If age makes us grow fond of the things we’ve had around for a long time, and certain traditions transfer from generation to generation, then it would make sense that we revere some of our oldest cultural aspects. Alcohol is an ingrained part of human culture, in almost every culture. It comes to no one’s surprise, then, that most cultures romanticize alcohol or associate it with a good time, from being integral to celebrations to being associated with indulgence.
Beer, wine, and liquor are equal parts revered and abhorred, found in every facet of society, from the ballroom of a corporate event to the firepit at a summer camp. Because it’s so universal, many addicts cite ubiquity as one of the reasons why staying sober is so hard. If some can responsibly enjoy alcohol, then wouldn’t it be possible to re-engage in social, casual, and modest drinking after recovery is over?
The short answer is no. The long answer is still no, but with a thorough explanation. The reason why some people can drink casually, and others will always succumb to their alcoholism is not fully understood, but it has to do with the nature of addiction, and the dangers of dependence.
Can You Drink After Recovery?
The reason this question requires an entire article to answer is that there are complications and exceptions, in a sense. It’s generally understood that a person with a physical dependence on alcohol can recover from said dependence through a careful recovery plan built on maintaining sobriety – but if they have even a single drink, they could quickly find themselves unable to stop drinking.
On the other hand, alcoholism – and addiction in general – exists on a spectrum, wherein a person is first at risk of developing an addiction when trying a drug out, and gradually slips into deeper and deeper levels of physical and psychological dependence. Some people stop drinking before they become addicted, but after they realize that they’re starting to use alcohol as a way to cope with their problems. By addressing this psychological dependence and overcoming it, some people have returned to drinking responsibly, indulging in a drink or two on occasion, but abstaining from binge drinking and maintaining a healthy distance from the idea of drinking to relax, or feel better.
On the other hand, someone with a physical dependence goes through an entirely different experience. Being genuinely addicted to alcohol changes the way the brain works, associating the drug with pleasure and reward. The mind without alcohol struggles to function, and withdrawal kicks in. Cravings, then, are memories of prior drinking, fueling the will to drink once again.
If that wish is satisfied, then it’s easy to slip right back into a mindset of needing alcohol to survive and function. You might try to convince yourself that you only need “one drink”, but unless someone is there to enforce that rule, your mind quickly finds ways to subvert it and convince you to go for another, and another, and another.
That’s the short version, for the most part. Recovering addicts cannot control how they relapse, and alcoholism – like any addiction – is inherently out-of-control. The only way to win, in a sense, is not to play at all.
Alcoholism is Out-of-Control
The first mistake everyone makes when their drug use starts to become a problem is think that they can control it. But the very point of addiction is that it erodes a person’s judgment, which is why it is treated as a disease rather than a character flaw. Everyone is biologically susceptible to substance dependence, with some individuals being more susceptible than others due to uncontrollable genetic differences. Addiction has nothing to do with a person’s morals, and any addictive substance – including alcohol, cigarettes, prescription medication, and medical marijuana – can cause havoc in a person’s life and lead to dependence.
No one explicitly chooses to be addicted, precisely because no one can choose at all under the circumstances of an addiction. Choice becomes irrelevant.
That can change significantly with time, but the risk is always greater after the first time. To put it in an analogy that can be more broadly understood, the pain of getting hit and breaking skin is quite severe, but the pain of getting hit on an open wound or a deep bruise is even worse. The mind can slowly recover from addiction, but it remembers how it feels, it remembers the changes brought about by continuous alcohol use, and it’s much, much easier to slip back into those changes once they’ve been established – like a memory foam mattress.
It’s important, then, to take a step back and ask yourself why you would want to drink again anyway. To people with no special connection to alcohol, alcohol is nothing more than another aspect of the party – it’s as much a part of celebrating something as dancing, music, and food. But you don’t need it. You can enjoy yourself and take part in celebrations, reunions, parties and events without even a single sip of booze. Learning to have fun while sober is more important than figuring out a way to continue drinking after recovery.
Some people fear that alcohol is intrinsic to their social abilities. They feel inept without the aspect of drunkenness, and feel that without a drink or two, things like being able to dance or talk to strangers become impossible. However, that’s not true. Alcohol does not grant you powers, it simply takes away certain inhibitions. But you can learn to build up your confidence and feel secure around others without getting drunk. It just takes a little practice, and some time.
Another fear is the fear of not being able to say no to an offered drink. The first solution, the one most commonly given, is to always have a drink in your hand already. Ordering something non-alcoholic at a party where there’s sure to be a lot of alcohol is a good way to avoid having to say no and struggling with it.
Another good step is to be busy. Get busy. Drinks tend to be offered to those who hang around not doing much, so get hooked into a conversation or try out the food or have some fun and get yourself a refill before someone can offer you one. Just don’t take a chance and drink – it won’t end well.