Recently recovered alcoholics or those currently going through detoxification or rehabilitation treatment regularly ask the same question:
“Can a recovered alcoholic ever drink again?”
It’s a very understandable question – after all, they must have had a soft spot for drinking occasionally back before they developed a problem.
It would be great if they could go back to those days and carry on socialising and drinking as normal, without risking developing another addiction, wouldn’t it?
This is a debate that has actually raged for years.
Historically, 12-step programmes like Alcoholics Anonymous have given a stern no to the question.
While this is generally a wise decision, and abstinence is the only guaranteed way to get over an alcohol addiction in the long term, plenty of biologists, researchers and psychologists are beginning to say, “actually, abstinence isn’t the only way”.
If you’re a recovered alcoholic, all this flip-flopping and contradictory advice isn’t going to help you.
So how risky is taking another drink really? Let’s investigate:
Alcoholism Is A Disease
It’s important before having this discussion to be aware of just how dangerous and debilitating alcoholism is. Alcohol addiction is a diagnosable disease that can destroy your willpower, body and life if left unchecked.
Even the symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol can be fatal if acute enough and untreated. If any of the following symptoms affect you, you could be in trouble:
- Regular cravings to drink alcohol
- Withdrawal symptoms like shaking and sweating or feeling nauseous when not drinking
- Growing tolerance leading to increased volumes of alcohol being consumed
- Planning your life and social life around drinking
While modern therapeutical treatment, medication and holistic support groups work wonders when it comes to overcoming alcoholism, the very first move has to come from the patient.
You need to be able to say “I have a problem, and I need to overcome it” and avoid all excuses first and foremost. Otherwise, you will be able to make excuses forever and your cravings to drink will overpower your desire to change.
When alcoholics get to this stage and realise they are ready to quit, they very often have a revelation and confidently state “I will never drink again”, and for good reason!
The Process of Detoxing from Alcohol
The first stage of the journey to sobriety begins with detox from drinking, of course. Detoxing typically takes a week or two and withdrawal symptoms will be acutely present during this time.
It is possible to detox yourself from alcohol at home using specific programmes set up for the purpose, but you will likely still require contact with medical professionals, therapy sessions etc.
There are a variety of medications that can help prevent these symptoms, and even over the counter products that can help such as vitamin supplements and alcohol detox drinks.
While the medication calms the withdrawal symptoms, other herbal supplements and products can go a long way into making sure you’re adequately nourished and healthy in order to make the detox process go as easily as possible.
While all this is extremely helpful, it’s your willpower and advice from friends, loved ones and medical professionals that will get you through in the end, because all of the world’s medication and detox drinks for alcohol won’t help you if your heart and mind aren’t 100% in it.
What Happens After Alcohol Detox?
After you have completed an alcohol detox, you may be treated for any remaining withdrawal symptoms, either at home or in a rehabilitation centre depending on the severity of your addiction and withdrawal.
Then begins the main challenge of your recovery treatment.
Now that your body is free of alcohol and withdrawal, you can begin attending regular GP checkups, support groups, CBT sessions and even holistic activities such as yoga or swimming.
Over time these will help you reorder your thinking and realise how much more you can get from life when not drinking alcohol.
Abstinence vs Moderation
This is the stage where we get to the question of “can an alcoholic ever drink again?”
Imagine you’re a recovered alcoholic, intent on never drinking again.
You’ve worked hard and been through the entire process of detoxing and recovering in rehab. You’ve been successful and gone back to your life, done well at work, rebuilt your relationships, and spent several happy years without drinking at all.
Alcohol no longer has control of your life, in fact, you rarely even think about having a drink. Then, a friend calls you and invites you to go for one, symbolic beer.
He contests that if you can have one beer, enjoy it, walk away and continue your life of sobriety, then you truly know you’ve conquered your addiction.
Temptation like this can be very intriguing and resuming drinking after abstinence likely at least enters the minds of many in this situation.
It’s natural for us to be sceptical of controlled drinking for ex-alcoholics. Not only do the majority of alcohol support groups, researchers and experts throughout history warn against it, but most long-term research seems to imply that only a small percentage of former alcohol dependents are ever able to successfully drink in moderation without spiralling back into addiction.
Because of this, abstinence is likely the safest and most successful route to overcoming alcohol dependency for you or your loved ones.
Can Some Alcoholics Drink Again?
Despite this, there are some other long term studies which have found some surprising success in aiding ex-alcoholics with particularly severe drinking backgrounds to recover through controlled drinking programmes.
Drinking after alcohol withdrawal symptoms have left is not always a guarantee that dependency will return, and while the answer to the question “can an alcoholic ever drink normally again” is a pretty strong no, it’s far from the end of the world if you do slip up once or twice.
Can a recovering alcoholic drink occasionally? That’s a lot harder to say and mostly depends on you.
If you’re several years clear of your last drink, your cravings have all but disappeared and you are in good health, then one small drink likely isn’t going to undo all of your hard work.
If you are fairly recently recovered, though, it is entirely possible that it could, and we recommend avoiding drinking at all costs.
As always in topics like this, we recommend talking to your GP if you are unsure, as they can look at your background in detail, see how at risk you may be and advise accordingly.
We also offer a 24/7 free helpline for anything regarding alcohol addiction and dependency, so if you are a recovered alcoholic who thinks they may be at risk of relapsing, or just want to know if you can have a shandy without reversing your progress give us a call any time on 0333 444 0315.
What Happens When An Alcoholic Starts Drinking Again?
This is the big one because you need to keep these risks in mind if you’re considering trying a drink after a long stretch of sobriety.
If you start drinking again regularly, all of your old problems will begin to resurge. As you are likely aware, alcohol abuse drains the body of vitamins, especially vitamin B, leading to deficiencies.
Once you quit drinking, your body begins to replenish its supplies.
Other damage also begins to reverse:
- Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) can correct themselves
- High blood pressure can begin to slowly come back down
- Liver inflammations begin to calm down
- The immune system returns to full strength
- You immediately lower your risk of wet brain disease
When alcoholics start drinking again, all of this progress can be undone and their health will begin to deteriorate, likely faster than ever. With this in mind, even knowing there is a chance of being able to drink in moderation again, isn’t it better to bet on the safe side?
This why our conclusion to the question “can an alcoholic ever drink again in moderation,” is, yes, but it absolutely not worth trying. The fact of the matter is the benefits of one good night will never be comparable to the risks involved.
What to Do When an Alcoholic Starts Drinking Again
If you catch a recovered alcoholic drinking, what should you do? If it’s just the one drink, it is possible not all is lost, so first discuss with them the risks and ask them why they were drinking.
If it was a one-off, you might be able to get away with keeping a close eye on them and making sure it doesn’t happen again. If it does happen several times, and the regularity seems to be increasing, they could be spiralling back into addiction.
If you think this might be the case, we recommend getting in touch with us immediately. Early intervention is always key, and our friendly and experienced experts are ready to give advice and guidance on all aspects of alcohol dependency.
Our range of resources, facilities and detoxing programmes are always available and might just save the life of yourself or a loved one.