Why Can’t I Have Just One Drink?

Why Can’t I Have Just One Drink?

The longer you are sober, the more confidence you will have in your ability to stay that way. Unfortunately, this confidence can be mixed blessing. On the one hand, confidence does reflect the truth that recovery becomes easier over time. For instance, you get better at coping with both good and bad aspects of life without using drugs, which means you find that recovery is just as much a habit as substance abuse. Furthermore, as your confidence grows, you will also know to whom you can turn for help, and you may find more enjoyment and comfort in life than you ever thought possible. For that reason, the American Bar Association (ABA) shares that “75 percent experience a relapse during their first year of recovery. For those who are sober five years, the rate drops to 7 percent. People who successfully complete a formal treatment program such as a 28-day inpatient program or an intensive outpatient program have significantly higher recovery rates than those who do not”[1]. In short, when you are confident that you have the skills you need to stay clean, when you have time to practice them in a variety of settings, then your sobriety is much more likely to remain intact.

On the other hand, while confidence in recovery can be great, it is easy to stop prioritizing the work it takes to stay sober. In short, as confidence grows, complacency can set in, which will jeopardize sobriety. These mindsets are dangerous, as you may believe that you can handle just one drink. Unfortunately, in Alcoholism/Drug Addiction, Wax David Flowers explains that complacency occurs “when the person begins to feel better. Some of the devastation of drinking for many, many, years has begun to repair and the person begins to feel that he or she really are not alcoholic and that it is possible to drink again.” Flowers explains that this “complacency is what causes relapse more than any other factor that exists”[2]. In short, a recovering addict may feel so much better that she believes she is all better, which means she can have one drink. Recovering addicts can never have one drink, as it will never be just one.

As confident as you may feel in your ability to stay clean, even one drink can be a relapse. This relapse may not send you deeply and immediately back into your active addiction, but it is a slip that can lead to more and more slips if you avoid action. In fact, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shares that the “Events that potently trigger relapse drinking fall into three general categories: exposure to small amounts of alcohol (i.e., alcohol-induced priming), exposure to alcohol-related (i.e., conditioned) cues or environmental contexts, and stress. Clinical laboratory studies have found that, compared with control subjects, alcohol-dependent people are more sensitive to the ability of these stimuli and events to elicit craving and negative affect, which in turn presumably drives an increased desire to drink”[3]. In other words, having a small amount of alcohol (just one drink) can trigger a relapse that destroys your work thus far.

In fact, just being in a bar or around people who drink or alcohol in any setting can cause a relapse no matter how long you have been sober. If you have struggled with addiction, then you are more susceptible to cravings and returns to bad habits. This problem may be a personality feature, a problem in your personal history or a result of your genetic and chemical makeup; it may also result from the changes that substance abuse and addiction caused to your body and mind. No matter how your predisposition to drugs formed, a history of addiction means you have an increased sensitivity to stimuli. In that light, by taking only one drink, you encounter a powerful relapse trigger that is not worth your hard-earned sobriety.

Early recovery is often marked by challenges as you grow in your sobriety and learn what it takes to stay sober. The ABA shares that “Relapse is not uncommon in early recovery because individuals are learning what changes they must make to live a sober life. The relapse can be a learning experience in how to develop better coping skills and get through difficult experiences without the use of alcohol or drugs. When relapse comes after many years of continuous sobriety, it is a clear indication that something is missing in the recovery.” In short, if you have just one drink after a day, a month or years of sobriety, then it is time to reevaluate your recovery and see what is missing.

Before you take that first drink, call our 24 hour, toll-free helpline. Our admissions coordinators will talk with you about the challenges you face and help you maintain or return to sobriety. Our staff can connect you to the resources you need for continued support, and all calls are confidential, so reach out now to stay sober for the long haul.


[1]    http://www.americanbar.org/newsletter/publications/gp_solo_magazine_home/gp_solo_magazine_index/voss.html. “Relapse After Long-Term Sobriety.” The American Bar Association. Oct/Nov 2009. Web. 22 Dec 2015.

[2]    https://books.google.com/books?id=owRf-ZsXlZIC&source=gbs_navlinks_s. Alcoholism/Drug Addiction: A Disease or Not! Wax David Flowers. 2010. Web. 23 Dec 2015.

[3]    http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh314/348-361.htm. “Alcohol Dependence, Withdrawal, and Relapse.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Web. 23 Dec 2015.