Can an Alcoholic Ever Drink Again?

can an alcoholic ever drink again

The Risks and Reasons to Maintain Abstinence from Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most socially accepted substances. It’s used to celebrate and give toasts at weddings, to relax in social situations, and to unwind from a long day. Terms like “wine mom” make alcohol seem much more socially acceptable. But it is not a topic or substance to be taken lightly.

If you are a recovering or recovered alcoholic (both terms get some use, and we won’t address those differences in this post), you may be wondering if you can have a wine cooler at a backyard BBQ or participate in the champagne toast at your child’s wedding.

The big question is, “Can an alcoholic ever drink again?”

I wish we could say that it’s okay to celebrate that milestone or relax. The truth is, however, people who identify as alcoholics struggle with moderate drinking. One drink quickly becomes two or three. Even when a recovering alcoholic believes they are practicing controlled drinking, it’s all too easy to spiral back down into addiction.

Keep reading to learn more about drinking alcohol after finding recovery, whether you can drink in moderation, and strategies for overcoming that urge to drink in social situations.

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To Drink or Not to Drink: Can Alcoholics Ever Drink Again?

Unfortunately, if you identify as an alcoholic, even a sip of alcohol can lead you back down the road of addiction. You may think that you are in control, especially if you can have that drink and stop. Few recovering alcoholics or others in recovery stop after one drink, though.

Even if it’s a week or two later, that urge to drink alcohol can reappear any time you experience stress or find a reason to celebrate.

Long-term alcohol addiction physically changes your brain. Research shows many psychological symptoms result from heavy, chronic alcohol abuse including damage to the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and decision making.

The damage to the receptors in your brain can make it feel impossible to overcome the impulse to drink on your own. This means that even if you believe you can handle one drink, it’s more likely that you won’t be able to control this impulse in the future.

Can an Alcoholic Ever Drink Again After Leaving Treatment?

Some of the mental and physical health consequences associated with drinking do start to reverse once you get sober. Getting sober may help with physical problems like high blood pressure, liver problems, and immunity.

However, alcoholism changes the brain. Just like with highly addictive drugs like cocaine and opioids, it literally hijacks the reward system in your brain and changes your responses to the substance for good. This is the reason many people who abuse alcohol are not able to drink in moderation.

Even though your body and mind are working to heal, the mechanisms governing addiction remain. This is why the average recovering or recovered alcoholic will tell you they practice total abstinence. Moderate drinking isn’t a plan that works well for most true alcoholics. Often, drinking once has a progressive effect that leads to more drinking in the future.

3 Effective Coping Skills: What to Do Instead of Drinking Alcohol

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When you cannot drink in moderation, it’s important to approach social situations with caution. Even though having a beer or glass of champagne doesn’t look like alcohol abuse, it’s easy for this to spiral. The risk is even higher early in recovery.

While moderation and harm reduction work for some people (mostly those who are not considered true alcoholics) the most successful people choose to abstain after attending alcohol treatment facilities.

1) Identify Triggers for Relapse and Make a Plan

You can set yourself up for success by being able to identify triggers and bringing your own drinks to gatherings so you know a beverage option you enjoy. It’s also helpful to have a plan in place for staying sober if you start getting the urge to drink alcohol.

Alcoholics drink for many reasons. Attending support groups regularly will help address your unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Furthermore, addressing mental health concerns in individual and family therapy may also be recommended after you quit drinking to provide extra support.

2) Improve Your Overall Health After You Quit Drinking

It’s also important to commit to healthy behaviors after overcoming alcohol dependence. Many people take vitamin supplements, stay hydrated, eat a healthy diet, exercise, and keep a schedule after seeking treatment for alcohol abuse.

Exercise, or at least developing an active routine, can not only take your mind off alcohol but also produce some of the brain chemicals, such as dopamine and endorphins, that recovering folks often lack, especially in early recovery.

3) Consider a Sober Companion from a Peer Support Group

It’s also important that recovered alcoholics have friends and family members willing to support them on their recovery journey. Being pressured to consume alcohol to celebrate is a sign you are in the wrong crowd. Furthermore, anyone who encourages someone struggling with alcohol addiction to “just have one” does not have their best interests at heart.

