Can an alcoholic become a social drinker?

I was taught in elementary school that an alcoholic who wishes to recover must quit consuming alcohol altogether, and that if he (or she) ever has another drink, he will be immediately addicted again and unable to control himself from drinking more and more until he is drunk. Then again, I was also taught a lot of urban legends presented as fact.

Is it true that alcohol addiction is such that one can never revert to occasional social drinking (say, the occasional beer or glass of wine with a meal)?

I don’t think so. The woman who was among those who started Moderation Management wound up drinking, driving drunk and killing someone after a number of years of controlled drinking. There was a biography on her on one of the cable channels not too long ago in which she participated. She no longer drinks anything and is gutting it out by herself. She still won’t have any truck with AA.

The record of AA in stopping the drinking of alcoholics isn’t all that great but the record of every other self-help/support group seems to be dismal.

I have thought some about Secular Sobriety because i have absolutely no sense of the supernatural and some AA members, and the so-called Big Book, emphasize turning you life over to a higher power. I ignored that and concentrated on not drinking until not drinking became my normal mode and I will have not had a drink for 25 years come October 11.

I’ve known some people, like my younger brother, who had a serious drinking problem in his youth (accidents, bar fights, divorce etc.) and now drinks (very moderately) socially. I think some can, but they were never the most super hard core alcoholics to begin with, more like people who were on the verge of becoming serious alcoholics, and pulled back before it engulfed them.

If you’re really a hard core alcoholic. in that it’s burned into your brain chemistry to need and want alcohol, I’d kind of doubt you could go cold turkey then drink socially.

IF he can stop after ONE “social” drink, then ok, othewise never again even think about trying.

The problem with the question of the OP is that we do not have any bright line definitions regarding the whole issue.

AA has always taken the approach that “one drink is too many and a thousand drinks is never enough.” Their (relative) success in the U.S. shaped the discussion (and research) in this country for nearly fifty years, so that while some groups in Europe were exploring the possibility of changing “problem drinkers” to “social drinkers,” no one in the U.S. even considered the possibility until the late 1980s.

The lack of bright line is particularly notable in cases such as the woman to whom David Simmons referred. Was she an alcoholic who tried to fool herself into believing she was a problem drinker? Was she a problem drinker who simply failed to exercise control on the worst possible occasion? Is there a difference between a problem drinker and an alcoholic? (AA says no. Several groups reporting (with varying amounts and types of evidence) success with problem drinkers say yes. And the issue is further muddied by the moralists who claim there is no such thing as alcoholism or problem drinking, just weak willed drunks who should be bitch-slapped for their stupidity.)

Anecdotally, I know several people who would have been judged “alcoholic” in the U.S. in the 1970s who have significantly scaled back their drinking to the point of only drinking socially. On the other hand, I have no medical confirmation (since none is available) that they were truly alcoholic. They could have simply gone through a period in their life in which they drank too much, but never got addicted. Alternatively, they could be sipping under the table, now, and simply successfully lying about how much they still drink. (If the last is true, I would note that they are very successful, not letting it interfere with their jobs or other responsibilities.)

Until the medical community establishes a bright line definition of alcoholism (as opposed to a DSM-IV style evaluation based on impairment of life activities), I suspect that we are not going to get a good answer to the question.

I know one example, but he was the only alcoholic I ever knew that closely. You can judge if he was an alcoholic. When he came to visit, he would buy a 40 oz bottle of booze at that duty free on Friday night and throw away the empty on Sunday afternoon as he was leaving. He drank daily and steadily, never getting either roaring drunk or quite sober either. His doctor told him his liver ws turning to sawdust and he went to a dryout camp for a month in the early 80s. For several years he was totally dry. Then he began to drink a glass of wine with dinner. He is now an ordinary social drinker. How am I sure. Well, for the past several years we (he with his wife and my wife) have spent a week in Barbados every February in a rented cottage, sometimes with a third couple. In those close quarters it would be pretty hard to hide his drinking. We buy a 1 litre bottle of rum the day we arrive and he makes frozen daiquiris for all of us every night. The last time, we left maybe a quarter of the bottle for the housekeeper. He will usually have a beer with dinner, never two. Sounds like a social drinker to me.

So it is possible, yes. Is it advisable? A much harder question since it is likely true that for some people even one is too many.

Yes. I don’t believe in the classic disease theory of alcoholism. However, plenty of people that I went to college with drank enough to be considered “alcoholics.” Then, they graduated, got a real job, and realized they couldn’t go out every night and still make it to work every morning at 8 am.

How can this have a factual answer? I say “no, they can’t.”

Our knowledge that dozens of Cathoic priests sexually abused children does not cast into doubt Christianity itself. The founder of MM did not develop the concept of moderate drinking; she popularized it–then much later broke ranks with MM, started binge drinking, joined AA, and killed two people in a car wreck. In retrospect, she was a poor candidate for MM because she was white-knuckling it from start to finish.

As indicated above, millions of American college students in the 20th century abused alcohol and other drugs–often harming their grades and squandering their financial investments in the process–yet the great majority eventually manage to moderate their consumption and thereafter lead productive, satisfying lives. That strongly suggests that some so-called problem drinkers can moderate their drinking.

