Can Alcoholics Drink

Can Alcoholics Drink?

It has been the common opinion of 12-step support groups for alcoholics that alcoholics must observe strict abstinence from alcohol. The position has been that, for the alcoholic, one drink is too many, primarily because they cannot, in theory, stop after only one or two drinks. Currently, however, some researchers have begun to question this wisdom. These people suggest that a person can learn to drink moderately.  So, can alcoholics drink responsibly at any point?

Can An Alcoholic Ever Drink Responsibly?

Many alcoholics resist the idea of never being able to drink again. They wonder if they can learn to drink in moderation or become social drinkers. The idea of lifelong abstinence seems excessive to some of these people. It is tempting for a person who has been able to remain abstinent from alcohol for many years to wonder of they can now learn to drink responsibly. There is anecdotal evidence that some former alcoholics can learn to drink in moderation, but trying it on your own can be a risky decision. If the person tries to drink in moderation and finds they can’t, they may end up suffering from legal consequences or may have to begin again the process of recovery.

Another part of the answer lies in the reason for drinking. For some people, drinking is a social matter, such as having a glass of wine while dining with friends. Such persons can probably learn to drink in moderation. For other people, disorders such as social anxiety may leave them anxious and nervous in social situations, and they self-medicate with alcohol in order to lessen their anxiety. For still other people, there may be a feeling of discomfort or upset when they are not able to drink. For these latter two groups, drinking in moderation will probably be unattainable.

Can alcoholics drink? At some point, drinking is no longer a cognitive reaction to anxiety or some other mental or emotion pain. When the body becomes dependent on alcohol, the brain may lose its ability to use dopamine in a normal manner. In such cases, moderate drinking does not satisfy the brain.

Do Alcoholics Ever Recover?

People with less severe alcohol problems may truly recover and be able to use alcohol in a normal way. These people usually have good social skills and stability. These are not people who have become physically dependent upon alcohol consumption. For the true alcoholic, the person dependent on alcohol, moderate drinking is not a real possibility. One might think of it in terms of a spectrum. On one end are people who have no attraction to alcohol. They can choose to drink or not drink. On the other end of the spectrum are people who truly have no control over their drinking. To some degree, why a person drinks is as important as how much they drink.

Can alcoholics drink? A study by the CDC learned that some people who have more than one or two drinks a day are not necessarily alcoholics and do not describe symptoms of dependence. Such persons can learn to drink in moderation. There are several ways in which this change can be accomplished:

  • Regular check-up. If doctors asked questions about alcohol use during annual check-ups, this might create an opportunity for the patient to evaluate and change their drinking habits.
  • Drinking tracking cards. These can be carried in the wallet and used to keep track of how much and how often the person drinks.
  • Learning skills to manage the urge to drink.
  • Take a break from drinking for a few weeks or a month.

If the person learns that they cannot drink in moderation, they will learn that abstinence is probably the best decision for them.

How Much Does An Alcoholic Drink?

Can alcoholics drink? Part of the answer lies in the determination of what defines an alcoholic. As with any addiction, the alcoholic will spend a significant part of their time and money in getting and drinking alcohol. Drinking will become something the alcoholic spends a lot of time thinking about. Some other common symptoms of alcoholism are:

  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking in secret
  • Inability to stop drinking or drinking significantly more than intended
  • Feeling upset when they can’t have a drink
  • Drinking damages the person’s relationships
  • Drinking results in contact with law enforcement, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or public intoxication
  • Nausea even when not drinking

Another important element of problem drinking is the amount consumed. Binge drinking is described as consuming enough alcohol to reach a blood alcohol level of 0.08 in approximately 2 hours. Heavy alcohol use, an important indicator of problem drinking, is understood to mean binge drinking at 5 or more occasions in the previous month.

Can Alcoholics Drink? Most likely, persons who meet some or all of the above symptoms are addicted to alcohol and can never learn to drink in moderation. Other persons, who do not meet most of the criteria above, may have suffered from an alcohol use disorder but are not alcoholics. Often, such persons can learn to drink in moderation. A good example might be college students. During college, many students engage in binge drinking a few times a month. After a couple of years or after graduation, many of these students don’t return to the level of alcohol use that they had during college.

Alcohol Free Beer Brands

Obviously, alcohol-free beers do not cause intoxication. The risk, however, is that the alcoholic may be more strongly tempted to drink alcohol after having an alcohol-free beer. In one study, researchers found that the anticipation of alcohol can result in the same kind of dopamine release as alcoholic beverages. Even the smell and taste of a nonalcoholic beer can lead to cravings and relapse.

Can Alcoholics Drink?

For the person who enjoys alcohol, the idea of lifetime abstinence from alcohol may seem overwhelming. It’s natural that such persons would respond more positively to changing their drinking patterns to something moderate rather than the heavy drinking they had been engaged in before. A number of factors determine whether a person can moderate their drinking. For the true alcoholic, the person who is dependent on alcohol and who cannot control their drinking, moderation is not really possible and the attempt to drink only moderately will probably result in a return to their former heavy and out of control drinking habits. A person who is unsure if they can moderate their drinking should probably not take the risk and simply remain abstinent from alcohol. The risks are just too great.


Additional References: QuitAlcohol.comNIAAAVeryWell MindPsychology TodayNPR