Is moderate drinking after AA a possibility?

Moderate Drinking After AA

At the Life Process Program, we believe it is!

Read these emails the Life Process Program has received from AA members seeking advice:

Dear Stanton:

I have been clean and sober in NA and AA for over 10 years, relapsed into chronic heroin addiction for 6 years prior to that. I am 36 now, have been involved in the 12 steps since the age of 20…so lots of meetings.

Funny thing is, I now have no access to meetings, haven’t been for 10 months, haven’t gone mad or depressed, am a senior executive with a lovely home life.

I still don’t drink because I am terrified I will descend back into hell. I am not the same person I was, love my life, respect myself, have a hold on spirituality and my moral code, surely I can enjoy a champagne toast or lovely wine with dinner. I am sick and tired of attending events and not joining the evening, pretending I really don’t want a drink, when in fact I would love one.

Dinners and celebrations are just hell for me, because I get resentful not being able to enjoy. I don’t want to wipe myself out, get drunk, bury my feelings, I would simply like to enjoy the meal compliment of good wine, or unwind with my peers.

I will forever be grateful for AA and NA, I would truly be dead by now, and feel a certain obligation to carry the message, which I always would, but can I move on now? That is the question. My friends in the program tell me because I was so chronic in addiction, I would have a good chance of reverting. I have seen many do that, with as much going for them as me.

Any thoughts? Were you ever an alcoholic or addict yourself? Do you see the merit in AA and NA for as long as it works?

Look forward to your response.

Dear Ellen:

I can’t tell you that AA/NA didn’t help you — either it did, or it was there for you when you got better. Either way, it deserves your appreciation. How you proceed from here on in is still for you to determine. Obviously, you have found, continued 12-step attendance is not necessary for you.

The issue of whether you can break your AA abstinence vow is more complicated, but it is still up to you, of course, and many do. Oddly, even some people who support and encourage controlled drinking rule it out for successful AA members. I don’t. Although perhaps AA is better suited for those who will achieve stable abstinence compared with those who are capable of achieving moderate drinking, there is also some overlap between these groups. And you are very different, as you know, at 36 from how you were at age 20.

The very most important thing for you to understand is that, whether or not you can be a successful holiday “toaster,” or a moderate drinker of any type, you can always be sober. You have shown that you have the impulse for that. Any experimenting with drinking you do will provide you with feedback about what is possible, and you can use this information constructively — in other words, even if “tippling” is not for you, you will see that you should resume abstinence as your best strategy for now. And, you know what? Even if abstinence works at 36, that’s no guarantee it will be best at 45. Human beings have that “power” — that capacity for growth.

Here is the story of one man — also a heroin addict as well as alcoholic — who not only did what you hope to do, but actually continues to attend AA!


Hello Dr Peele,

This is not a question per say, but a thank you for your website, to know I am not alone in my feelings, thoughts, and actions over the last year. I read what Ellen wrote to you and it was as if I were hearing my own words.

I got sober at the age of 23; an addict and alcoholic I very much was. I saw no other way of life for myself. AA saved my life, and the foundation for my life and for my spirituality rests in the heart and arms of AA. Over a period of 7 years I grew into the person that I am today, and continue to grow in spirituality and in mind, and continue to use the tools that AA gave me, taught me, etc. At 30 years old though, I truly believed that I was a different person than I was at 15, 19, 22, and 23.

I somehow, through the grace of God, fixed within me what was broken.

After debating, talking to others, and truly thinking for about a year of going back out…I did. I have found that I do not drink in the same way as I once did, or for the same reasons, and certainly not as frequently. I was so scared to go back out because the fear of loosing everything I had gained in the last 7 years was very strong, as they teach you in AA…everything that was going through my mind about wanting to drink again, or feeling like I could drink again…was exactly what they said I would be thinking.

