You might have heard the phrase, ‘One is too many and a thousand is never enough’, it relates to the struggle and repeated question – can a recovered alcoholic ever drink again?
It sums up the struggle that many recovering alcoholics have with alcohol for the rest of their lives. In most cases the answer is no, but it is not all that straight forward.

Understanding Alcoholism

Taken in isolation, one drink may not be particularly harmful. However, for those recovering from addiction, just one drink may be enough to tilt them back into a downward spiral and undo all their hard work.
At the same time, a person who has worked hard on their recovery may feel that they have their drinking problem firmly under control; they may see drinking in moderation as relatively harmless and something they will be able to handle.

The first thing to think about is the way addiction works and what it takes to recover from an addiction to alcohol.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) says that addiction is a “treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences”. It adds that people with addiction “use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences”.

Addiction has the potential to change the way the brain functions, affecting areas associated with reward, pleasure and impulse control. Chronic drinkers may also build up a tolerance to alcohol – meaning they need to drink more for the same effects – and can become physically dependent, meaning they suffer from physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when they do not drink.

The fact that addiction leads to compulsive use despite the fact that there may be harmful consequences also makes it very difficult for an addict to quit without expert help. That in mind, you can understand why it is so easy to not only become addicted to alcohol, but to do your best to not relapse into that lifestyle.

What Does it Mean to be a Recovered Alcoholic?

Beating alcoholism is a marathon rather than a sprint. There are debates about whether it is better to use the term ‘recovering alcoholic’ or ‘recovered alcoholic’ because, for some people, alcoholism is something they have to battle for the rest of their lives.

Others may feel that they eventually reach a place where they have won that battle for good, but for most recovery requires maintenance and vigilance.

So, is it Possible for Recovered Alcoholics to Drink Again?

Most addiction recovery programmes involve abstinence – meaning the person commits to not drinking at all once they begin their recovery. This is not the only approach though, one recent study concluded that “available evidence does not support abstinence as the only approach in the treatment of alcohol use disorder”. It added: “Controlled drinking, particularly if supported by specific psychotherapy, appears to be a viable option where an abstinence-oriented approach is not applicable.”

This does not mean it is suitable for everyone though. Alcohol moderation management may be most effective for people with less severe drinking problems; other studies suggest that only a minority of people are able to maintain controlled drinking habits and attempting to do so may be more challenging for people who initially addressed their alcohol use through abstinence.
Controlled drinking also tends to involve a conscious and more or less considered decision to drink again. For some recovering addicts, their return to alcohol may be a reaction to stress or other triggers that is far less considered.

The dangers of drinking after recovery largely involve the possibility of sliding back into old habits and patterns – which can sometimes re-establish themselves very quickly. This can undo months or even years of hard work but, at the same time, it’s important to try to see a relapse as a setback rather than the end of the road.
It is obviously best to avoid the situation if possible, but many people can and do overcome relapse and even learn from the experience in order to continue their recovery journey.

Alternatives to Drinking for Recovered Alcoholics

If you quit drinking through an addiction treatment programme, it is likely that you will go through relapse prevention sessions in order to learn and develop coping strategies and to spot the warning signs and triggers for possible relapse. These can vary between individuals but there are some general pieces of advice that are likely to apply.

The first is to avoid people, places and situations that are associated with your drinking, especially in the early stages of your recovery. Some people find they can never be comfortable in a bar again after quitting drinking, but others may find that in time the temptation recedes and they can enjoy a social non-alcoholic drink in the company of friends or relatives who still drink.

It’s also important to find healthy alternatives to drinking, especially if it previously formed the basis of your whole social life. Some people find techniques like mindfulness and meditation to be valuable but hobbies such as sports or creative pursuits can also help. We can’t avoid stressful situations altogether, but learning to manage stress in a positive way can also help you to avoid reaching for the bottle when things go wrong.

Reach Out for Help Today

If you, or somebody you love is struggling with addiction, get help from Addiction Advocates today, we can help you find the right rehab and help in your area – call us today on 0800 012 6088.

Seth Bolton

Seth is an author, addiction recovery expert and fully accredited member of the national counselling society. He has experience working with a wide range of addictions and mental illnesses using a number of evidence-based therapies and programmes such as the SMART models of addiction recovery.