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Can An Alcoholic Ever Drink Again?

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. 

Bottles of alcohol on a shelf beside the title Can alcoholics ever drink again and soberish.co
Can an alcoholic ever 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.

Welcome to your Alcohol Use (AUDIT) quiz

1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?

How many units of alcohol do you drink on a typical day when you are drinking?

A unit of alcohol is one standard drink. Examples of one standard drink include:

  • 12 oz can of beer with about 5% alcohol
  • 5 fl oz of wine (roughly 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 fl oz shot of spirits like vodka, rum, or whiskey (about 40% alcohol)

How often have you had 6 or more units if female, or 8 or more if male, on a single occasion in the last year?

How often during the last year have you found that you were not able to stop drinking once you had started?

How often during the last year have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking?

How often during the last year have you needed an alcoholic drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session?

How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?

How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?

Have you or someone else been injured as a result of your drinking?

Has a relative or friend or a doctor or another health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down?

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 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. 

People who struggle with anxiety and depression should also consider quitting alcohol because alcohol changes brain chemistry and worsens pre-existing anxiety and depression. 

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 decide 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.

You don’t have to figure this out on your own.

Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp. If you have tried (and failed) to find a qualified therapist who gets you, try BetterHelp. Get 10% off your first month when you click the link below.

FAQs RE: Can An Alcoholic Ever Drink Again?

Can you ever recover from being an alcoholic?

It depends on what you mean by ‘recover.’ Can an alcoholic, or someone who struggles with alcohol use disorder, break free from alcohol and live a happy life without it?


Do you define recovery as being able to drink normally? For many people, the answer is no. There are some people who will never be able to drink “normally.”

For these people, sobriety is the only choice, and it brings them a lot of joy and fulfillment.

What is the most successful way to quit drinking?

There is no best way. Some people do well with a traditional recovery program like AA. Other people do better with an in-patient rehab program, counseling, or medication-assisted treatment plan, like The Sinclair Method.

The most important thing is finding the best way to quit and then sticking with that plan.

Will I be happier if I quit drinking?

Maybe! I certainly am.

That being said, sobriety alone cannot make you happy. However, it can create conditions for you to take care of your physical and emotional well-being.

Alcohol can wreak havoc on your mental health. This is especially true for people who are predisposed to anxiety and depression. I encourage you to listen to and read stories from people who quit drinking and completely transformed their life.

What is the life expectancy of an alcoholic?

People hospitalized with alcohol use disorder have an average life expectancy of 47-53 years old for men and 50-58 years old for women. They die, on average, 24-28 years earlier than the general population.

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

Can you be a heavy drinker and not an alcoholic?

Yes, you can. Not all heavy drinkers fit the clinical definition of alcohol use disorder. It does not mean, however, that heavy drinking is safe or not a problem.

See “You Don’t Have To Be An Alcoholic To Have A Drinking Problem” for more insight.

cropped photo of a woman lying on the bed in a black dress holding a glass of whiskey below the title Can an alcoholic ever drink again?
Can an alcoholic ever drink again?

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