When battling an alcohol dependency, is abstinence the only option? Is it possible to cure an alcoholic to the point that they can drink again without issue?

For some people, drinking again after sobriety poses no issue. Recent research from Psychology Today supports the idea that former alcohol abusers can, one day, drink moderately, so abstinence is not their only option. Is this theory widely supported, or is it just confirmation bias for hopeful alcoholics?

Can a recovering alcoholic drink occasionally?

As any substance abuse counselor will affirm, goal setting during recovery is critical. The feeling of achievement when accomplishing goals is what motivates us as humans to keep propelling ourselves forward. Battling addiction is no exception. In fact, activating our brain’s reward centers may be even more important when overcoming substance abuse. It’s well documented that addiction rewires our brains to perceive risk and reward differently, so goal-setting is a critical part of recovery.

In treatment, the goal is to help a person stop using, stay sober, and rejoin society as a productive member. The goal of abstinence follows a similar thought pattern: to stop drinking, remain alcohol-free, and thus, become a productive person again. Many alcohol treatment programs promote abstinence as a way to successfully beat their addiction disorder.

However, some feel that abstaining from alcohol forever may be unrealistic, and that controlled drinking may be more attainable. The goal of controlled drinking is to help control alcohol consumption. So, who, if anyone, is a candidate for controlled drinking?

What happens when an alcoholic starts drinking again?

The truth is, some people who quit drinking, even those who attend an inpatient or outpatient alcohol addiction treatment, later discover that they are able to drink moderately. If this is the case, chances are that these drinkers were not actually alcoholics, but abusers or binge drinkers.

Controlled drinking rarely works for true alcoholics, and is a dangerous gamble. Many alcoholics have experimented with returning to social drinking, only to realize that it is not sustainable for them. Unfortunately, by the time an alcoholic discovers that social drinking isn’t feasible, it’s too late, and they have found themselves in the depths of addiction once again.

What Happens When An Alcoholic Starts Drinking Again

While controlled drinking may be feasible for some, it’s definitely not for everyone. In fact, we recommend that anyone with a true addiction abstain from alcohol altogether. Addiction experts agree that controlled drinking is only possible for those with less severe dependency issues.

For true alcoholics, brain imaging studies have indicated that heavy drinkers have damaged the parts of their brains that help control a drinking habit. This means that the goal of moderation may, in fact, be a physical impossibility. While a mild to moderate alcohol abuser may be able to drink socially without relapsing, the risk is undeniable. Substance abuse and addiction change brain chemistry, and often those changes last forever.

In summary, people with mild to moderate alcohol dependency issues may be able to return to drinking moderately. However, most seeking treatment for alcohol use disorders are unable to cope with controlled drinking. Because the relapse rate is high with alcohol addiction, it’s important to consider all options when beginning treatment.

Remember, there may not be a one size fits all solution. If you or a family member is struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction, please contact a qualified addiction specialist today to determine your best options.

Every case and every person is different, and we want to help find a solution that will work for you. At United Recovery Project, our goal is to help our patients live their happiest, healthiest life, free from the bonds of addiction.