Can an Alcoholic Ever Drink Again? [Fact or Fiction?]

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Anyone who has experienced or knows someone who struggled with alcoholism wonders if they can partake in alcohol again.

The short answer is that it depends. No foolproof research suggests a definite yes or no answer that fits everyone’s unique circumstances.

Many experts, however, lean towards complete abstinence as the safest solution to ensuring success in any alcohol use disorder (AUD) recovery effort.

Depending on the severity of one’s alcohol addiction, treatment plans can range from controlled drinking to maintaining absolute sobriety.

Understanding Alcohol Addiction Recovery

To know if someone with an AUD can drink again, it’s critical to understand the recovery process. This often involves five stages:

  1. Acceptance and Acknowledgment: It starts with the person recognizing the need for help to combat alcohol addiction.
  2. Abstinence: One then starts to quit drinking altogether, guided by experts, which can include an alcohol counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, and social worker.  
  3. Withdrawal: Feelings of discomfort, irritability, fatigue,and physical symptoms can emerge after abstaining from alcohol due to physical dependence.
  4. Repair: As the body gets used to the absence of alcohol, it slowly repairs itself and curbs the cravings.
  5. Growth: This stage is about the learning process, building healthy habits that make one more aware of the triggers and situations that brought the AUD issue in the first place. Addressing any trauma or family issues also falls in this phase.  

5 Factors to Consider Before Drinking Alcohol Again

As one works on limiting their alcohol intake, it’s crucial to examine the factors that impact the decision to take a single drink while still in recovery. They include:

1. Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence is the fourth stage of alcoholism. At this stage, the body would have developed a tolerance for alcoholic drinks, which means you’ll need to consume more of them to satisfy your cravings.

Physical and psychological dependence go together and disrupt your healthy lifestyle as you battle the withdrawal symptoms that come from staying sober.

Dependence is one of the adverse effects of addiction that might escalate a drinking habit. This is also why therapists advise against social drinking while combating this issue. One drink rarely stops at that, which overhauls the recovery process.  

2. Support Groups

Treating alcohol use disorder involves freeing yourself from any unhealthy relationship. A toxic environment lowers your morale and often impacts your mental health.  

Having healthy personal relationships and a support system boosts motivation to stay on track with your recovery process, including giving alcohol a hard pass.  

Family therapy can be recommended to encourage family members to participate in your recovery. Joining groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is also a great way to find motivation from other people’s success stories in battling alcoholism.

These forms of therapy also offer accountability and a chance to put your urges out into the light. If you’ve been struggling with cravings or a desire to return to drinking, your AA or support group friends might help dissuade you.

3. Withdrawal Symptoms

The brain chemistry changes when you drink alcohol. Short-term exposure alters your brain’s neurotransmitters (both inhibitory and excitatory), resulting in momentary euphoria that can lead to confusion, loss of sensation, lethargy, mood changes, etc.

Anyone diagnosed with severe alcoholism and is working on quitting alcohol is bound to experience withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

Unfortunately, this process “resets” itself every time you quit drinking and then relapse. So if you had a rough withdrawal period, it’s possible for the cycle to repeat if you return to alcohol.

4. Alcohol Treatment Plan

Substance abuse treatment, including alcohol, varies depending on one’s unique condition.

Deciding to drink while on an alcohol recovery plan has to be discussed with your counselor and physician to ensure you stay on track and not return to problematic drinking behavior.

Open discussion with experts also enhances your awareness of potential mental and physical setbacks of overindulging.  

5. Long-term Effect of Alcohol Abuse

One of the most common reasons why people decide to ask for help in managing their drinking problem is the long-term physical impact of alcohol abuse.

As of 2023, the Drug Abuse Statistics reports over 100,000 Americans dying of AUD a year. Over 50% of them are due to complications of chronic abuse.  

While you may be able to drink socially, it’s recommended to run the idea with your physician or counselor.

People with chronic health conditions like liver disease and digestive problems are likely to be prohibited by their doctors from drinking at all.  

Should Alcoholics Drink Again or Quit Alcohol for Good?

Quitting alcohol is a recommended way to recover from AUD, but it’s not always an easy road.

You should talk to your therapist or physician if you decide to stop drinking permanently. In most cases, you will be advised to quit drinking if you:

  • Are diagnosed with liver disease
  • Suffer from GI (gastrointestinal) bleeding
  • Have a damaged central nervous system or peripheral nerves

Binge drinkers who decide to get help early and cut back on their alcohol use may do well with controlled drinking.

Risks of Moderate Alcohol Consumption While on Recovery

Moderate drinking while on AUD treatment is doable, but it comes with its own risk. Here are some key things to remember:

  • One drink isn’t often enough when you start drinking alcohol. There’s a big chance you’ll consume more.
  • Returning to social and physical situations where you used to drink excessively can be triggers for relapse.
  • Being surrounded by people who don’t understand or know about your struggle can put you in situations where peer pressure to overdrink is too high. Sometimes, it’s best to avoid these situations.

Benefits of a No-Alcohol Lifestyle

Apart from a successful recovery, there are life-altering benefits to stopping alcohol intake. These advantages can work as a motivation booster when you feel like falling into old drinking habits:

  • Better sleep
  • Improved memory
  • Clearer skin
  • Improved liver function
  • Lower cancer risk
  • Weight loss
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular issues
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better mental health
  • More energy
  • Improved family and social relationships
  • Better cognition
  • No hangovers

Moderation Management Program

People with no severe health issues and who are not physically dependent on alcohol may enter a moderation management (MM) program. This is a strategy founded in 1994 by Audrey Kishline to empower people to take control of their drinking habits.

Instead of succumbing to the feeling of helplessness that comes with the inability to control one’s alcoholic intake, MM seeks to help you build habits that keep you in control. It’s a proactive approach to discover ways that work for your health condition and lifestyle.

In this scenario, you’ll be asked to conduct a personal evaluation of your drinking habits. Facilitators will start by asking you to keep a drinking diary or a journal where you write three key things:

  • When you drink (time and date)
  • How much alcohol you drink (you can indicate the number of drinks and specific alcohol brand you consume)
  • How you feel after drinking, and your perceived impact about it in your daily activities

This will initially run for a couple of days to explore how much alcohol is within your drinking limits. At the end of the prescribed period, the facilitator will ask you to stop drinking for 30 days straight.  

Within these 30 days, you will explore alternative activities to help divert your attention from the need to drink alcohol. This can include trying out some hobbies and joining interest groups.

You will also use this period to assess your triggers and identify strategies to curb drinking cravings and manage stressors.

Recovery Starts Today, Moderation Tomorrow

Drinking again after alcohol abuse treatment boils down to crucial factors such as your current physical health, the mandates of your treatment program, your support group including family members, and the advice of a medical professional.  

If you’re still on the fence about starting a recovery program for fear of never drinking again, remember that your well-being comes first and should be your highest priority.

Book an appointment with one of our certified clinicians today to begin your recovery journey.

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