Leaving AA – Moderate Drinking 20 years on

I matured into moderate drinking 20 years after leaving AA; is this possible?


Alcoholism is described by AA as a progressive disease which progresses even during long periods of abstinence. After 20 years of abstinence, 6 months ago I started to drink again. I did not go insane, go to jail or die, as AA taught me I would with the first drink. In fact I am finding drinking to be a pleasant social activity. Out of curiosity I monitor myself and find that I have not had more than 3 drinks on any one day, and that there at least 3 non-drinking days in each week. I have also just recently graduated as a drug and alcohol counselor, where it was difficult to discuss moderation at all. Is it possible that the so-called “Maturing Out” phenomenon is also progressive, and that it can in fact take place during a prolonged period of abstinence???? If not I have no explanation for my own experience, except a profound change in my emotional and psychological outlook on life.


Dear Michael:

In order to answer your question fully, I would need to know your drinking levels and patterns before joining AA. In other words, certain patterns of problem drinking can be moderated fairly readily, and you might have been able to do so instead of wasting time at AA. More severe alcohol dependence requires some time. This time does not need to be spent practicing drinking moderately (as a purely behavioral approach suggests). In other words, the magical purposes which alcohol serves for some individuals can simply fade into the background as they mature emotionally, develop alternative gratifications, and lose the desire to modify their consciousness. Indeed, this is really what maturing out is about.

Best, Stanton

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.


  • Jane says:

    Thanks for the discussion here. I can relate. I was a full-fledged AA member for 6 years during a very difficult time in my 30s in which I experienced much isolation and loneliness. The program and groups helped me break out of isolation; they grounded me, calmed my anxiety, helped me self-reflect, helped me grieve, made me accountable and in this way, supported me to make many life changes. I was very immature, dependent, with few coping skills or boundaries or self-care and had never heard people openly discuss emotions or problems before. I used alcohol as a way to fit in, to loosen up, to cope with loneliness and insecurity, numb painful feelings, and block out reality. The practice of beginning to look at and find my adult Self, feel/share my emotions and rely on others was helpful in developing better coping skills. After 6-7 years in both AA and therapy, I traveled, got married, started a family, and went to college… As I drifted away from my involvement in the AA program. I branched out, picked up new interests, joined a liberal non-dogmatic church as part of my social support and had a great career in the schools working with kids and families. I stayed abstinent, without AA, for 20 more years, through a divorce, death of my parents, moves, retirement and all other life stressors because I no longer needed alcohol. The practice of saying NO to alcohol for 26 years helped me develop much-needed boundaries and a better sense of Self. I am now in my late 60s. I feel I have ¨matured out¨ and accomplished everything I wanted in my life. I am happy, secure, free and fulfilled, have great friends and family, and am able to deal with whatever comes along. For the last 4-5 years, I have relaxed my rigid abstinence and allowed myself to enjoy an occasional glass in the company of others. I feel no guilt, no doubt, no need or compulsion to consume more. I believe sobriety helped me gain skills that replaced the need to numb out. With my alcohol issues resolved, I find a sober, mature lifestyle no longer requires strict abstinence. I would not recommend this to anyone in the program, however, it is true for me.

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