Successful drinking after sobriety…

Successful drinking after sobriety

Dear Stanton,

I am a 42-year-old woman who has struggled with alcoholism for most of my adult life. It all began after the tragic loss of my brother when I was in my early twenties, and I turned to alcohol as a means to numb the pain. My drinking quickly spiralled out of control and I began to lose everything – my job, relationships, and even my self-worth.

During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time assessing and evaluating my life priorities and with the help of some online resources and support from my sisters, I have finally managed to get my drinking under control. I have been completely sober now for almost 18 months and my life has improved tremendously. I am now ‘back on my feet’ with a stable job and a supportive network of friends and family.

Despite my progress, I am still haunted by the question: is it possible for me to enjoy an occasional drink without relapsing into my old habits? My friends and family often enjoy a glass of wine or a beer during social gatherings, and I can’t help but feel left out. I’ve heard stories of people who have successfully reintegrated alcohol into their lives after achieving sobriety, but I am unsure if this is the right path for me.

I’m torn between wanting to fit in and enjoy a casual drink with my loved ones, and the fear of risking my hard-earned sobriety. Stanton, can you please shed some light on this subject? Is successful drinking after sobriety achievable, or am I doomed to a life of total abstinence? I eagerly await your guidance.


Dear Svetlana,

I appreciate the good thinking and effort you put into restoring your life in relation to drinking.

Let me make three points from the outset.

  1. I don’t use the terms “sobriety” or “recovery” to mean “abstinence.” You properly define “recovery” quite well this way: “I am now ‘back on my feet’ with a stable job and a supportive network of friends and family.”
  2. If the question is “Do many people with drinking problems/alcoholism resume drinking at some level?” the answer is “Yes, probably a majority do over their lifetime’s
  3.  If the question is “Can/should I resume drinking in a non problematic way?” my answer is “I can’t answer that question for you.”

The way you begin to answer that question for yourself is to use the kind of good thinking and the efforts you have made to re-establish a strong rock foundation for your life. Again, well done. That is an effort that deserves admiration, especially self-admiration. That strong foundation is your recovery. It is something you have no desire to give up.

The next issue to consider (which you are already doing) is whether resuming drinking at some level will add value to your life by creating new opportunities for intimacy, support, sharing, self-discovery and other values you seek.

And those are your values, no one else’s.

I might suggest the following guidelines working within that framework.

  1. Experiment mindfully. Try drinking out and see how it works for you. You are a sensible person who knows how to make that judgment.
  2. You have family and friends you value — discuss your drinking with them and, if possible, gain their support in whatever efforts to drink that you make.
  3. Don’t panic. If the results are less good than you hoped, retrench — you already know how to quit drinking.
  4. This is a long-term project. You have already substantially reshaped your life. Drinking is a minor accoutrement in that ongoing, never-ending process.

You have succeeded at eliminating alcohol as the be-all, determining factor in your world. You have already accomplished that remarkable goal. Kudos!  You are now determining what place drinking may have within that larger reality.

As for anyone who tells you that you can’t or shouldn’t make such an effort, they seem not capable of imagining everything that you are or can be.

Their disapproval of your considering drinking is really a put down — a sign that they think you are less of a person than you have already shown yourself to be.

You are in control of that process of self-determination.

P.S – I recently talked about this very topic on our podcast, where we discuss how most people outgrow their addiction. Here is the video:

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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