I now feel that I am in a catch 22 though, because the part of AA that I do miss is the fellowship, the family…that whole part of it. But I do not have a desire to stop drinking and nor do I feel that alcohol has any control over my life. I am wondering if there are others out there like myself, others who have gone back out after extended sobriety and after working the steps, and have found that alcohol does not affect them like it once did, yet they still miss the fellowship of AA. If so, can you tell me how to contact such a group or such people?

Thanks again,

Dear Kara:

Thank you for sharing. It does seem lonely where you are at. But, as indicated by Ellen, obviously there are others. My best suggestion is to seek fellowship among people who are most like you as you are now. You will find some of them share backgrounds of compulsive behavior like you have experienced, although probably not in exactly the same form. But you will serve yourself best by representing yourself most clearly as who you are now.

Very best,


The Life Process Program is a treatment program developed by renowned addiction expert Dr. Stanton Peele to provide an alternative option to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  Dr Peele also answers a number of other 12-step questions in the Ask Stanton section of our website.

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.


  • Joyce Santo says:

    Was sober for almost 25 years have been drinking I would say successfully for 3 but I do miss the meetings.

  • Piotr says:

    I don’t think I can safely drink alcohol again. My drinking career was very brief, 16 months, starting at age 63. I quit 27 years of drug abuse thanks to NA and figured I had addiction licked. Well, when I realized I was drinking on average a bottle of vodka a day I accepted I had a big problem. So instead of going to NA, I go to AA for self preservation. Spring is coming and I need a clear head to operate my business. I agree AA is not for everyone and some people are able to drink in moderation post AA, but I am not one of them.

  • Mandochi says:

    I had been sober in A.A. for 4 years. I started questioning some things about the program just like others have mentioned here. I worked the program very hard for the first two years. In the meantime, I started going back to school. I moved and I also got a new job. Everything was getting better but sometimes the commitments stressed me out. I felt so pressured by everything I had to do to be considered a ‘good member’. I started missing meetings once I moved. What I found was that I could stay sober even though they said I couldn’t. I stayed sober for a long time after. I started seeing all these people around me doing drugs and drinking. I wanted to be able to go out to a concert or to other events with friends and have some drinks. I did it a few nights ago. I went to a big concert that had a lot of people I knew at it. I had some drinks and had a blast. I’d like to be able to drink socially. I never want to drink every day again. AA helped me a lot by providing support and structure but I believe I have outgrown their philosophies.

  • Mikhail says:

    I walked in the doors of A.A. over 4 years ago. I am completely grateful for all that it has given me and as of Saturday I will officially be departing with a lovey lunch and small glass of sangria. I do not feel I was a full blown alcoholic ever. Mind you the genetics are surely there. I did not drink for over 20 years of my life. Through some life changes including the death of my mother who was my best friend I became quite well acquainted with bottles of wine. No amount could take the pain away completely however it helped me until it no longer did. AA and the people I met there guided me and showed me other paths. Later they insisted that was the only path or I would die and lose everything. I knew of someone in the past number of years who went back to drinking, was rejected by his people in the fellowship- shunned. He killed himself. People in A.A. help other alcoholics when they are demonstrating the accepted and taught behaviors. This has been bothering me since 11 months in. I went back to working in an office I instead of working from home without a meeting in sight for 20 miles. My sponsor at the time said my dialing into multiple AA meetings everyday was not good enough. I switched sponsors and the same thing occurred over and over. It was recommended that I change jobs. My response was I have a career. The answer was to pray and put God first. Needless to say I’m quite done with this. Grateful for the experience and ready to move on. Not looking to drink my sorrow away. Just want to enjoy normal things and not fear being shunned by people for the decisions I make. AA was great thru 90 steps in 90 days but when you finish and ask what next and the answer is to keep doing that till you die – well that’s not an answer or a life. I no longer want to live in the middle of the boat in fear with all of the other lemmings.

