Why Can’t I Have “Just One Drink”?

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“… as soon as I drank that first glass, I’d be obsessing about the next one, and the next, and the next, and the next. I would not drink one glass; I would drink – and obsess about – one bottle, possibly more. That’s the only option at times like that, to think past the first glass, to think it through. You’ve never had “just one drink” in your life.” ~ Caroline Knapp, Drinking: a Love Story It is a thought that every alcoholic ever has had – “I can have one drink, can’t I? Just ONE? What’s the harm in that?” Are extremely common in early recovery, once you have a short period of sobriety under your belt. You’re starting to believe that maybe you have this drinking thing licked. After all, haven’t you learned your lesson? Aren’t you more in control of yourself than ever? Just one…

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alcohol addiction

Making a Deal with the Devil

Be honest – haven’t you tried to “control” your drinking before? Have you ever tried to:

  • Stick to beer only?
  • Switched to wine instead of hard liquor?
  • Never drink alone?
  • Drink only at home?
  • or alternately – never keep liquor at home?
  • Never drink in the morning?
  • Never drink during business hours?
  • Drink only at parties?

Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way when you have the disease of alcoholism. The very definition of the word means that your drinking is completely beyond your control. As an alcoholic, you are unable to regulate your consumption – when, where, how much, or how often. What does Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, have to say on the subject? “Commencing to drink after a period of sobriety, we are in a short time as bad as ever. If we are planning to stop drinking, there must be no reservation of any kind, nor any lurking notion that someday, we will be immune to alcohol.”

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It’s Not Your Fault

Thinking that you can drink like other non-alcoholics is just another facet of the mistaken belief that addiction is a choice – that people who abuse alcohol or drugs do so because they are morally weak or selfish.  Choice has nothing to do with alcoholism. Science has definitively shown that people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol suffer from a disease of the brain. Because of a combination of factors—genetic predisposition, childhood exposure, trauma, peer pressure, personal habits, co-occurring mental disorders—the ability to REGULATE your drinking has been taken away. How does this happen? Alcohol, like other drugs of abuse, are chemicals that, when consumed, activate neurotransmitters within your brain that signal that the activity—drinking—is a pleasurable activity that should be repeated. You “train” your brain to associate drinking and pleasure. But over time and after habitual drinking, those changes within the brain become more lasting and pronounced. You lose the ability to feel pleasure—or even feel NORMAL—without the presence of alcohol. Congratulations—your brain has been hijacked by alcohol.

“We accept many health insurance plans. Get your life back in order, take a look at our residential program.”

Too Close to Temptation

Do you recall how it was when your drinking was at its worst? Remember how the compulsion controlled YOU—you continued to drink more and more, no matter the cost or the consequences. Alcoholism is incurable—once the changes have happened, you will always be susceptible to renewed addiction. You even have to be careful with other addictive substances you may have never used before, such as illicit drugs or prescription painkillers. And here’s the thing—alcoholics who resume drinking after a period of sobriety will almost immediately pick up where they left off—even if they have been sober for YEARS. They are soon drinking just as much and acting just as out of control as they were previously. Your brain has already been trained by alcohol. You are already vulnerable. This could easily happen to you.

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“I Can NEVER Drink AGAIN?”

You don’t have to worry about staying sober forever…it’s too long to comprehend. You only need to focus on not drinking TODAY. If that gets too hard, concentrate on not drinking for just the next hour or the next 15 minutes. Repeat as necessary. One more bit of wisdom on the subject from Bill W. – “The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense.