Someone asked the other day: “Can an alcoholic learn to drink in moderation successfully?’
I will take a stand on this issue and say that the alcoholic cannot learn to drink successfully. They cannot learn to moderate. I am sure that there are people out there who would argue otherwise, and I even know of at least one organization that claims to teach moderation to alcoholics, but my personal opinion is that it cannot be done.
First of all, we have a definition in the question. We use the word “alcoholic.” Now, what is an alcoholic?
That is really what the whole thing boils down to right there. Because in my book, an alcoholic is defined–not as someone who greatly abuses alcohol–but as someone who would cannot figure out how to live successfully, with or without alcohol.
Most people in AA, you will notice, define alcoholism as “someone who cannot stop drinking without help.” If a person can quit drinking on their own, then most people in AA dismiss them as not being “true alcoholics of the hopeless variety.”
So really, many of the definitions out there sort of dismiss those who can moderate. If they can learn to moderate their drinking, they were never an alcoholic to begin with! At least that is the logic that most people in recovery approach the idea with.
The thing is, most alcoholics, if not all alcoholics, actually can moderate their drinking, if they try really, really hard. They can limit themselves to one or two drinks per night, and not fly off the handle. But when they do this, a couple of things are going on:
1) They very much want to get hammered, deep down inside.
2) They are holding in their emotions, and so they sort of build up like a pressure cooker because they normally rely on booze to medicate their emotions, but now that they are “controlling it,” they are not getting any emotional relief.
3) They are not having any fun while drinking. It is a massive chore for them to drink while not going nuts with it and getting tanked.
4) They always eventually go on a bender with a “full relapse.”
Here is the definition of an alcoholic that actually works: when they moderate their drinking, they don’t have any fun. When they have fun with their drinking, they cannot control it. Period. There is no healthy in-between choice there. It is all or nothing. They are either holding it all back and gritting their teeth and resenting the fact that they cannot get hammered, or they are getting hammered.
Nothing in between. This very much describes the alcoholic.
So if someone learns how to moderate successfully, and they can drink one alcoholic drink per day, without ever going over, and they stay in good spirits and are not secretly resenting their need to control their alcohol intake, then that person is not a true alcoholic. If they were an alcoholic at one time, then they have been fully cured of their alcoholism, and should be studied as a medical marvel.
See, any alcoholic can drink one drink per day. Any alcoholic can do this for a short while and get away with it. They might put on a show to convince themselves or others that they are normal. But what happens over a year or two, when they are trying to control it the whole time? If they go overboard even once, then you have your answer. They are addicted, and any control that they seemed to have was an illusion.
Complete abstinence works great. Ask for help, go seek treatment, find real freedom.