  • Julie says:

    I’m so appreciative for this website. I’ve been sober for three years now and am thinking of trying to try moderate drinking. My life has completely changed after entering the rooms of AA and I am forever grateful. I have tremendous fear of going back to the way I was, every day drinker… black out drunk. Drinking to forget. Today I have a nice job that I am so grateful for, a home and a nice car. My thinking has dramatically changed, however I still take antidepressant medication and would like to consult my doctor before making any hasty decisions. I heard of a medication that you can take an hour before drinking that’s helps you to moderate your drinking consumption. I’ll need to have a plan set in place though going forward, I’ve thought of doing TMS therapy as well and reading articles, or join a moderate drinking group. Any suggestions?

  • Stephanie Parsons says:

    I like this conversation. I have been sober for about a year and a half and was doing well until some serious stresses hit one on top of the other recently. I too was programmed that ‘abstinence is the only way’ and did indeed struggle with ‘self medication’ with alxohol for insomnia for many, many years before taking the plunge, quitting drinking and finding that I slept a lot better, functioned a lot better and generally enjoyed life more. All the help and support I received was NOT through AA or other fellowships (I find them cultish and judgemental) but rather through Smart groups and loads of other groups and a great peer network of others in addiction and in recovery. I was convinced by mentors that I was an alcoholic (and believed it – but mainly because it made me feel somewhat Ill rather than a ‘life wrecker’). I didn’t hurt anyone (other than myself) so I stopped my nightly ‘medicine’ and threw myself wholeheartedly into the groups and my wonderful peer network. Through these people, and my wonderful counsellor, I have learnt why I drank, why I was afraid to stop and have grown a helluva lot psychologically. I don’t regret my involvement in the ‘recovery community’. However, like a lot of people who’ve posted here, I have always questioned whether I was/am an alcoholic. And I have always mentally rebelled at the notion that I can ‘never have another drink as long as I live!’. One of my mentors often says, ‘you may need to go out to do some more research’ and I appreciate his words. Because there are times when those of us who are super hyper, get ourselves wound up with stress and panic etc may actually – wait for it – need a couple of drinks to regain equilibrium. I don’t know. All I know is that I’m having a couple of drinks tonight after a year and a half of sobriety and I’m giving myself permission not to be wracked with guilt about it. It might be a terrible mistake or it might be the occasional relaxation I need when I get really stressed out and panicky. I do know for sure that there are many, many people out there who really can’t touch a drink again for the rest of their days, I’m just not entirely convinced I’m one of them. I will let you know how this ‘experimental research’ goes. But for tonight I am going to slow down my overactive brain and allow myself to relax. Tomorrow’s another story….watch this space….

  • Bert says:

    I’ve tested the waters (so to speak) after 8 years of continuous sobriety in AA. On 3 separate occasions I had 3 -4 drinks in a couple of hours and had no cravings or desire to continue. I have changed so much as a person in the past 8 years. The spiritual aspects of life that I have learned in AA have provided me with a better job, a wonderful wife and children but I had to find out if I needed to continue to fear alcohol. I feel as though all my reasons for drinking are gone. Alcohol used to temporarily solve my problems. Now I turn my problems over and do the best a can in any situation. I plan to drink occasionally. If I ever find myself loosing control I know where to go.

  • Sarah says:

    My issue is extremely personal, but I’m hoping to receive feedback from someone who has experienced the same situation. I have 10 years 4 months sober. I used rehab and AA in the beginning to stop my binge drinking…I never binged for days in succession – just drank until black out when I did during the last years before getting sober. I stopped attending meetings a couple years ago because as I’ve grown spiritually I’ve realized that my words are powerful, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life saying, “I’m sarah and I’m an alcoholic “ – I feel that over the last 10 years I’ve grown to be so much more than that label. My problem is that without alcohol, my desire for sex with my husband is nonexistent. For most of my adult life alcohol was part of every sexual interaction, and it seems that without it my inhibitions are extremely difficult to overcome. My husband and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary soon and I’d like to be able to make love with him…he has supported me through everything, but this one area has caused expected problems at times in our relationship. I’m considering drinking again just to be able to give him this gift, but all of my years in AA have me terrified to try. Any thoughts or suggestions?

