Overcoming addiction can be incredibly difficult. That is why, when someone is able to find a successful treatment for their addiction, many programs – like Alcoholics Anonymous – take a zero tolerance approach to engaging in any substance to which you have an addiction.
We can understand why this zero tolerance approach makes sense for illicit drugs, which are already illegal in all 50 states. But alcohol is everywhere, and many people that have overcome addiction – or are trying to overcome it – wonder if there will ever be a time when they can drink in moderation again.
As With All Things: Decide on a Case by Case Basis
Mental health is never as simple as yes or no, because each individual and their behaviors are different. In therapy, one of the things we look for is the cause of the addiction, what lead to and leads to the desire to drink, and how addicted a person is to the substance itself or the sensations of drinking (ie, forgetting one’s problems).
Someone that has a history of addiction and a strong desire to drink that they are frequently fighting might be “opening the gates” if they decide to partake in just a little bit of drinking, in which case total abstention makes a great deal of sense. The strong desire to drink means any exposure could be problematic.
But other people find, either through therapy or by simply knowing themselves, that their addiction and desire to drink is excess is gone. Perhaps they were able to address the issues that led them to drink, or they were drinking because of a lifestyle they are no longer engaged in. In those cases, a little bit of mild drinking on occasion is unlikely to cause any setbacks.
The issue is about being honest with oneself.
- Are you telling yourself that it will be “just this once” to justify drinking?
- Do you still feel a strong desire to drink that you’re fighting?
- Are you still struggling with the same issues that led to excessive drinking?
The key is to be completely honest with yourself. If you feel a desire to drink, you should likely not drink. If you feel like you’re still struggling with issues that led to excessive drinking, or you find that you’re quickly desiring more drinking after having a drink, then it is still not recommended.
But if you feel yourself free of the addiction, and you are only moderately drinking to, for example, give a toast at a wedding, or avoid feeling rude turning down a good friend’s beer, and you feel no strong desire to have a second drink or continue drinking afterwards, then it may be okay. It is going to depend on you, and how honest you are with yourself about your addictions and feelings.