Problem Drinking, Alcohol Abuser: Can You Just Cut Down, Or Return To Normal Drinking?

Can a problem drinker or alcohol user drink safely by controlling their drinking? This is not a simple question to answer, in that many do not understand the concepts of social use, substance abue and addiction. We will untangle these in this article.


man drinking pint in pubCan problem drinkers or alcohol abusers back up and continue with controlled drinking? It depends on what point in a time line we are looking at.

To answer this, we have to be very careful of terms used, let's follow the progression of use and consequences:

Social Drinker:

A social drinker drinks alcohol on occasion, but drinking does not occupy their thoughts. They can enjoy a drink, or take it or leave it. Leaving a half finished drink does not bother them in the least. There are no negative consequences as a result of their drinking, it does not cause any problems. There is no loss of control concerning actions or consequences relate to drinking. Neither family nor friends express concern about the drinking. It really is a non-issue.

Problem Drinker or Substance Abuser:

Usage has progressed to the point where some negative consequences occur. A prime example is getting a DUI, or tangled up in other legal problems like assault. There is no question that alcohol was abused and a bad consequence occurred because of the decision to risk lives drinking while impaired. Drinking in any situation where judgment and reflexes are needed for safety is abusing alcohol.

Drinking may start to occupy thoughts more frequently now, looking forward to and planning drinking. Use is more for effect. Drinking is starting to interfere with obligations of family, and work.

The substance abuser or problem drinker still has the ability to set limits and stick to them. This different from the social user who needs no limits and the alcoholic who cannot set limits and stick to them.

Negative consequences occur but are not repeated. Complaints by family and friends are heard and dealt with.

A good example is someone getting their first DUI, being properly embarrassed, and vowing to never drink and drive again; and they don't. There is no question drinking caused a problem but they dealt with it. They have not yet 'crossed the line' into alcohol addiction or alcoholism.

Therefore it is possible for a problem drinker to back off into social use. However, if there is a progression noted, almost always the progression will get worse.

Alcoholism, Alcohol Addiction:

A primary characteristic of alcoholism is the loss of control over drinking. By definition, an alcoholic cannot return to controlled drinking.

We now know that changes in the brain occur at the neuron level which is not reversible. The old Alcoholics Anonymous concept of 'crossing the line and not going back' has now been proven true. They state the great delusion of every alcoholic is to once again drink like a normal person.

In addition to loss of control, we start to see tolerance, withdrawal, and drinking more over longer periods than we had intended. A prime characteristic is that an alcoholic cannot quit despite efforts to do so, and they continue to drink despite knowing there are negative consequences.

Can a problem drinker control their drinking? That really depends on how far down the road they are.

Bonus Tip:

And now for a statement of the blindingly obvious, the only safe solution to end problems associated with drinking is to stop drinking completely.

Bill Urell

Bill Urell is an addictions therapist at a leading residential treatment center. He teaches healthy life styles and life skills as a component of holistic addictions treatment. His websites cover areas of professional and personal interests.

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