  • Nicole says:

    Would like to reply to folks on here who got sober young, have been sober now for many years and are considering drinking because “they were different then.” I grew up in an A.A. home. My entire family consists of sober or drinking alcoholics, so I believe I have a genetic predisposition. Anyway, got sober at 23. After 20 years sober, stopped going to meetings; have had a good, rewarding career helping others, and a flourishing social life. After I stopped going to meetings, started toying with the idea of drinking again, thinking that maybe I had been too young when I got sober. Eventually, I drank. The first time nothing happened. It was boring, stupid, actually…three lousy drinks and no desire for more. A couple of weeks later, I was in a place where there was drinking and I really laid into it hard…for the following two weeks I drank more intensely than I ever had at 19, 20, 21, 22, before getting sober. I was drinking a fifth of gin a night and wanting more; was essentially in a blackout for most of those two weeks and felt the beginnings of some kind of psychosis or DT’s. Had terrible withdrawals in the form of palpitations and panic attacks. The craving was stronger than ever. I was trying to control it the way I had when I’ stopped at twenty-three, but the lack of control was much greater this time, the consumption far more and because I’ve built up a life, had a lot more to lose. I have 53 days back and am holding on by my fingernails even though I am pretty active, with a sponsor, etc. If you are anything like me, by drinking again, you risk great damage and loss, great destruction, greater addiction and more “Incomprehensible demoralization” than ever.

  • Bek says:

    I’m so glad I found this website. I’m coming up 5 yers sober in AA nxt week and I’ve been questioning AA and it’s dogma on and off over these 5 yrs. Reading these posts I am comforted by the fact that every body is different, there is no one hard and fast rule for everyone but AA says there is! It feels like a dogma like every other religion. Ive read so many people say they were afraid to go back out because it’s drummed into you that alcolism is a progressive disease and you will loose evrthing you have if you go back out. I just don’t think that is true and I’m not enjoying the black and white fear mongering that goes on in the rooms inadvertently.
    Ive been thinking about going back out because I believe that I have changed so much and I now value my life, I would like to have 1 drink because it’s a nice wine and enjoy it leaving it at one. Or celebrate with a glass of champagne with the other normal people. I was in a bad place when I came into AA and I needed to stop drinking and sort myself out. Now I’ve started that journey I’m in such a different place. Maybe it’s not possible for every one, maybe there is such a thing as a true alcoholic with a physical allergy but I don’t think it’s true for every one that goes to AA.
    I’m so glad I have found this website

  • David says:

    I started AA in 1999 after negative consequences of alcohol. I was sober for eight years and then tried to drink socially. Most of the time there was no problem. Yet, I found that at times , I would unintentionally have more to drink than I had planned. I continued this for 10 years and although I have been very successful in most my life and have not lost everything , periodic failures have had a negative impact on my marriage. While I don’t drink every day or abuse alcohol every time, I did find I need to place some rules on myself.

    As the big book says, I tried all types of methods, including limiting drinks, drinking only only at certain times, certain places or certain drinks. To ensure that drinking did not I have a negative impact, I have stopped drinking, many times for 30, 60, 90 days or more.

    I will have to say that any guilt of wrongs or perceived wrongs on my part has been devastating to me. All of the effort , rules and thought put into staying within the bounds has been a little exhausting. While I believe I have made great progress and having a “normal“ life while drinking socially, it has been hard work. I have come to wonder whether it is worth the effort.

    I am very self-aware and as I see my friends act and interact, I know that I don’t always view alcohol in the same way that they do. Most can drink one and leave it Or take it and leave it all together at any point in time. I find at times that while I may be drinking with the proper balance, I have to be aware. I also find that, at times, if I am honest, I am not interested in just one drink.

    I appreciate this thread because it touches on what I have been thinking about for a while. I wish there were a group that came together to discuss these issues honestly. At the moment , For me, it is just too much work. Having said that, I really wish it were not.

  • Tim Catchwald says:

    I was in AA for several years and was sober for most of it. I thought I had a handle on it and wanted to drink again so I began with my toe in the water. It didn’t take very long but i ended up back to my old habits and was drinking again. Moderation didn’t work for me so It’s back to the AA rooms.

