The Slippery Slope of Casual Drinking in Recovery

recovering friends having drinksIf you successfully got sober and overcame your drug addiction, you have a lot to be proud of! However, getting sober doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of the woods just yet. Addiction is a chronic disease, and much like other chronic diseases, it will require ongoing treatment and effort to stay sober.

After months or years of sobriety, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of overconfidence and start believing you can control your drinking. The truth is, you can try to use drugs or alcohol in moderation, but it’s a very slippery slope back into a full-fledged addiction. The question you have to consider is, “Is it worth the risk?”

Defining “Recovery”

The Recovery Research Institute defines recovery as, “a process of improved physical, psychological, and social well-being and health after having suffered from a substance-related condition.”1 However, this is not the only definition of recovery and many people view it differently.

Recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is a highly individualized process and the definition of “recovery” often depends on the person. For some, it may mean maintaining complete abstinence from any and all addictive substances, including prescription drugs or herbal drugs like kratom. On the other hand, others may prefer to return to controlled use following rehabilitation or believe that it’s okay to indulge in alcohol if they only had issues with drugs in the past.

As you can see, the definition of recovery can get pretty murky, but the stigma attached to addiction and recovery may have a role in this. One 2017 research study found that more than nine percent of Americans overcame a serious problem with drug and alcohol use but only 46 percent consider themselves to be “in recovery.”2 This may indicate a problem in the way we refer to or treat people in recovery as a society.

Regardless, complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol is not the only way to recovery, but it is the safest, as it is associated with greater chances of sustained sobriety over time.3

What is Casual Drinking?

Casual drinking (also sometimes called social drinking) is a term that is used to refer to alcohol consumption that happens very infrequently and in low doses. Casual drinkers don’t drink on a regular basis but when they do, they usually drink responsibly. Meaning, they don’t get drunk or blackout.

Casual Drinking vs. Alcoholism

Alcoholism is defined by compulsive alcohol abuse that continues despite the negative and quickly escalating consequences. It is a chronic relapsing brain disease and about 16 million Americans suffer from it.4

The main difference between casual drinking and alcoholism is that alcoholics lack any control over their drinking behaviors and experience severe alcohol-related problems, like legal issues or damaged relationships. Comparatively, casual drinkers drink infrequently, they consume alcohol responsibly, and they know when to stop.

There is a very fine line between casual drinking and alcoholism, and unfortunately, many people cross over the line without even realizing it.

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    Dangers of Casual Drinking in Recovery

    People who don’t have a history of drug or alcohol abuse may be able to drink casually and responsibly without any repercussions. However, someone who has a tendency to misuse addictive substances may find that remaining completely abstinent is the best way to safeguard their sobriety.

    Consuming any amount of alcohol while in recovery presents several real dangers that could lead to a full relapse or a return to active addiction. Being in high-risk situations like bars, clubs, or social events that revolve around drinking can easily lead right back into regular alcohol abuse. Consuming even a small amount of alcohol can contribute to cravings and urges to consume even more.

    Additionally, during periods of high stress or difficult life circumstances, it is all too easy to fall back into old habits of using alcohol as a crutch to deal with negative emotions. “Just one drink” could quickly become two, three, four…and so on.

    The many risks of casual drinking in recovery have serious consequences. So, instead of simply focusing on harm reduction, most often the safest and most effective way for alcoholics to stay sober is by maintaining complete abstinence.

    Benefits of Abstinence-Based Sober Living Programs

    Today, controlled drinking is often viewed as an accepted treatment option for people who view abstinence as too stringent.5 However, most rehab programs and sober living homes in the U.S. are abstinence-based, meaning clients are expected to maintain complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol while they are actively engaged in treatment.

    Avoiding all drug and alcohol use can be challenging, but it is far safer than casual drinking if your goal is to sustain long-term sobriety. Abstinence-based addiction treatment programs and sober living homes also have many great benefits for people in recovery, such as:

    Abstinence may not be the easiest road to recovery, but many people find that this view of recovery is the most rewarding, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

    If you or a loved one is struggling to maintain your sobriety, call Eudaimonia Recovery Homes today to learn more about our sober living programs, IOP, and additional recovery support services. We can help you understand the value of abstinence in a life of recovery and provide recovery support services that will empower you to remain sober.



    1. https://www.recoveryanswers.org/recovery-101/
    2. https://www.massgeneral.org/about/pressrelease.aspx?id=2170
    3. https://www.recoveryanswers.org/recovery-101/fast-facts/
    4. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders
    5. https://www.livescience.com/2065-controlled-drinking-controversial-alternative-aa.html


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