Think You Can Start Drinking Again? What Happens When You Try to Go Back

This is a scenario most recovering alcoholics can envision: you’ve been in recovery perhaps a few months or a few years and you have had the pleasure of seeing your life start to clean up. Your relationships are improving, you experience less stress and angst, and you can be in the presence of alcohol without even desiring a drink. Sounds like a good place to be, doesn’t it? A normal person would respond by saying something like, “Giving up alcohol has been one of the best decisions I have made. Life is coming together and I feel better than I ever have—healthy, content, free from the obsession and emotionally stable. I’m going to stay away from alcohol so I can continue to feel this good.” The addict evaluates things a little differently. Seeing how well life has balanced out, he thinks he must certainly be cured of his pesky alcoholism, and now it’s high time to reintroduce alcohol. The scenario is imaginary and wouldn’t happen in real life because normal people don’t become addicts, and addicts, even if they have ceased to practice their addiction, don’t become normal. These are simply universal truths. The sooner we accept them, the sooner we begin to recover, and the better our chances for staying in recovery. But that won’t stop many addicts from trying to beat the odds. Seeing that they’ve gotten their heads straight (due to a period of sobriety), they will attempt to experiment with alcohol. They will come up with some arbitrary plan for what constitutes moderation, and they will gradually reintroduce alcohol. Some may swear off hard liquor in favor of beer or wine. Others will vow not to drink before a certain time of day or on certain days of the week. Others will commit to no solo drinking. These boundaries and schemes, they believe, will keep them on track and allow them to enjoy their booze in a healthy, normal, functional way—just like everybody else. And perhaps it will even work for a day or two, or maybe even a little longer. But in short order, the compromises, excuses and justifications begin to crowd in and derail those good intentions. The addict will soon find himself back where he started—more rapidly and more severely than even he would have anticipated. Alcohol has again become the taskmaster. The addict invited it to do so. And many alcoholics will continue to repeat this cycle, prideful in their belief that they can get a handle on this and one day find an answer or a solution to the drinking problem that doesn’t involve total, lifelong cessation of drinking. In the process, they prolong their own misery and the hardship of those around them. One of the greatest threats to recovery is the desire to simply be normal. For the addict who has not really “gotten it,” there is this persistent hope that one day he will be able to drink like a normal person and enjoy alcohol without alcohol immediately taking over and wreaking havoc all around. This person, though dry, would not truly fall into the category of “sober” or “recovered,” because he is still holding on to the belief that one day he may be cured of his alcoholism and be able to start drinking again. The sober person, however, sees things differently. He accepts that addicts are addicts for life and that alcoholism is a progressive illness that only gets worse, never better. There is the understanding that an addict can cease practicing alcoholism through sobriety and recovery, but being an alcoholic is for life. The addict must relinquish the ideal of being “normal” in the area of drinking. “Recovered alcoholic” and “normal drinker” are not synonymous and never will be. Though he may demonstrate great discipline, determination and sound judgment in other areas of life, where alcohol is concerned the alcoholic will only exhibit insanity. Recovery means coming to grips with this reality and then embarking upon the lifelong journey of learning to live and thrive without alcohol. We wish there were another way. We wish that we could learn to live sanely with alcohol, but we cannot. There is no way around this fact—no matter how unique or special you consider your situation to be. You can accept it and be free or you can keep fighting and eventually lose altogether. If you think you can drink again, think again.

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