  • Tim says:

    Stanton, This question of moderate drinking after (or during) AA should be discussed more often. I am a 61 year old male who found myself in an AA meeting in 2009 after 36 years of heavy drinking. I would never say that AA “saved my life.” AA did change my life. Looking back, I can say for myself, that acknowledging the first step in AA has been, and continues to be, the most important action. One can argue all he/she wants about whether or not I am an alcoholic as described in the “Big Book.” I was exactly the worst type of alcoholic as described in the “Doctor’s Opinion.” What I learned in the rooms of AA is that there are not that many who come to meetings that have more than 10 years. I have met so many incredibly sick alcoholics who came in the rooms and discovered a way to gain power over their lives and alcohol, continue to drink, and still attend meetings. I live in a large metropolitan area and many of the people I know in AA are not abstinent. Very few folks readily admit this in meetings. I find it interesting that there is no place in the 12 Steps of AA that says, “We agree to abstain from alcohol.” There are many places in the “Big Book” that state alcohol is only secondary. I found that once I had some control and understanding of my primary issues I could drink moderately. This is not true for everyone! It is true for many! How do you know? Well, if you trust yourself to experiment on a private level, you can soon find out. It is all a mental game and often a challenge. For myself, I believe that simply meeting with other folks who abstain or moderate allowed me to “learn” to be responsible for my drinking. There is no doubt in my mind that AA may save lives. There is also no doubt that AA can provide a step to changes lives. Remarkably, Step One can lead to a revelation about self that makes the other eleven steps unnecessary for many.

  • crb says:

    I think it is possible to go back out after having an addiction problem. I used AA and rehab to help me get clean (drugs were my main issue and i have the utmost respect for those programs, as i needed them at the time because i was a mess. I found a life that was filled with love, utility and meaning. I changed my entire perspective on everything, and i work daily at shifting perspective. I decided to drink socially again, and have been doing so for 2 years without any issue. When times are rough, i do not drink, i sit in stress and tough times and muddle through them and work on my perspective. My relationship with alcohol is very healthy, if it becomes unhealthy and i lose control i will stop and i know exactly what signs to look for. But knowing these signs allows me to tailor how i use it, under what circumstances i will drink, and i do not make exceptions to how i drink, or when i drink. If i am in a good mood and want to socialize with a friend, i will have a drink. If things are well in the world and i want to have a few drinks at night, i do so. I do not use it to medicate, only to add to my experience. I think its totally possible to do successfully, however it takes the right mindset- perspective and intention are the keys. In the two years i have been enjoying alcohol again i have not had any issues with it, i do not get drunk (aside from one wedding where i gave my self permission too). It has caused zero issues in my life- i do not crave it, i can stop when i want, and have zero “obsessions ” to use other drugs.

  • Tracie says:

    I was sober for well over a year and went out one night and had a few drinks! I was lucky I didn’t crave or even want to have a drink the following day, I have done this off and on 4 times and never drinking what was my poison – but other drinks – I didn’t drink as I did before I just drank to feel a little mellow and stopped, this would of never happened before in the height of my out of control drinking which I ended up in rehab to get sober as I physically couldn’t without seizures – but my husband is worried and scared as he can not go through my drinking again and I’m in a mess now to what to do, I don’t want to lie to him and to be honest I’m not that bothered even about drinking but it’s having that choice and when is the time you can or can’t – I’m so confused every site / books have said alcoholics can never drink again! But have I don’t this and I’m fine or is it over confidence ? Help
    People I’m so confused x

  • Richard Oliver says:

    I started drinking again after a back injury and 14 years of continuous sobriety.

  • Rob says:

    I am curious to hear from anyone who may have been in AA who decided to drink about once/year with no problem. I love AA and it helped me get sober, but I drink about once a year and am curious about other experiences.

