Can alcoholics ever drink again? Many who seek treatment or commit to treatment for alcoholism wonder if recovery will stop them from drinking ever again.
Most treatment programs for alcohol use disorder advocate for abstinence, giving up alcohol forever. However, other programs suggest moderating drinking may be a solution for some individuals. But how accurate are these claims? Can an alcoholic drink again in moderation, or should they stay away? Can an alcoholic learn moderation?
Read on to learn more about alcoholism, treatment, moderation, and the most beneficial route to take for you.
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- Alcoholism Explained
- Treatment for Alcoholism
- Is Moderation a Possibility?
- Can Alcoholics Drink Again?
- Recovery is Possible
To understand if a person with alcoholism can ever drink again, one needs to understand alcoholism itself. A person with alcoholism, which is medically referred to as alcohol use disorder, is a person who has essentially lost the ability to control their consumption of alcohol and has created a dependence on it.
While the amount an individual ingests is important, what matters more and determines the difference between alcoholism or a drinking problem is one’s dependence.
A person with dependence cannot stop drinking once they start, and when they do stop, withdrawal symptoms set in.
These symptoms can manifest in several ways but are most commonly nausea, sweating, restlessness, irritability, tremors, hallucinations, and convulsions.
If a person has lost control over consumption and experiences symptoms like these when not drinking, that person more than likely has alcohol use disorder/alcoholism.
The Effect of Alcohol on the Brain:
While some of the symptoms of alcohol use disorder are more alarming than others, each of them results from how alcohol impacts the body, especially the brain.
No matter the substance, addiction changes the brain. When ingesting drugs or alcohol, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine. This chemical is what gives a person feelings of happiness and satisfaction.
Yet, releasing dopamine from drugs and alcohol can negatively alter the brain’s functioning. The release of dopamine is how the brain reinforces healthy behaviors: eating, socializing, and sex.
But when the release comes from something unhealthy, like drugs and alcohol, it reinforces unhealthy, addictive behavior.
The brain craves drugs and alcohol, relying on them for dopamine releases.
Usually, a person with an addiction has trouble releasing dopamine in their brain without the abused substance or substances. This is where withdrawal symptoms come from; the brain reacts to a lack of what it craves.
Treatment for Alcoholism
To treat alcoholism, most programs prescribe continuous abstinence; one must become sober and stay away forever. This follows with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism on alcohol use disorder; they describe overcoming alcohol use disorder as an ongoing process, which many in recovery agree with. In this way, recovery is never over.
It is an everyday challenge to choose one’s sobriety, despite any temptation. However, there are times when a person may slip up or even choose to start drinking again.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also states that alcohol use disorder is a chronic relapsing disease. This means that relapse is common when a person is addicted to alcohol.
Because of this, a person is rarely treated for alcoholism, only once. Given how dangerous relapse can be, most treatment programs advocate for abstinence.
Many treatment centers and programs utilize behavioral therapy to avoid relapses and give people the tools and skills to be abstinent.
This form of therapy helps individuals develop the skills to stop drinking. These skills include building a strong support system, creating and setting attainable goals, and how to cope with triggers for addictive behavior.
As the name suggests, behavioral therapy uses these approaches to ultimately changes a person’s behavior. If one can change their behavior, they can make healthier habits and lean on their support system when they need help maintaining those healthy habits.
However, healthy habits can be undone if unhealthy habits, like substance abuse. This is yet another reason why most treatment for alcoholism follows an abstinence-based model; one binge has the potential to force an individual to redo all of that work.
Is Moderation a Possibility?
Generally, addiction experts believe that one’s willpower diminishes as one begins drinking. What might start as one drink typically turns into a cycle: maybe one more, maybe one more, maybe one more. This belief has a basis in the scientific study of addiction, but its popularity is largely due to Alcoholics Anonymous, which has dominated research and treatment for alcoholism for decades.
Their 12-step program is used widely and based on abstinence, believing that one must give up alcohol. If one were to ask a person in AA: “can alcoholics ever drink again?” The answer would be a definite “no.”
However, as more research has been done, new methods for treating alcohol use disorder have been created, including moderation management.
Unlike AA, moderation management is a model that believes an individual can drink again, as long as they moderate the amount.
Does Moderation Management for Alcoholism Work?
Research into moderation management has found that it is a successful strategy; however, the success ultimately depends on the person.
Factors like why they drink, how much they drink, and how long they have been in their drinking pattern play a big part. In this model, the type of drinker a person is will determine if moderation or abstinence is best.
In some cases, moderation management claims people can learn to control and moderate their drinking. In these cases, one would be able to drink again.
Yet, even these cases must go through 30 days of abstinence where – like AA and many other treatment programs – these individuals learn to identify and cope with triggers, create new, healthier habits, and drink in moderation. After this, they may then return to drinking.
However, these individuals that can return to drinking are not alcoholics. Despite having a drinking problem, they do not have an addiction; they do not have dependence and withdrawal.
Although it may work for some with drinking problems, moderation management is not an effective, useable strategy for anyone with alcohol use disorder.
Can Alcoholics Drink Again?
It has several adverse side effects on a person’s body, emotional wellbeing, and social life. Treating alcohol use disorder means one must treat each of these aspects; they must change their entire lives to promote sobriety.
Yet, aside from creating a more healthy, sustainable life, other benefits can come from not drinking.
Study on Quitting Alcohol Shows Surprising Results
A study from the University of Sussex found that abstaining from alcohol for just one month can have several health benefits, including:
- 93% of participants experienced a feeling of achievement at the end of the alcohol-free month
- 88% saved money by not spending it on alcohol
- 82% reported a greater awareness of their relationship with alcohol
- 80% felt more in control of their drinking habits
- 76% understood when and why they felt tempted to drink
- 71% learned they did not need alcohol to have fun
- 71% enjoyed a better quality of sleep
- 70% reported better overall health
- 67% had higher energy levels
- 58% of participants lost weight
- 57% reported improved concentration
- 54% noticed better skin health
Recovery is Possible
Any addiction can be hard to overcome, especially alcoholism. When becoming dependent on alcohol, a person unintentionally changes their brain, rewiring it for other addictive behavior.
Because of this change in the brain, most treatment for alcoholism follows an abstinence-based model, hoping to avoid as many relapses as possible.
However, those without an addiction, who feel comfortable with their relationship with alcohol, may decide to try moderation. For them, this may work.
But, for anyone with alcohol use disorder, the answer to “can alcoholics ever drink again?” is no. This is the best and safest for most people.
While some with drinking problems may safely drink again, they are not people with alcohol use disorder. Anyone with alcohol use disorder should not drink again and seek help if needed.