How can I recapture social drinking?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on November 13th, 2010 - Last updated: September 29th, 2023
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Dear Dr. Peele:

I am a woman, over 40 years old. My exhusband and I divorced 3 years ago after 20 years of marriage. We used to drink a lot, specially the last years of our marriage. Almost every Friday evening I used to drink so much that I couldn’t drink any more, just find my way to my bed. I know I drank that much because it helped me to fly from a relation that was totally empty. During these years we couldn’t have a bottle of wine at home, and not drink it.

After our divorce, which was terrible, I continued to drink in the same way I was used to. During that time I met my new husband. After a while he told me that he couldn’t stand my drinking. He told me that his mother was an alcoholic and that he couldn’t live with me if I didn’t stop drinking. I promised him to try. At first it felt very empty when I couldn’t have wine during the weekends. But slowly I overcame the need to drink.

Now to the problem: Sometimes we want to go out and relax, have a couple of beers and have a god time. I am very shy and I dont think that I can relax if I don’t have something to drink. But the problem is that it often happens that I can’t control my drinking, I just can’t stop when I feel good. My husband use to say that I am no longer there with him and that I turn in to someone he doesn’t know and hardly can stand. My behavior has now started to destroy our relationship. We love each other very much and we don’t want to loose each other. I know that he will give me all support I need.

But am I really an alcoholic? I mean, I never feel an urge to drink, we have always wine at home, but I never even think about openin a bottle. What shall I do? We really like to go out and relax sometimes. My husband is very open and easygoing and use to have a nice time without anything to drink. I wish I was like that, but I’m not.


Dear Eva:

Yes, people often can resume drinking moderately, especially (as in your case) when they used to do so. This happens most frequently when people emerge from a bad situation (like your marriage). But, on the down side, when people drink for emotional purposes (as you do, to overcome shyness), they are more likely to get into trouble.

Right now, your own evidence is that you are having trouble drinking socially. Here is what you might do — take a course like “toastmasters” (where people practice making speeches) or some other opportunity to work on your being in public comfortably. In other words, when you lick that problem, you maybe able to overcome your overdrinking.

In the meantime, the equation is not working for you: drinking to be comfortable –> drinking problems. You may need to find other activities with your husband that don’t involve drinking, or being in public (like going for a walk or to the movies). But you can’t keep simply putting yourself in a situation where you can predict the result will be bad. You know this makes no sense. You say you value your marriage — will you sacrifice it to drinking in order to overcome shyness?

Maybe you have lost the ability to drink moderately, or it will take too much effort to recapture this ability. You are having a problem with the label “alcoholic” which is not very useful for you. The fact that you don’t yearn for alcohol at other times does not “prove” that you are a social drinker. The plan I have recommended here is that you (a) address the underlying problem leading to your overdrinking, (b) remove yourself from situations where you drink heavily, (c) monitor your behavior, so that you can see when, where, and how you are drinking in a bad way, and guide yourself accordingly, including possibly the need to abstain, either temporarily or for a longer period.

Best wishes,

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.

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