  • Tonan says:

    I walked in to AA nearly 2 and a half years ago when I had enough of being drunk all the time and being a disappointment to my family. I have always and still have a great career, never been unemployed, never had a DUI or been incarcerated in my life; but things were going to take a turn from bad to worse if I didn’t get a grip on things when I did. The first 6 months in AA were great; I got healthy again and began to feel like myself again and went back out for a 3 day drinking binge which ended with a feeling of terrible guilt and remorse. I returned to AA, picked up a new white chip and got a sponsor. I worked the program to the best of my ability and learned valuable life skills and have grown up a lot. I am nearly 2 years sober this time and feel much more alive and free not attending meetings anymore. I cannot subscribe to being helpless or powerless, neither do I appreciate labels. I also do not want to be an AA old timer as too many of them are pompous, lonely arrogant losers with untreated mental illness. I will always credit AA for providing a bridge back to my life and I honestly believe someday I will drink responsibly; but I am years away from that day; I still have a lot to learn about myself and living life on life’s terms.

  • alish says:

    My husband is alcoholic n is affecting our family life. Our children are still a child n when he come back drinking he behave like n animal. I don’t know why can’t he stop drinking when he say I am not gonna drink
    Please help

  • Sue says:

    I went to AA years ago once in awhile at different times, only a meeting here and there. I like the 12 steps. I like that some discussions I could relate to. What I did not like was the judgement I felt any time I tried AA at different locations, years etc. It honestly made me feel this shame based feeling and worse about myself…which ultimately made me fell like I wanted to drink out of rebellion and the shame. I had people who did not even know me, I didn’t even share my story and they would walk up to me and tell me I was an alcoholic. I think there are different levels. Some people are major alcoholics. Some binge drink at times and abuse alcohol. Some are social drinkers and moderate. I was in-between and needed to find that out for myself and not have judgment, shame and label put on me. So, I have stopped on my own for 48 days. I drank one glass of wine last night and honestly felt a bit guilty. But I am going to try to the moderate route first and see how things work. I actually didn’t even really care anymore for the glass of wine last night nor the buzzed feeling it made me feel when I was present for 48 days. I also have been an athlete in the past. I think everyone has to find the road that is best for them and no one can tell another if they are an alcoholic, abuse alcohol etc. That is something that comes from within. It is too bad that all my experiences with AA were like that cause I really like the 12 steps. So I do the 12 steps on my own and refer to then Moderation Management website and SMART website and combine the programs to have spirituality, moderation with responsible drinking or no drinking and exercise with good diet and adding hobbies and activities that don’t involve going to a bar and drinking. I feel I have come to a stronger place and it feels right for me. I think God has been working with me. With the original post, i think it is sad that you couldn’t go back to AA because you are a moderate drinker. Not because of you personally, but reinforcement of the fact that you would possibly get people at AA making you feel terrible for being a moderate drinker and what was right for you. If you can’t go back because of this, then the group might no longer be right for you and connect possibly with people from Moderation Management or Moderate Drinking and SMART and keep the foundation of what you learned in AA and the 12 steps of the spirituality. I wish you the best.

  • Serenity says:

    Yes I have had the exact same experience. I was an athlete and didn’t start drinking until 25. I only became a problem drinker in my 30s after I went through a very terrible time in my life. I was very depressed and anxious and went towards what would make me feel the best with the least possible effort. I thought that I was drinking too much even though others would beg to differ. I joined AA and it did absolutely nothing for me. I quit drinking on my own accord and attending meetings because I found a better source of comfort in helping other people and focusing less on my own problems. I do now go out and drink responsibly. I have no desire to drink to destruction as long as I am directing my energy to helping others. I really feel that all people in AA can drink responsibly once they figure out why they are drinking and get rid of the core of their problem. Whether it is insecurity, a fear of dying, a fear of the unknown….any insecurity stemming from the past. The past kept me in chains and once I let it go I didn’t want to continue to hurt myself…which all addicts want to do. So yes I feel people who once were problem drinkers can become controlled drinkers but of course it is only up to the person and they have to assess that themselves. But everyone does anything to an extreme for a reason.

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