Can An Alcoholic Drink In Moderation?

Alcohol use disorders (AUD) are characterized by the inability to moderate alcohol consumption. As a result, drinking in moderation is not a realistic expectation for many people who have experienced alcohol addiction in the past.

There are conflicting opinions on whether someone who has experienced alcohol dependence can drink in moderation after recovery.

While it is possible for some people to moderate their alcohol consumption after a prolonged period of abstaining from alcohol, there is a high risk of recurring alcohol problems.

The risk of relapse is high enough to cause most addiction recovery experts to caution people who experienced an alcohol use disorder against drinking alcohol even in moderate amounts.

A Scientific Definition Of Alcohol Use Disorders (AUD)

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an alcohol use disorder is a medical condition that results in the impaired ability to moderate or stop alcohol use.

This impairment can have genetic and environmental factors, but the primary mechanism results from the cognitive effects of alcohol.

By activating the brain’s reward center and causing an artificial spike in neurotransmitters like dopamine, alcohol causes feelings of relaxation, sociability, and pleasure.

Over time, alcohol abuse can cause the brain to produce less dopamine in an attempt to regulate the person’s brain chemistry, causing them to crave alcohol when dopamine levels are low.

What Is Considered Moderate Alcohol Use?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines moderate alcohol use as two drinks or less per day for males and one drink or less per day for females.

The CDC defines a drink as:

  • 12 ounces of beer with 5% ABV
  • 5 ounces of wine with 12% ABV
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor with 7% ABV
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits with 40% ABV

It is important to keep in mind that a single alcoholic beverage that contains multiple types of alcohol or multiple shots almost certainly does not count as one drink according to the CDC’s dietary guidelines.

The Risks Of Engaging In Alcohol Use With A Pre-Existing AUD

The cognitive changes that accompany heavy drinking have long-term effects, and it frequently takes people years to see positive changes in their brain chemistry and function.

As a result, someone who has a history of alcohol addiction is very likely to fall into the same harmful drinking patterns if they attempt to engage in any alcohol use.

Even a small amount of alcohol can trigger the same mechanisms that made it impossible for them to regulate alcohol intake before, resulting in cravings, preoccupation, and other withdrawal symptoms.

People who have been in recovery for a prolonged period of time (at least five years) may be less likely to relapse with moderation management, but it is still a risk that should be taken seriously.

Debates In The Addiction Treatment Community

The general consensus in the addiction treatment community is that people with a history of a substance abuse disorder should completely quit drinking due to the risk of recurring addiction.

However, addiction treatment specialists and other healthcare providers do understand that abstinence is not always a realistic goal for every client with a history of problematic drinking behavior.

In these cases, the primary goal is to reduce the risk of harm and health problems through controlled drinking following a period of abstinence during the alcohol treatment program.

Harm reduction will center on helping the client learn coping skills and other tools to moderate usage with the aim of reducing health risks and other negative consequences, including heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, and driving under the influence.

Ask About Alcohol Addiction Treatment At Spring Hill

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, we can help you start your recovery journey. Contact Spring Hill Recovery Center in Massachusetts to learn more about our addiction treatment facilities.

  1. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC)
  2. National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA)
  3. National Public Radio (NPR)
  4. The Washington Post

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

Published on: February 21, 2024

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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