If you’ve reached a point where you are seriously questioning your relationship with alcohol, you might be flirting with the idea of sobriety. That can be a big, scary decision. Something you might also be wondering is if an alcoholic can ever drink again.
My goal is to help you examine that question as honestly as possible.
Ask yourself why you want to know if alcoholics can drink again?
Before tackling such a significant question, let’s step back. Why are you asking? Be brutally honest with yourself.
Sometimes people ask this question because they are terrified of never drinking again. And rightfully so. It can be terrifying!
This is the point in the decision-making process where we try to negotiate with the part of ourselves that does not want to let go of alcohol. You can call this your inner addict, but you don’t have to.
We want to know if we quit now, can we take it back later after we are better? (More on that last part in a minute.)
Other times, people ask this question to know if they are always doomed to be an alcoholic. Does this label follow you forever? Does it set the rules heretofore?
To answer this question, we’ll examine what being an alcoholic means, what the experts say about drinking again, and what risks you encounter if you drink again.
What is an alcoholic?
An alcoholic is someone who struggles with alcohol use disorder (AUD). You’ll find that fewer health professionals even use the terms alcoholic and alcoholism anymore. Regardless, we’re talking about the same thing.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) describes alcohol use disorder as “an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”
Loosely translated – if you cannot control your drinking despite it causing problems in your life, or you’ve developed physical alcohol dependence, you might suffer from AUD.
If you’re unsure, this short quiz can help you establish whether you have a problem with alcohol.
Please note that this is not an official medical diagnosis and is to be used for research purposes only.
What do the experts say?
If you struggle with alcohol use disorder, what do the experts say about drinking again?
It depends on the expert.
The Argument for Never Drinking Again
Advocates of abstinence-based recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous will tell you the answer is no, and the only relief for an alcoholic is a complete abstention from alcohol.
Why? Because for those individuals, tempting fate by drinking again opens the door to relapse. Moderation isn’t an option for them.
Alcohol has one of the highest relapse rates – between 40-60%. For our purposes, a relapse is defined as a return to active addiction.
That means every effort to drink ‘normally’ is a considerable risk.
How many people get stuck in this cycle? You quit drinking for some time, maybe one or two months, and decide to test the waters again.
Perhaps the first attempt is okay, and you keep it to one or two drinks and quit without trouble. But what about the time after that? Next time you might tempt fate further and maybe even get drunk.
What inevitably happens is the person abuses alcohol again and must start their recovery journey all over.
The Argument Against Never Drinking Again
Then you have advocates of alternate methods of treating alcohol use disorder like the Sinclair Method.
The Sinclair Method (TSM) is a treatment for alcoholism that uses medical intervention to help people drink less. It is the brainchild of Dr. John David Sinclair and operates on the premise that taking the opioid blocker, Naltrexone, while drinking can teach the body to drink less.
Proponents of The Sinclair Method and Moderation Management argue that long-term abstinence is unrealistic. They will tell you that zero-tolerance approaches like those from AA are ineffective and site the high relapse rates as evidence of that.
This approach tries to treat underlying emotional issues that drive a person to drink excessively through cognitive behavioral therapy. Rather than eliminate alcohol, moderation advocates aim to teach problem drinkers how to change their relationship with alcohol in hopes of eliminating the riskier behaviors associated with drinking.
Moderation programs ask participants to evaluate their drinking behavior and set personal goals and drinking limits. However, the target audience for these programs are people who do not suffer from alcohol use disorder.
The objective is to curb risky drinking before the person develops an addiction.
Who is right?
I can’t answer that for you. But I can tell you which factors to consider.
Suppose you are someone who has become physically dependent on alcohol or experienced severe health problems, like liver disease or brain damage, as a result of your drinking. In that case, abstinence is likely your only option.
If you’ve been told by a medical professional that you must quit drinking alcohol, then you should listen to them.
Additionally, you should probably avoid drinking again if you have a family history of alcoholism and suffer from alcohol use disorder.
If none of those are you? You likely fall into the gray area drinker category and might be able to learn moderation.
Remember, most moderation programs are designed to help problem drinkers who exhibit risky drinking behavior but do not meet the clinical definition of alcohol use disorder.
The Sinclair Method, on the other hand, is intended to treat people with alcohol use disorder. In this case, you can continue drinking, but only with the assistance of Naltrexone.
Related Post: How Soon Does Your Liver Heal After You Quit Drinking
Before you decide, consider this.
If it requires taking a medication for the rest of your life or walking a tightrope every time you pick up a glass, maybe it’s not worth it.
If you decide to continue drinking and fall back into risky drinking patterns, what would that do to your life or relationships?
Whatever you decide, I encourage you to make the decision with input from your support network and medical team.
Sometimes short-term struggles produce the most significant long-term gains. Sobriety might be that for you! I’ll be rooting for you and wishing you luck either way.