Can an Alcoholic Drink in Moderation?

Published by John Gillen | Last updated: 30th January 2023 | All Sources

This is one of the most common questions asked by people who are struggling to overcome their alcohol addiction.

They typically wonder “can I drink in moderation?”. The thought of never having another drink again could seem terrifying to some people, this could be a reason why they’re asking themselves this question.

First of all, what is moderate drinking? describes “moderate consumption as limited to one to two alcoholic drinks per day for healthy men and one alcoholic drink per day for healthy women. One drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits”.

Can an Alcoholic Drink in Moderation?

Former alcoholics are likely to have stared directly into the abyss which is ‘alcoholic withdrawal syndrome’.

This is a memory that although painful, seems to belong firmly in the past. After all, you’re cured. You’re strong. And above all, you’re untouchable… or are you?

This sense of confidence amongst former addicts is all too common. If you’re reconsidering a return to the bottle, albeit, from a place of moderation, we urge you to think again.

We at least urge you to get as much information as you possibly can and consider the real risk of slipping back into alcoholism.


There could be some pressure to drink

Christmas, weddings, and other celebrations often exert pressure on you to consume “just one drink”. But only one. Or maybe two. Or perhaps three. Call it four. OK, I hope you see where this is going.

The desire to return to moderate drinking following a period of recovery is common. The echelons of the rehab industry have preached against the ‘just one drink’ urge for years.

This sacred cow has come under fire, most notably through a cohort of academics and the ‘Moderation Management’ organisation. Perhaps so much so that recovered alcoholics are confused.


Moderation Management vs. Total Abstinence

If you’re a recovered alcoholic it’s easy to see yourself in a position of strength. A position that can be deceptive. Here at Cassiobury Court, we’ve seen first-hand that the tipping point back into addiction can be very slippery indeed. We agree with the traditionalists in frowning on the ‘just one drink’ mentality.

The recovered alcoholic has likely suffered lasting alterations in their brain’s ability to produce the “feel good” chemicals and “just one drink” is often the start of the downfall which could see you plunging back into an addiction nightmare.

Abstinence is, for the totality of recovered alcoholics, the only viable safe choice. Whatever benefit you derive from that ‘one drink’ is far outweighed by the potential risk it carries and we think it is fair to say that a recovered alcoholic who does successfully return to the bottle in moderation was perhaps incorrectly diagnosed as an addict in the first place.


What could be the effects of a drink in moderation?

One simply cannot be ‘cured’ outright from their addiction, ‘recovering’ as opposed ‘recovered’ is an omnipotent word in the rehabilitation vocabulary. Many people who rehabilitate from alcohol addiction and go on to try moderate drinking, actually come to the realisation that abstinence is the only option.

If you were suffering from a severe alcohol addiction, recover, then go back to a drink, albeit in moderation, you’re still highly likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop, even after a small drink.

These could include psychological symptoms such as bad dreams, fatigue, feeling jumpy or nervous, feeling shaky, rapid emotional changes, irritability, anxiety, depression, or difficulty thinking clearly.

Not to mention the physical symptoms which could include paleness, headache, insomnia, loss of appetite, clammy skin, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, tremors, intense sweating, and nausea and vomiting.

You’ll likely forget the downsides of drinking such as hangovers, upset stomach, conflicts with loved ones, and the feeling of remorse the day after. Once you start drinking, even if you plan to have it in moderation, you can never predict or control how much you’ll actually end up consuming.

For those people who are wondering ‘is it possible for alcoholics to drink in moderation?’, the likely answer is no, not without their alcohol addiction returning.


So, can an alcoholic ever drink again in moderation?

Research on this is changing all the time, some authors subscribe to the fact that once you are an addict it stays with you for life, whilst some believe you can learn to moderate your relationship with alcohol.

On one hand, the 12-step model is based on absolute abstinence which is still scientifically accurate, but on the other hand, there’s a relatively new ‘moderation management’ approach which could be considered by some.

The main aspect that really depends on which method which may work for you, is what kind of drinker you were, why did you drink, and how long did your addiction to alcohol last? These questions need to be asked as the level of consumption and the drinking patterns associated can change the physical characteristics of your brain.

Here at Cassiobury Court, the aim of our alcohol rehabilitation programme is to of course, remove your cravings and desire for drinking. Our dedicated team will help you to set goals to achieve your long-term recovery from alcohol addiction, helping you to live a happier and healthier life free from substance abuse.

We understand that when you leave our alcohol rehab and return home, you’re at risk of relapsing, particularly within the first 12 months. Whilst relapsing can be fairly common, it’s something we’d like to avoid through our relapse prevention sessions and ongoing aftercare programme. Especially during this early period of recovery, we certainly wouldn’t recommend that you drink alcohol in moderation.

If you’ve slipped back into old ways we one of our expert consultants here at Cassiobury Court will be on hand to advise you further. You can contact us at Cassiobury Court on 01923 369 161, or text HELP to 83222.

John Gillen

John Gillen - Author Last updated: 30th January 2023

John Gillen is a leading addiction treatment expert with over 15 years of experience providing evidence-based treatment methods for individuals throughout the UK. John also co-authors the book, The Secret Disease of Addiction, which delves into how the addictive mind works and what treatment techniques work best.