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Can Alcoholics Ever Go Back to Casual Drinking?

By Linda Whiteside

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Table of Contents

Is it possible to drink casually when you’re an alcoholic? This is a question commonly asked by both alcoholics and non-alcoholics. It is believed that those who struggle with alcoholism can never drink in moderation, as one drink will eventually spiral into many. A key characteristic of alcohol use disorder is the inability to control how much you drink, making abstinence a necessity. Considering this, it is apparent that those who are able to transition back into casual drinking are not alcoholics. This blog will discuss what moderation management is and its success in helping alcoholics achieve sobriety versus abstinence approaches. 

Moderation Management

Although a moderation approach to treatment does not involve staying completely sober, it does require a 30-day abstinence period. This period is used to develop strategies to identify and manage triggers as well as to learn tactics to keep your drinking in check. Moderation Management (MM) requires individuals to realistically look at their drinking and the reasons for it. 

This treatment approach allows individuals to practice controlled consumption while addressing the underlying issues motivating their drinking. Similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), MM has meetings and a supportive community to help you keep your drinking in check. That being said, it is basically impossible for an alcoholic to practice controlled drinking. Most people involved in this form of treatment are not diagnosed with alcohol use disorder and is most beneficial for those who are not physically dependent on alcohol. That means that this approach to treatment is not an effective or sustainable one in terms of minimizing the risks associated with drinking in alcoholics. Although this form of treatment could be beneficial to individuals who think they drink a bit too much, it is not meant for true alcoholics. Those who try moderation approaches to treatment usually end up switching to abstinence as it is the most effective.

Abstinence versus Moderation

It can be difficult to decide what treatment approach is right for you. Not everyone who drinks in excess is an alcoholic and not everyone who seeks treatment has alcohol use disorder. If you are an alcoholic and are dependent on alcohol, however, attempting to engage with a moderation treatment approach will most likely be futile. 

The most popular and effective recovery model for alcoholics is abstinence, which is supported by 12-step programs such as AA. It is the safest and simplest way to avoid repeating past dangerous behaviors involving substances. A study conducted at the University of Gothenburg showed that 90 percent of the abstinent patients were still sober two and a half years after treatment, while only 50 percent of those who focused on controlled consumption were still in control of their drinking. An abstinence approach is best for individuals with alcohol use disorder and those who are physically dependent on alcohol. 

Many people try to cut back on their drinking before receiving treatment and are unable to do so. This in itself indicates the inability of many alcoholics to drink in moderation. Many seek treatment for the very fact that they cannot control the amount of alcohol they consume, so attempting moderation treatment is often a losing battle and a waste of time.

It is common after a period of being sober that you may think you are cured and can begin drinking again – this is the power of selective memory. It can be easy to forget the negative consequences associated with drinking after being sober for a while. You may feel like you deserve an award for being sober for a certain amount of time, however, one drink is all it takes to spiral out of control. Having a false sense of confidence is a sign that relapse is near, so acknowledging this and reaching out for support is essential in avoiding drinking.

While cravings are powerful and you feel tempted to drink or switch to a moderation form of treatment, it is important to recognize how much better your life is without alcohol. Playing back the tape when you want to use can help you from falsely convincing yourself you can drink casually. If you are having trouble controlling these thoughts, go to a meeting or reach out to a counselor, sponsor, or loved one to help you work through these thoughts. Sobriety isn’t a solitary activity, and being sure to reach out for support is essential in staying on track with your recovery.

Staying Sober with NuView Treatment Center

If you are currently struggling with alcoholism and staying sober, NuView Treatment Center can help you. At NuView Treatment Center, located in Los Angeles, you can receive the support you need to stop your alcohol use. NuView offers outpatient alcohol addiction treatment that is designed to give you the tools you need to recover from both dependence and addiction. The staff is trained to develop individualized treatment plans for each client and assist with addressing underlying conditions that may be motivating your drug or alcohol use. Through this, you will develop new, healthy coping mechanisms and plans for dealing with possible triggers. The compassion evidence-based therapeutic modalities used at NuView Treatment Center helps you achieve sobriety and offers you the tools to stay sober long-term.

Additional Information

Alcoholic Relationship: Addiction Can Affect Relationships

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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