Close to 30 million people living in the United States experience alcohol abuse disorder (AUD). This relates to increased traffic fatalities and millions of dollars in lost productivity. This is in addition to the significant health and personal impacts alcoholism can have on the individual and their families.
Most people with AUD resort to complete abstinence as the most effective way to remain in recovery. However, today, we have a more nuanced understanding of “alcoholism.” Like other disorders, we now know that a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment does not work for everyone.
Can an alcoholic ever drink again? That is a difficult question to answer because it depends on the individual and their circumstances.
This article covers five things to know when addressing this question. It will help you determine when it is suitable to engage in moderate drinking and when complete abstinence is necessary. Keep reading to learn more.
- Defining “Alcoholism”
For decades, the term “alcoholism” was the term used to describe anyone who displayed signs of alcohol abuse. This might include everything from drinking every day to occasional binge drinking. It might define when people find it difficult to only drink in moderation or hide drinking from their loved ones.
The term most commonly used to describe all forms of issues involving alcohol today is “alcohol use disorder” (AUD). This is a blanket category for anyone with an impaired ability to control or stop alcohol use despite negative consequences.
AUD encompasses what people traditionally termed “alcoholism.” It adds to it any other problematic conditions or behaviors. These include alcohol abuse (regardless of how frequent), dependence, and addiction.
2. Level of Severity Matters
These distinctions are important because, even within these categories, there are levels of severity. While one person may mildly abuse alcohol on a daily basis, others may binge drink only on weekends.
Some people may have no trouble drinking in moderation socially but tend to often drink alone. For some, it may be hard to have only a single drink, regardless of the situation. All these situations are harmful but with varying degrees of consequences.
Also, there are many different causes of AUD. These include genetics, where people are predisposed to patterns of abuse.
Some people may have a physiological addiction to alcohol. For others, it may be more psychological (for instance, abuse may stem from the need to relieve anxiety or to cope with social stresses).
3. Why Abstinence Works?
As mentioned, there are many different factors to consider when trying to answer “Can an alcoholic ever drink again?” In addressing this question, it may be helpful to first look at why abstinence is so effective.
Abstinence is the traditional approach for many recovery programs. These include 12-step ones like Alcoholics Anonymous. Also, most treatment facilities embrace an abstinence-centered philosophy.
There is a very good reason for this. One is that this approach has a very high success rate for a wide range of people with AUD. This means abstaining is effective for the most severe cases for anyone who wants to address even mild addiction or problematic behaviors.
An underlying reason for this is that prolonged alcohol use can damage the brain’s chemistry. This can make it almost impossible for someone with long-term AUD to drink in moderation. In these situations, abstinence is the only means to success.
4. When Moderation May Be Appropriate (And Even Preferred)
There are exceptions to the abstinence rule. That is because each individual is unique. While one approach is beneficial (and often necessary) for one person, it may not be the best avenue to recovery for someone else.
One of the main examples is people who would otherwise seek treatment but are dissuaded by the abstinence approach. A program that allows for moderate consumption of alcohol might attract a broader audience of people struggling with milder forms of AUD.
For instance, “harm reduction treatment” focuses on education and eliminating behaviors that cause a drinking problem. These can include prioritizing personal, health, occupational, and other areas of one’s life. It helps the individual address areas where alcohol has had a negative effect.
Such programs allow for moderate consumption. They also could be an attractive option for someone who has symptoms of AUD but is not likely to seek help through abstinence-based programs.
5. The Role Medication Plays
Other factors can impact abstinence vs. moderate drinking as well. For instance, different medications can be used to curb cravings and other alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Some of these are designed to promote complete abstinence, while others are aimed at curbing excessive drinking.
For example, Naltrexone is a drug that affects the amount of dopamine released during alcohol use. This relates to the brain’s reward center, which encourages more alcohol consumption in order to increase the effects.
By curbing these feelings of euphoria and happiness, people are less likely to overindulge. This also can help diminish cravings in general when not drinking alcohol.
Other medications, like Antabuse, work in very different ways to curb alcohol abuse. This drug is designed to help people who are having difficulty achieving complete abstinence.
Antabuse inhibits the metabolization of alcohol in the body. This causes an accumulation of ethanol, which results in negative responses. These include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sweating, and headaches.
The idea is that the effects of Antabuse are profound enough to stop the patient from drinking altogether. It is worth pointing out that drinking any amount of alcohol while on Antabuse can be dangerous.
Get More Anser to “Can an Alcoholic Ever Drink Again?”
Now that you have an answer to “Can an alcoholic ever drink again?” you can have a better sense of how this applies to your own recovery. It is important to be honest about your circumstances so that you can find solutions that work.
Recovery Delivered offers an alternative to traditional substance abuse treatment. Our goal is to address the barriers of lack of access to care and time burdens placed on the individual in recovery by offering convenient access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and related services. Reach out to us today to learn more.