The Pros and Cons of Drinking After Alcohol Treatment
Alcoholism is a chronic brain disease. This means that, in one way or another, it exerts its effects for a lifetime. But what does this mean for the everyday actions of people affected by alcoholism? Can an alcoholic ever drink again? And if so, in what situations is this a possibility? The answers to these questions can have a major impact on your recovery from serious alcohol problems. They may also help determine your risks for a major alcohol relapse.
Abstinence Vs. Moderation for Alcoholism
There are two potential approaches to drinking for anyone affected by alcoholism. The first of these approaches is complete abstinence and avoidance of alcohol use. The second is moderation, also known as harm reduction.
Today, most alcohol treatment programs pursue abstinence as a recovery goal. In this model, you begin treatment by detoxing from alcohol and reaching an initial state of sobriety. Once sobriety is established, you transition from detox into an active alcohol treatment program. The goals of this kind of program include:
- Helping you avoid a relapse while in treatment
- Giving you a better picture of how addiction affects you
- Showing you how to change harmful habits that tend to support alcoholism
- Providing practical tips on how to stay alcohol-free when you leave your program
In contrast, some programs take a harm reduction approach. Participants in this kind of program may set long-term abstinence as a recovery goal. However, abstinence is not required. Instead, the goal is to limit the amount of alcohol you consume. In this way, you reduce your exposure to some of the problems associated with heavy drinking, including:
- Higher risks for a broad range of serious health problems
- Greater involvement in vehicle crashes and other kinds of accidents
- A reduced ability to meet important responsibilities
- Alcohol-related damage to your personal relationships
Can I Start Drinking Again After Rehab?
Can you drink in moderation again when you complete alcohol rehab? A more accurate question is should you start drinking again after rehab? As a rule, the answer to this question is no. If at all possible, you should abstain from using alcohol when your treatment ends.
Why? The key to this question lies in the nature of alcoholism as a chronic disease. This disease has three stages which form a closed cycle or loop. In order, these stages are known as:
- Negative affect/withdrawal
In the binge/intoxication stage, alcohol use leads to euphoria and other seemingly desirable effects. Seeking these effects, you start drinking excessively. In turn, repeated excessive drinking leads to the onset of addiction. This onset is marked by physical and psychological dependence. It is also marked by compulsive alcohol-seeking behavior.
In the negative affect/withdrawal stage, the rewards of alcohol use start to fade. They are replaced by unwanted effects that appear when your brain does not get its expected amount of alcohol. These effects, which take a physical and psychological form, are the classic signs of alcohol withdrawal. Soon, you find yourself drinking just to keep withdrawal at bay.
The preoccupation/anticipation stage occurs in people who stop drinking. After being abstinent for a while, you feel strong urges to drink again. Eventually, these cravings preoccupy your thoughts.
The Problems with Drinking and Decision Making
Why does this happen? Alcoholism damages the part of your brain responsible for making judgments and decisions. As a result, you have a reduced ability to control your thoughts or think rationally. When the preoccupation with alcohol becomes too great, you can easily relapse and return to excessive drinking. If that happens, the cycle of alcoholism starts all over again.
All of this helps explain why drinking in safe ways after alcoholism treatment can be an impossible goal. With the best of intentions, you may try to start drinking again in moderate amounts. But despite those intentions, you may simply be unable to control yourself. This is not your fault. It is simply a byproduct of the disease of alcoholism. Anyone affected by this disease could end up in the same situation sooner or later.
Moderate Drinking When Abstinence is Not Desired or Achievable
Despite these facts, some people with alcoholism do not pursue abstinence as a goal. In addition, some affected people try to stay abstinent but fail to do so. Is moderate drinking possible in these situations? Research shows that, in some cases, this may be the only workable approach. In fact, without pursuing harm reduction instead of abstinence, some affected drinkers might not receive treatment of any kind.
Are there benefits to reduced alcohol consumption in people with alcoholism? Yes. In fact, any significant reduction in your drinking can lower your overall health risks. Crucially, the more you cut back on alcohol, the greater the benefits available to you.
Does My Body Recover After Stopping Drinking?
When you abuse alcohol repeatedly, you can develop serious problems in systems throughout your body. Depending on your situation, such problems may include:
- Alcohol-related liver disease
- Brain damage
- Weakening of your heart muscle
- An irregular heartbeat
- A stroke
- Pancreas inflammation, or pancreatitis
- Increased risks for contracting an infectious disease
- Multiple forms of cancer
You may or may not be able to recover from the issues affecting you if you quit drinking. For example, it’s possible to reverse early stages of alcoholic liver disease. However, later stages of the same disease often have permanent or even fatal consequences.
The same holds true for alcohol-related brain damage. One potential form of this damage is known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. With treatment, you may recover from the early stage of this syndrome, known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy. But the later stage, Korsakoff syndrome, can permanently damage your brain’s memory centers.
Proper treatment may also help you recover from other alcohol-related conditions. However, your odds for success depend on a whole host of variables. And in some cases, you may not get better. These factors underscore the importance of quitting drinking before severe health problems ever occur.
What 12-Step Programs Say About Drinking
Twelve-step mutual self-help groups can play a major part in successful alcohol recovery. Their benefits are so well-established that there is a form of rehab therapy designed to help you enroll in them. What do 12-step programs say about drinking? As a rule, these programs emphasize abstinence. This is true whether they focus on drinking or other kinds of substance problems. For such programs, abstinence is considered the only reliable way to avoid falling back into active addiction.
Seeking the Right Form of Treatment for Cravings
One of the big concerns for people in alcohol recovery is the continuing presence of alcohol cravings. These cravings do not simply fade away when you complete rehab. They may be diminished, but given the right circumstances, they can flare up again. When this happens, renewed cravings can easily trigger a relapse.
Fortunately, treatment is available to help keep your alcohol cravings at bay. One medication used for this purpose is naltrexone. When it enters your system, naltrexone blocks access to your body’s built-in opioid receptors. This is important because alcohol partly relies on these receptors to reach your brain.
Studies show that the blockading action of naltrexone helps dial down your cravings for alcohol. As a result, the medication makes it easier to avoid relapses and maintain your sobriety. This is true even if you have a history of heavy drinking.
Relapse Prevention Through Aftercare Planning
Many people think that the work of alcohol recovery is complete when you finish rehab. However, experts know that addiction’s status as a chronic disease means that effective recovery is ongoing. To meet your ongoing needs, well-designed rehab programs include aftercare planning among their range of services.
What is aftercare? This is the term for help you receive to stay sober after you complete a rehab program. An equivalent term for the same kind of help is continuing care. Aftercare comes in many possible forms. For example, you may decide to enter an outpatient program after completing inpatient care. You may also do things such as:
- Schedule regular follow-up visits with a doctor or addiction specialist
- Use smartphone apps that provide professional aftercare services
- Take an active role in Alcoholics Anonymous or another self-help group
All of these actions have one main thing in common. Namely, they help reduce the odds that you will relapse back into alcohol use. Such relapse prevention efforts lay the groundwork for lasting sobriety. That is true even if you have been severely affected by alcohol addiction.
Seek Effective Alcohol Treatment at The Discovery House
One of the keys to attaining lasting sobriety is enrollment in an effective alcohol treatment program. At The Discovery House, we provide comprehensive alcohol-related services. Our goal is not only to help you establish short-term abstinence. We also seek to help make long-term sobriety as straightforward as possible to achieve. This is true even for people affected by chronic, severe alcoholism. For more information on alcohol detox and treatment at the Discovery House, just call us today.