Will One Drink Cause an Alcoholism Relapse

Apr 21, 2010 No Comments by

After experiencing release from alcoholism during inpatient addiction recovery programs, one of the most common questions newly sober people ask is, “Will one drink cause an alcoholism relapse?” No one wants to forfeit their newfound sobriety for a life ruled once again by addiction, of course. However, when we find power over alcohol addiction, it’s natural to wonder if we have the power to engage in a single drink without harmful effects.

Will One Drink Cause an Alcoholism Relapse?

Alcoholism generally has two components—the physical addiction that comes with high alcohol intake over time, and the psychological or emotional addiction that takes place. Even in the wake of recovery, alcohol will have predictable effects on every individual who consumes it in any quantity. Even a single drink of alcohol activates the brain’s reward pathways, conditioning the brain and memory to associate drinking with feelings of calm and euphoria. Its depressant effects cause perception and cognition to become slowed and distorted—one of the reasons that a single drink often leads to another as judgment becomes impaired and logic breaks down.

Alcohol also quickly builds tolerance with regular use. What begins as a single drink on a special occasion quickly shifts to an alcoholic drink for each notable occasion—as we no longer feel the buzz that we associated with one drink. As this cycle continues, heavy consumption can easily resume—especially for those who have struggled with alcohol addiction in the past. Over time, alcohol begins to change the body’s chemistry, triggering physical dependency, mood changes, depression, and even issues with mental functioning—all of which can lead to relapse.

Beyond the Desire for Another Drink

However, a better question is, “Why would you want a single drink in the first place?” The desire to drink after successful detoxification and an inpatient rehab stay indicates that the emotional and psychological reasons for alcoholism have not yet been totally resolved—one of the foremost reasons that alcohol addiction relapses occur. When we drink to “unwind,” we do so because we carry tension and anxiety that has not been properly treated. Those who drink to “be more social” may still carry unresolved fears, social anxieties or intimacy issues that still require deeper healing. While these notions may be the rationalizations for “just one drink,” they often indicate deeper problems that need—and deserve to—be fully treated.


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