An alcoholic faces great challenges. Life presents multiple opportunities for him to drink alcohol, and to return to the destructive lifestyle that harms himself, his family, and his friends. Our society encourages social drinking, at restaurants, bars, and even the company Christmas party. For many alcoholics, the temptation for "just one drink" is a strong one, and often does lead into a relapse of heavy alcohol consumption.
How, then, can an alcoholic learn to drink socially again? Is it in fact possible for him to socially drink, without the agonizing fear that he will return to the clutches of his alcoholism? Many factors come into play, and without consciously addressing them, the recovering alcoholic may never come to grips with social drinking again.
The alcoholic must go through an extended period of complete abstinence from alcohol. Most do so through a twelve step program; a select few have done so without such group support. To understand his drinking behavior, and how it has damaged his relationships with others, is an important first step. The alcoholic must do his best to repair any damage that has been done in his life, and get back on track. During this time, the temptation of social drinking is far too strong, and can unravel any progress he has made so far. Social drinking during the rebuilding of the alcoholic's life is not recommended.
The alcoholic must examine the situations in which social drinking is an issue. Is social drinking important for establishing business contacts, or a common way for his family to celebrate life events? The alcoholic should find new ways to accomplish such goals without the use of alcohol. He should never feel compelled into drinking, whether it is social pressure or internal desires. Social acceptance should never be accomplished by drinking alcohol, especially not for the recovering alcoholic.
Consideration for the alcoholic's immediate family should be taken into account. Even if he believes he is capable of drinking just one alcoholic beverage, his family may not agree. Just the visual image of the alcoholic drinking is enough to bring back painful memories for some people, as well as anxiety over his future alcohol consumption. The alcoholic should talk over the situation carefully with his loved ones prior to any attempt at social drinking. If his family is not supportive of the idea, then the alcoholic may not yet be ready to drink socially right now, or ever.
If the alcoholic is still intent on attempting social drinking, a trial run should be attempted first. This should be performed at home, instead of in an actual social setting; if the alcoholic insists on another drink, it would be harder to stop him in public. Go to the store and purchase one serving of an alcoholic beverage. Ideally, on the first try the alcoholic would not purchase his favorite alcoholic beverage, but rather a similar beverage that is only moderately appealing. At home during dinner, he would consume his drink, surrounded by family or friends who know his plans, and are prepared to stop him from consuming further alcohol. The alcoholic should then observe his reactions to the drink.
After such an extended time of abstinence from alcohol, he may come to realize that he has lost his taste for drinking. He may realize that he still enjoys his alcohol immensely. The desire to have another drink may come over him after the first sip, at some point after his drink, or not at all. At any point where the alcoholic feels an intense desire to continue drinking, he should stop immediately and remove any remaining alcohol from the home. His experiment should be put to a halt for another extended period of time, until the alcoholic feels more control over his desire to drink.
If the initial experiment was a success, the alcoholic may gradually be able to learn to socially drink, one encounter at a time. If not, then a much more difficult road lay ahead for him, and he may in fact never be able to touch alcohol again. Each alcoholic is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Only by carefully examining his reasons for drinking, having a support network, and gradually easing back into social drinking, can an alcoholic ever have a social drink again.