In situations that can be tempting, like a wedding with an open bar or a music concert, seek support with a sober companion of some kind. This is especially beneficial in early recovery. Having another person with you committed to sobriety provides a unique sense of accountability and support. It’s great for situations when you don’t want to miss out on the fun but need help overcoming the temptation to drink.

How Do I Know if I’m an Alcoholic?

Alcoholic man

It can be hard to know if you have a drinking problem. After all, alcohol is one of the most commonly used substances. Many people participate in social drinking without problems. They can go out for a night with friends but don’t overdo it.

Sadly, this isn’t the reality for everyone. People who struggle with alcohol use disorder may not be capable of controlled drinking. Many people who struggle with alcohol abuse practice complete abstinence after successful recovery at a rehab center.

The Signs of Developing Alcohol Abuse

You’ll know you are struggling with alcoholism when you cannot drink socially without overdoing it. Heavy drinkers also experience withdrawal symptoms from alcohol when they stop drinking, a sign that they’ve developed alcohol dependence. Furthermore, you may notice that friends and family are asking about your alcohol consumption.

You may also notice negative consequences including legal trouble, problems at work, and strained personal relationships. Once alcohol abuse reaches this stage, it can feel impossible to quit drinking without attending some form of detox or alcohol rehab.

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Abstinence vs Moderation When It Comes to Drinking

In some cases, alcoholics participate in a moderation management program. Moderation management is a type of harm reduction. It involves controlled drinking and setting healthy limits. The goal is to create a healthy relationship with alcohol and teach that you can drink in moderation. This is done under the supervision of a medical professional.

However, alcohol intake of any kind has risks for someone with an alcohol use disorder. This is why the 12-step program, which is scientifically accurate, recommends total abstinence. If you are wondering if alcoholics ever drink in moderation, the reality is that the majority do not.

Moderation is Not Possible for Someone with a True Alcohol Use Disorder

Before you decide that moderation management is a path you’d like to try, it’s important to evaluate the role alcohol use has played in your life. If alcohol use has caused you problems at work, in your relationships, or with physical or mental health, drinking alcohol again could have negative consequences.

If you are considering drinking in moderation, you may be wondering how much alcohol it is safe to drink. It’s hard to recommend guidelines without knowing your specific situation. What is important, however, is that you set rules for yourself and follow them. If you are unable to successfully drink without following these rules, then abstinence is the better choice.

Look at your motives. Why do you want to drink? Is one drink ever enough? If you are a self-identified alcoholic, the answer is likely no. And then the slippery slope gets even slipperier.

What Happens When an Alcoholic Drinks Again?

Alcohol Support Groups - Alcoholics Anonymous

The reason the average recovered alcoholic chooses abstinence over moderation is that quitting drinking is hard, even after just one or two drinks. Most people in alcohol support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous will tell you they abstain completely after substance abuse treatment.

They are not able to drink. If they were to start drinking, quitting alcohol again would be exceedingly difficult. They may even tell you that it would ruin their lives.

For those struggling with an alcohol use disorder, there are risks involved with drinking again. A few drinks can easily cause you to slip into old drinking patterns. Quitting alcohol again will also be harder. You may even experience withdrawal symptoms if you start drinking and then stop.

It’s important to note that after alcohol addiction, it can be tempting to replace drinking with other substances or habits. Eating, smoking marijuana, gambling, or using other substances can still have negative consequences.

Unfortunately, these affect the same addiction mechanisms in the brain. Furthermore, these substances lower inhibitions and affect decision-making. This can make it harder to maintain sobriety from alcohol, too.

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The problem with one drink is that it quickly becomes two or three. If you or a loved one have picked up the bottle after recovery, don’t hesitate to reach out. It is possible to stop drinking again, even if you’ve already participated in an alcohol recovery program and relapsed.

In fact, the sooner that you reach out, the easier it will be to quit. Call our team at Purpose Healing Center today.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a small drink or are experiencing a full-blown relapse – you’ll find the support needed to overcome addiction here. We have medical professionals on site that can help manage withdrawal symptoms after a relapse.

Our team will help you understand the reasons that you drink alcohol, how to manage cravings and triggers and discuss treatment options. Just pick up the phone and make the confidential call!

References

  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/health-professionals-communities/core-resource-on-alcohol/neuroscience-brain-addiction-and-recovery
  2. https://www.aa.org/faq/can-alcoholic-ever-drink-normally-again
  3. https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/close-home-hijacked-brain