Can You Drink in Recovery?

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Can you drink in recovery? This is a common question, and the answer lies in the brain.

Entering recovery from an addiction can be scary. Many people wonder whether they’ll be able to abstain from using, and they worry about who they’ll be without drugs or alcohol. Some enter recovery with the hope that they can learn to control their drinking, or replace their drug use with alcohol. But can you drink in recovery? The fact is, drinking in recovery is probably not an option for those who have developed any addiction.

Addiction and How it Affects the Brain

Although different psychoactive drugs affect the brain’s chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, in different ways, they all have one thing in common: They produce a release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which is a key player in the motivation, learning, and reward centers of the brain. Addiction is the result of changes in chemical function and physical structures in these brain areas.

Repeated, large releases of dopamine lead the brain to associate the activity that produces it–drug or alcohol use–with the intense pleasure it produces. The brain records memories of the environmental cues associated with using, such as being at a bar, feeling stressed, or spending time with a certain person. As these associations become stronger in the brain, the motivation to use increases, and compulsive drug use emerges, driven by intense cravings brought on by those learned environmental cues, or triggers.

The brain changes associated with addiction affect your thought and behavior patterns. The dysfunctional ways of thinking and behaving that develop perpetuate the addiction, and they drive denial and other negative states. You tell yourself that life isn’t fun or worthwhile without drugs or alcohol, or you come to believe that you need these substances to cope. These learned thoughts and behaviors must be replaced with healthier ways of thinking and behaving in order to successfully treat an addiction for the long-term.

So, Can You Drink in Recovery?

Whether you’re addicted to drugs and wondering, can you drink in recovery? or you’re addicted to alcohol and wondering if you can learn to control your use, the answer is the same: Drinking while in recovery is likely to lead to alcohol addiction or a relapse of an alcohol addiction. That’s why relapse prevention in recovery is so important.

In fact, relapse prevention in recovery is what treatment is all about. But it’s not just about learning how to cope with cravings and triggers so you can stop using, although that’s important, too. Relapse prevention is also about learning to replace the drug–and the pleasurable dopamine rush it produces–with healthier behaviors that are pleasurable. It’s about learning that you can have fun and enjoy life without drugs or alcohol, and it’s about addressing the underlying issues that led to coping with drugs or alcohol in the first place. It’s about finding purpose and meaning in a life of sobriety so that not using becomes preferable to–and better than–using.

It’s natural to wonder, can you drink in recovery? while you’re still addicted, because almost everyone wonders how they’ll cope–with stress, or boredom, or depression, or anxiety–without a psychoactive substance, whether that’s drugs or alcohol. But that’s before they enter treatment and begin learning coping skills and letting go of unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

The bottom line is, if you’re drinking while in recovery from drugs or alcohol, the large dopamine release reinforces the learned dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors and perpetuates cravings. It prevents you from developing healthy coping skills, because you’re using the drinking to cope.

Staying sober in recovery from any substance of abuse is essential for success. Treatment helps you develop the essential skills and strategies you need for long-term success, and it helps you develop a new mindset and healthy behaviors that promote a productive, enjoyable lifestyle and newfound feelings of joy and freedom from addiction. If you need help finding a high quality addiction treatment program that delivers results through holistic programming, BAC can help. Treatment works, and it improves your quality of life and sense of wellbeing.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.