get better at and once I do then I’ll be able to be in control of my drinking and not want it so much.
Look, I’m not saying that you should never do the distraction technique. Maybe at times that is what you need, but I also want you to consider that allowing the urge is a much better way to extinguish them over time. When you allow the urge now you can start practicing this with other emotions. This is the framework that makes us more emotionally resilient. This actually increases your emotional intelligence. This is the way to train the brain that emotions aren’t something that we need to respond to right away. We don’t need to be reactionary. We can be proactive. We can learn to calm without needing external things to do that for us because we’re actually training the brain to see that you’re still okay even though you have an urge.
It’s not a crisis, it’s not something that needs to be addressed right in the moment. It’s not an urgent call for alcohol, and if we didn’t feed it alcohol that somehow, we would disintegrate, right? We have to train our brain to know that it is safe and it is okay. When you do this along with the thought work that I teach it really changes everything with your relationship to alcohol. It transforms your experience with alcohol to a point where you feel like you don’t need it, to the point that you feel you can be a woman who can take it or leave it.
So, there you have it for this week. Those are the four ways you can handle an urge. You can feed it, you can ignore it, which I call the distraction technique, you can resist it, and the best and the most effective way is to allow it. When we allow it to be there and doing that along with the thought work that I teach my clients these are the most effective tools to breaking the overdrinking habit and become a woman who can take it or leave it.
All right, my friends, I want you to do this urge work. I want you to take it very seriously. It’s one of the key tools in my coaching program that helps so many women stop the overdrinking habit and change their relationship with alcohol for good. Thanks for joining me today, my friends.
Before you go, I’m excited to celebrate the launch of this podcast by giving away four $100 Amazon gift cards to lucky listeners who subscribe, rate, and review this show on Apple Podcasts. Of course, I do hope that you love the show, but it does not have to be a 5-star review. I want your honest feedback to make sure I continue to provide you tons of value. So, visit sherryprice.com/podcastlaunch to learn more about the contest and how to enter. I’ll be announcing the winners on the show in an upcoming episode. Bye for now.
Female Announcer: Thanks for listening to Drink Less Lifestyle. If you’re ready to change your relationship with drinking now check out the free guide, How to Effectively Break the Overdrinking Habit at sherryprice.com/startnow. See you next week.