Can Alcoholics Ever Drink Again?
After months of being sober and receiving addiction treatment, you may catch yourself thinking about what harm one drink can do.
Perhaps you are convinced that you can do moderate drinking, or that you didn’t have such a big drinking problem after all. In the case of someone who has suffered from alcohol addiction, these are just mental battles that can drive you to taste alcohol again, and they may not be good to listen to.
Alcohol Addiction Versus Alcohol Abuse
Someone may indeed be able to drink in moderation if they have been sober for a long time. However, that may only be the case if someone has suffered from alcohol abuse, and not necessarily from an addiction to it. The difference between these two terms is what may confuse many into thinking that it is safe to become social drinkers, or that they may be able to do controlled drinking.
Addiction is a neuropsychological disorder, where there is an insistent dysfunction in someone’s brain system. Repetitive stimulation of a substance like alcohol can cause the part of the brain that influences memory, motivation, and reward to be changed. This causes someone to experience an increased craving for a substance.
When someone compulsively needs or depends on alcohol, they may lose control over drinking it, despite the dangerous or harmful effects it has. This is called addiction.
A person who suffers from alcohol addiction is likely to build up a tolerance to the substance. This is when the brain becomes used to alcohol since it is constantly being stimulated by it. Over time, it will develop tolerance to it and need more than what it initially did to balance its chemical levels. The result is a lack of control, where a person needs more amounts of alcohol to feel the same effect.
This is dangerous as a person may drink much more than they can handle. The World Health Organization reports three million deaths resulting from the harmful use of alcohol worldwide.
signs of alcohol addiction
Alcohol addiction may be present in someone who does not necessarily abuse alcohol or consume many alcoholic drinks but habitually needs a drink. It can also present itself in signs that are not visibly related to drinking or not everyone may spot.
Signs of alcoholism include but are not limited to:
- Diminished self-esteem
- Drinking alone or secretly
- Financial problems
- Avoiding or neglecting family, work, or personal obligations
- Impeded social function
- Decreased immunity
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Depression and anxiety
- Cognitive issues in memory and learning
Although tolerance is often what leads to alcohol abuse, someone abusing alcohol may not necessarily suffer from an addiction to it.
For example, a person may be able to ultimately reduce or stop drinking if they wanted to, but for other reasons consume too much of it on a night out, showing signs of alcohol abuse. These are the cases where people quitting alcohol can go back to social drinking in moderation without a problem. It is very different from alcohol addiction.
Alcohol abuse or heavy drinking over time can lead to addiction and the development of an alcohol use disorder. This is when the abuse of alcohol is not stopped, causing a person to develop a brain disorder termed alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder is common in the United States, as the National Institute of Health reported 14.5 million adults suffering from it in 2019.
One way in which an alcohol use disorder will show is in someone’s actions. Alcohol consumption disrupts cellular and neural processes, which causes problems in movement and thinking. The result is risky behavior and an inability to quit alcohol intake.
Other signs of alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder can come in the form of emotional unpredictability, increased verbal or physical aggression, a lack of inhibition, alcohol poisoning, and much more. These are high-risk factors for a person drinking alcohol and for those around them, as alcohol abuse can easily lead to damage in personal relationships, self-injury or accidents, physical or emotional abuse, and physical consequences on the body.
What Happens When a Person Has Quit Drinking?
The first and toughest part of quitting drinking or any substance abuse is experiencing withdrawal symptoms. When someone suffers from alcohol addiction, they will experience uncomfortable symptoms when attempting to quit drinking. Depending on the amount and duration of alcohol intake, symptoms can range from mild to very severe or even fatal.
These symptoms can easily keep someone addicted and are one of the reasons it is so hard to stop drinking. Someone may rather continue a stimulated state than suffer the physical and emotional effects of withdrawing from alcohol.
A person may experience an upset stomach, headaches, hypertension, or an increased heart rate within the first day. Hallucinations and tonic seizures can occur, and in severe alcohol withdrawal, delirium tremens may happen within three days.
Some other withdrawal symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils
Positive After Effects
After becoming sober and overcoming withdrawal from substance abuse or alcoholism, a person has a chance to enjoy their health again. After quitting drinking, a person may experience some of the following:
- A drastic improvement in judgment and decision making
- The recovery and regeneration of many internal organs, like the heart and liver
- Improved sleep and sex life
- Less impulsive behavior
- Less anxiety
- Less agitation and anger
- An improvement in relationships
Can Alcoholics Ever Drink Again?
Let’s say that someone has had a successful recovery from their addiction to alcohol and has been sober for months. It means that they have received addiction treatment, perhaps undergone substance abuse treatment, attended group therapy, support groups, and much more to get their problem drinking under control.
They may have a clear mind and consider casual drinking or social drinking since their daily life in sobriety may be less eventful or bore them. Would one drink ruin their recovery?
One drink is all it takes.
In order to consider whether they can ever drink again, a recovering alcoholic should remember the characteristics of addiction. To drink socially would mean to be able to drink in moderation, which implies controlled drinking.
Alcohol is a very difficult substance use to control, even if someone does not have an addiction to it. People who have suffered from alcohol addiction may have attempted to stop drinking multiple times on their own, but will more than likely not succeed. This is because alcoholism can change someone’s brain chemistry, and these changes forever pose higher risk factors for relapse. This makes controlled drinking or drinking in moderation more than a case of strong will and psychology, but rather a physical impossibility for recovered alcoholics.
Often a person may start drinking addictively again because of the trigger caused by the first drink they take after alcohol recovery. That first drink could have a small amount of alcohol and could be less in amount than what another person drinks, but the first drink is what causes the temptation and craving for more. With a lack of control over how much alcohol you will consume, you can easily lead fall into relapse.
Moderate drinking can cause someone with alcohol use disorder to experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop drinking again. This can also boost the chances of having that extra alcoholic drink, which easily leads to the next.
Unfortunately, the only option is complete abstinence, since control over drinking can disappear the moment a person has that first drink again. Abstinence can often be easier to attempt than trying to drink in moderation, and definitely less risky. Support from family members and groups in treatment facilities can help someone maintain abstinence.
How Can I Avoid Drinking Alcohol?
If you or a loved one is dealing with alcohol recovery or are seeking treatment for avoiding that first drink, Ebb Tide is here to help. Our treatment facilities offer help with mental health issues and challenges that may come about when one drink is tempting, or when abstinence seems impossible.
Long-term recovery is about maintaining that abstinence, and at Ebb Tide, we understand how hard that can be. That is why our addiction treatment extends beyond medical assistance, and we can provide you with support in keeping the health you have fought for.