If you quit drinking due to unhealthy alcohol consumption, it's not uncommon to question whether you will ever be able to drink again. Many people in recovery ask similar questions, such as:
- Is drinking in moderation possible?
- Will social drinking lead to problem drinking?
- Once you stop drinking, should you stay sober forever?
Over the years, the answers to these questions have slightly changed. It used to be a hard "no" for anyone in recovery, as many people are simply unable to drink socially or moderately without their drinking problem returning.
However, more information and options are available, such as moderation management, enabling some people to partake in controlled drinking. However, this is not possible for everyone, as each person is different, and heavy alcohol consumption can alter the brain's structure.
Drinking in moderation may be physically impossible for some people. For others, it can be incredibly dangerous to have one drink in early or long-term recovery, so abstinence is often the only option.
How Should I Refer To Someone With An Addiction?
Language is a powerful tool. Words often hold a lot of weight, so it is important to be mindful of which terms we use to describe certain diseases.
Some words used to describe those living with an addiction have a lot of stigma and shame attached to them. Often, they can frame a person as a failure rather than someone who has a disease or substance use disorder.
When talking about those with an addiction, it is important to destigmatize the disease and refer to it as a medical condition.
How Is Alcohol Dependence Different From Alcohol Abuse?
Alcoholism is a colloquial term not often used by medical professionals. Published in 1994, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-IV) instead uses the terms alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. This manual provides a list of criteria for both terms so that people can be treated accordingly.
However, in 2013 the DSM-5 updated the wording used. Now, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence fall under alcohol use disorder (AUD). Although the terms are used interchangeably, they have different definitions. While they both involve using alcohol unsafely, they are two separate terms.
Alcohol abuse is characterized by drinking more alcohol than recommended and using alcohol in an unsafe and unhealthy way. For example, those who abuse alcohol may drink consistently or binge drink. However, their body or brain may not be dependent on the substance. For this reason, those who abuse alcohol can quit drinking if they wish to.
In contrast, alcohol dependence is a disease. Those living with alcohol dependence find it difficult to stop drinking even though it negatively impacts their health and well-being. People who depend on alcohol will gradually develop a tolerance to the substance, meaning they will have to drink more to feel the desired effects. They will also experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit alcohol due to alterations in the brain's chemistry.
Withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous if someone with an alcohol dependence attempts to quit cold turkey. However, alcohol addiction treatment and alcohol rehab are available to help people recover.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
AUD is an umbrella term for alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction, alcohol dependence, and alcoholism. The term alcoholism is used frequently in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), but it is not used as a diagnosis. Meanwhile, AUD is a medical condition that can be divided into mild, moderate, or severe categories.
Information in the DSM-5 is now used to determine if someone has AUD, helping to place them into a mild, moderate, or severe category.
Abstinence or Moderate Drinking?
Not everyone going through alcohol recovery will have to refrain from ever drinking again. For those with a mild AUD, moderate or controlled drinking may be possible via moderation management.
Unfortunately, there is always a risk of relapse. As a result, it is imperative to consult a doctor to see if moderation management is suitable.
Typically, moderate drinking is defined by:
- One drink containing alcohol per day for healthy women
- One or two drinks containing alcohol per day for healthy men
Alcohol abuse can change the chemistry of the brain, affecting the region responsible for controlled drinking. Due to the damage of heavy drinking, controlled drinking is not just about having strong willpower to prevent relapse.
How severe a person's alcohol addiction is can directly affect whether they will be able to drink in moderation or if they should stick to abstaining from alcohol entirely.
What Is Moderation Management?
Moderation management is a program that teaches people how to drink safely. It also lets people partake in controlled drinking.
When committing to a moderation management program, those participating will need to refrain from drinking alcohol for thirty days. During this time, they are taught valuable ways to identify triggers and control these by replacing the urge to start drinking with healthy behaviors.
Those in attendance are also asked to think about why they consume alcohol and the reasons for wanting to drink again before being invited to consider their past drinking patterns to prevent them from falling back into bad habits.
Those who can drink in moderation may not have had an alcohol addiction, as people with an addiction find that just one drink causes them to relapse. For a successful recovery, it is safer for them to opt for total abstinence.
What Are the Benefits of Quitting Alcohol?
It is important to remember the benefits of giving up alcohol and weigh up the reasons for wanting to drink again. There are so many benefits associated with quitting alcohol, and often these remind people of the risks of using substances.
Some of the benefits of maintaining sobriety include:
- Improved sleep
- Improved immune system functioning
- Improved memory
- Healthier weight
- Healthier relationships
- Improved skin
- Improved nutrition
- Lower risk of cancer
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
In addition to the above, refraining from drinking alcohol reduces mental health issues and makes them more manageable.
Removing alcohol from our lives completely can be challenging, but it is the healthiest choice for the body and brain.
Some Tips for Managing Urges
If you are worried that you might be developing an AUD, there are several things you can do to control how much alcohol you drink and stop your alcohol intake from becoming a problem.
Some tips include:
- Tracking your alcohol intake
- Asking your doctor about medication that takes away the pleasurable feeling alcohol offers
- Setting goals
- Planning how you will say "no" if you are offered alcohol
- Finding healthy alternatives to drinking, such as hobbies or activities you enjoy
- Joining an AA meeting
Similarly, if people around you pressure you to drink in moderation and it feels risky, there are ways to turn it down. Often, those who do not have an AUD fail to understand that it is a disease that could cause many health problems.
Drinking in moderation is generally not recommended, but it is possible without fully relapsing for some people. As drinking alcohol carries risks to daily life, make sure that your reasons for wanting to drink outweigh the adverse effects and downsides.
For a small number of people, such as those with a mild AUD, moderation management programs may be an option. However, abstinence is generally the best option. Although this may sound disappointing, the downsides of alcohol abuse and relapse are huge.
Recovery is a lifelong journey, but a healthy, happy life free from substances is achievable. If you are unsure whether you should drink alcohol again, remember that you can always ask for help and support. Likewise, substance abuse treatment and alcohol treatment is available to help you maintain abstinence and overcome your dangerous alcohol use.