If I feel I should abstain currently, can I ever resume drinking?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on October 23rd, 2010 - Last updated: June 22nd, 2023
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Dear Stanton:

I am trying to stop drinking, and not having much luck. I need to understand it better.

Is drinking too much progressive, or not? If I quit now, and start in a year, will I have gained nothing?


Dear Rocky:

You have two comments/questions:

  1. It is hard for you to quit drinking;
  2. If you quit, and begin drinking again, will your drinking quickly regain its previous levels?
    Underlying these questions are two assumptions, one explicit, the other implicit:
  3. Do drinking problems inevitably worsen?
    [and the implicit statement]
  4. It might be easier for you to quit now if you could look forward to resuming drinking later.

The answers to your questions and responses to your assumptions are:

  1. No, drinking problems do not inevitably worsen. More often than not, they improve. Two general factors will influence whether your drinking progresses or improves: (a) your age (most younger people — i.e., younger than 30 — reduce their drinking problems with age), (b) your ability to resolve life problems (e.g., relationships, intimacy, work, comfort with yourself, ways of filling your spare time constructively).
  2. Quitting for a time is one approach to reducing drinking. It gives you time to rethink and redirect your drinking, and to work on issues of personal development and comfort that often underlie problems with alcohol.
  3. But quitting, resuming, and finding that your problems with alcohol resurface is very informative. It tells you that, for the time being at least, you should “stay quit”; moderate drinking will be too hard for you to achieve.
  4. You can try drinking again after a time when you feel you have gotten better control of your life. But the knowledge that you can quit if you need to provides you with powerful feelings of self-control. Keep in mind, you can always decide to throw out your anchor and abstain. The issue is being able to monitor and evaluate your behavior and your drinking. Developing this skill is valuable whether you are abstaining or not.
  5. As you can tell, I don’t believe in denial. I believe some people are obtuse — they can’t perceive that they are getting in trouble. But you seem to be tuned in to what is happening to you. That’s good.

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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