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Can Alcoholics Learn to Drink Moderately?

Most Can't, But It's Too Late When They Find Out


Updated June 13, 2014

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Most Alcoholics Can't Control Their Drinking

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One of the most common questions people who try to quit drinking ask is whether they really have to stop forever. Can't they learn how to drink in moderation? Can they become social drinkers? Is it true that they can never have another drink?

The truth is there are some people who quit drinking for a period of time, perhaps even joined Alcoholics Anonymous, who later found that they could return to drinking moderately. Chances are, these drinkers may not have really been alcoholics in the first place, but merely alcohol abusers or binge drinkers.

For those who are truly alcoholics, trying to return to moderate drinking rarely works. Many have tried and failed, as Bluesky explains in this post to our Alcoholism/Substance Abuse Forum to another reader who is thinking about giving it a try:

Bluesky's Story

I've been trying to moderate my drinking since my teens, and I'm now in my 40s. I finally came to the realization that, for me, abstinence is the only way, but like you, I have harbored reservations and have given it another try. It never works out for me, but still I don't learn.

You see, my memory is selective. I tend to forget how sick I felt each day, the hangovers, the blackouts, the puking, the worrying about how I appeared to other people, the remorse I felt every single morning when I woke up. I was beating myself up and yet I continued. Who does that? Social drinkers don't do that. But alcoholics do.

Not An Alcoholic?

It could be that you're not an alcoholic, but remember that more than one drink per day for a woman is risking health problems. Can you moderate to one drink per day and perhaps a couple occasionally? Or will there be times when you can't control it and binge?

Usually, when we have to assert so much control over our drinking, it's because it's taken control of us. Otherwise, why would we need to wrestle control back?

-- Bluesky

A Dangerous Gamble

Many alcoholics have tried to return to social drinking. Those who did so successfully were probably problem drinkers to begin with and not necessarily alcoholics. The Moderation Management program has helped many learn to drink safely, but it's not for everyone.

The vast majority of alcoholics who talk themselves into thinking they can return to "normal" drinking find that they quickly return to unsafe or binge drinking. The problem is that by the time they find out that they are not capable of moderating their drinking, it is too late. It takes many of them years to find recovery again and unfortunately some never make it back.

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