Leaving AA – Moderate Drinking 20 years on

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on January 31st, 2010 - Last updated: April 17th, 2023
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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.


  • liza says:

    thanks for the comments :). I have nine years of continuance sobriety and during the covid 19 pandemic I stopped making meetings for two and a half years. no in person naturally and maybe a few zoom meetings here and there. I was an active member in AA, but something happened to me during that time span that some would identify as Being “deprogrammed”. I didn’t relapse, had no desire to drink, and my life didn’t spiral in to a chaotic hell, I actually found a peace and serenity that I longed for being in AA. all of the anxiety, stress, feelings of being on edge and guarded for one reason or another in the fellowship were removed. My emotional and spiritual growth has skyrocketed to a place now where I refuse to go back to the fellowship of AA. My life is at a place where I don’t need people to inflict fear, doubt, or negative comments. Do I need to constantly look over my shoulder for an evident relapse or condemnation because I don’t want the fellowship of AA to be my all in all? No, I don’t believe this. This is the part of AA I don’t understand. I mean respectfully why condemn someone to projected hellish outcomes for their future all because they want to move on with their life? I’m so much more than just a recovering alcoholic, and I refuse to continue to define my life with being labeled as such. Don’t get me wrong I’m grateful for my time in AA, I still choose sobriety,and have decided this is how I want to live my life, and I do believe I have a whole lot of life to live, tomorrow waits for no one, but to have someone openly say ” you’ll be back if you do it, to me in a room full of AA members, sounds very negatively black or white, but hey i guess that’s just their opinion, and this is my grateful,blessed,free and fearless, beautiful god given life, now watch me live it 🙂

  • 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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