The OP cannot be answered without precise, mutually agreed upon definitions and compelling empirical evidence–something in short shrift within the larger, ongoing debate. That said, I think most experts would agree that “alcoholics” should not resume drinking alcohol ever. Members of MM would agree with that, as their approach is geared toward people who have abused alcohol, but are not chronic, physiologically dependent, drinkers.

Part of the problem is that this is a truism. By some definitions an ‘alcoholic’ is anyone who can never revert to occasional social drinking. But I would say under that definition, not all people with an alcohol addiction or problem are alcoholics. And by a broader definition where an alcoholic is someone with an addicition or problem, then yes it’s possible to moderate rather than quit.

No but it certainly casts doubt on the ability of people to follow its supposed precepts. Especially when you throw in the numerous church officials who knew of the problem but turned an almost blind eye. We are pretty ignorant about alcoholism and for someone who has had a drinking problem, controlled drinking is sort of like playing Russian Roulette.

I absolutely agree. However the risk is so great and the rewards so small that if you have a problem it is a pretty good bet that it would be a good idea to stop drinking entirely. After all, no one really has to drink unless they are adicted. It really truly is possible to have fun without drinking. Honest.

With much respect, I would suggest that you err in blanketly equating the imprecise terms “drinking problem” or “problem drinking” with alcoholism.

While all “alcoholics” (a term rejected by most researchers) do indeed have “problems” with alcohol, not all people with alcohol problems are alcoholics. To reiterate, abusing alochol is a rite of passage for many, perhaps most, young Americans, but most of these alcohol abusers eventually mature out of their abusive ways and moderate their drinking.

If you accept the “problem drinker” = “alcoholic” calculus, are you suggesting that a college student who has alcohol-related problems (frequently binge drinks, drives under the influence, does poorly in school) is by definition an alcoholic? If so, then perhaps 25 percent of college students nationwide are alcoholics, which is patently false. Even the conventional definition of “problem drinking”–i.e., that anyone who continues to drink after suffering alcohol-related problems is, by definition, an alcoholic–is flawed. Again, the college analogy.

Most people who abuse alcohol eventually moderate their drinking, but some become chronic, heavy drinkers, mainly due to a combination of genetics and environmental factors. The defining characteristics in a chronic, alcohol-dependent drinker (aka “alcoholic”) are tolerance and withdrawal, not merely “drinking problems.”

Ultimately, more precise, less sweeping terms are needed.

To connect the dots re: the OP

If you accept the (errant) premise that “problem drinker” = “alcoholic” then, yes, an alcoholic can become a social drinker, as proven by the college student analogy.

If you reject this premise and instead precisely define “alcoholic” as a chronic, heavy, physiologically dependent drinker who exhibits signs of tolerance and withdrawal then, no, “alcoholics” should refrain from trying to become a social drinker, as they repeatedly proved themselves unable to moderate their drinking.

Can some chronic drinkers resume “social drinking”? While some tiny fraction may have succeeded, attempting to join that .001 percentile is a path toward self-destruction.

I’m not arguing with you. The number of alcoholics is realitively small. My only point is that statistics are irrelevant on an individual basis. The need for caution is great because if you are an alcoholic and try to drink moderately the consequences can be disasterous.

15+ years sober here.
Am I an alcoholic?
Who knows. Who cares.
I have found a way to live that solves MY drinking problems. As David S says, it is fun too.

I find that a lot of folks that ask these type of questions are looking for someone else to affirm that they can drink with justification. Bawahahaha

Lying to your self about your drinking or the ability to do so is like lying to your self about being able to swim.

The average person who does a lot of alcoholic programs and meetings in a large city does not have enough time to attend all the funerals of the people who die as a direct result of their being wrong about being an addict of some stripe.

Watch 50 to 100 people you know personally, die of addiction, having heard many times their thought processes and having heard all the silly shit friends and school mates fill their heads with about what they can do. Of course the advisors (silly deadly shits) are not the ones dying… * ::: shakes head and wanders away :::*

There is a factual answer for this, I believe. It is, :Some individuals who were condidered alcoholics can control their drinking at a later stage in their lives."

There are caveats to this. There is not a unversally acpted definition of what being an alcoholic means.

Also, I don’t know of any way that this can be predicted for a given person. They just drink again, and they either nose-dive or they don’t. My guess is that most will nose-dive back into their previous troublesome drinking patters.

My best friend joined AA at the age of 17 or 18…He was smoking pot, bad grades, drinking…typical adolecent behavior. He was Clean and Sober for 15 yrs…he now has the ocassional adult beverage and even a toke or two now and then…hmmm. Was he ever an alcoholic or did his parents make that decision for him? granted he made the decision to conintue in AA for years, he also made the decision to have a toke, and a brew when the situation was correct. BTW I had his first legal drink with him at the age of 37…

ymmv…this seems like it would e better placed in either great debates or IMHO…just sayin’


Only time will tell.

If he indeed is someone for whom moderation will not work over time, I hope he finds his way back again to his previous abstinent state. Too many of us don’t.

Part of the problem is the definition of “alcoholic”. Under some defintions, that an alcoholic can never become a social drinker is simply a tautology…any problem drinker who can’t become a social drinker is an alcoholic, any problem drinker who can wasn’t really an alcoholic.

According to the study, Correlates of past-year status among treated and untreated persons with former alcohol dependence: United States, 1992