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Will I be able to drink on occasion after addiction treatment?

Fredrick Wade
Addiction Medicine

My answer would be STRONG no! The question states that this drinking would be done after completion of addiction treatment. If you met the criteria of needing addiction treatment then taking a drink is a highly unsafe act. Anyone who has ever stopped an addictive lifestyle knows that it is no easy thing to do. It is like closing a door on a syndrome of behaviors that threatened everything in your life. Opening and closing that door is not an easy thing to do! The risk far outweigh any perceived benefits and the history of addiction that is acknowledge here ask that anyone in such a situation not test their sobriety, but rather cherish and live it one day at a time. You wouldn’t start another fire after finally get one under control now would you. Well this is no different.


Mike Kirkeberg
Addiction Medicine

That is an excellent question. The easiest answer is to simply say no and leave it at that. That's good advice for someone who is recently "sober." There are a couple of realities to consider here. The first reality is that there are some people who are successful at having an occasional drink. Each of us is different. A colleague of mine was a person who, earlier in life entered treatment with a drinking problem. At some point later in his career, he decided that it was time to see if he had changed and would be able to handle drinking. The conditions he set up for himself were that he would set limits, make sure he had healthy support around him when he did drink, and that he would not drink at times when he felt stressed, depressed, or repressed. Over the years that I knew him, he did not fall into problematic drinking.

The second reality is that the majority of people who go through addiction treatment, at some pont in their lives, do choose to use alcohol. One of the problems they run into is that, unlike my colleague, there is not a lot of support for that kind of decision. Most 'support groups' are focused on abstinence and there is little tolerance for those who choose to try moderation. There is one support group that is not available in every locality that may be helpful. It is, incidentally, called Moderation Management and they do have a website at moderation.org.

I want to caution you, though, that the choice to have an occasional drink, as you say, is not a decision to be taken lightly. Take a look at all the possible benefits AND all the possible costs before undertaking the task.

Honestly, it is actually easier to remain abstinent. I say that because to remain abstinent requires one decision. To attempt moderation takes many decisions.

Anthony Beck
Addiction Medicine
It is not a good idea because it is a mood or mind altering substance and it affects the body and mind similar to some drugs and may cause relapse on the drug of choice.
It is generally recommended that those recently treated for a substance use disorder abstain from even occasional alcohol use. It is very important that a person continue to support the gains made in treatment by avoiding behavior that may lead to the same problems recurring again.  By avoiding any use of alcohol or other mind-altering drugs, a person is more likely to develop a satisfying way of living that is free from drugs or alcohol.
Ken Bachrach
Psychology
Generally the answer is “no.”  Most people who have crossed the line from problem drinking to addiction cannot go back to occasional or moderate use. Brain scans show functional changes in the structure of the brain in individuals who are addicted. That explains why people, who relapse after many years of sobriety, go back to addictive patterns of use very quickly. It’s human nature to want to test this premise. However, before you do this, please consider the consequences if you are not that rare individual who can resume moderate use. For most people in recovery, even thinking about testing this premise suggests they are at risk for relapse. Please speak to your counselor or sponsor before you act.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.