Recovering alcoholics need to stick with what works

By Take The First Step
Dr. Michael Levy

Dr. Levy: I was both appalled and shocked at your column regarding "Is abstinence the only answer for alcoholics?" I am a recovering alcoholic and have recently completed a five-month stay at a sober house for both alcoholics and drug abusers..I have.lived with both drug and alcohol abusers who have repeatedly relapsed because they felt they could maintain control over their addictions. The mere suggestion that they may some day drink socially or occasionally is insane.

Insanity as defined by AA is continuously repeating the same.behavior and expecting a different outcome. As any educated alcoholic knows from attending AA meetings or therapy, the addictive brain, when re-introduced to its drug of choice, will behave in exactly the same way time and time again.

I had abstained from alcohol for more than two years and thought I had it beat. Then one hot, summer afternoon when I was at a friend's house for a cookout, I had two beers. This was not an excessive amount and I was not in the least bit intoxicated. However, those two beers reactivated that euphoria in me and I spiraled downward in the next few weeks, frequently blacking out and nearly destroying my life and those I love. Had it not been for the teachings of AA as well as the sober environment that I was fortunate to have lived in,.I would still be trying to take that one social drink and denying the fact that abstinence is the only answer for alcoholics.

I'm sorry to say that your article will not be interpreted by many addicts in the manner in which I'm certain you meant it, but rather, because of your credentials and knowledge of addiction, as permission to try it again and to continue this insane lifestyle of personal destruction.

A: Thank you for writing and expressing your opinion. As I stated in that column, this is a very controversial subject..Your experience with alcohol is similar to many others: one drink leads to uncontrolled drinking along with the destruction of life. In addition, as you articulated quite well, the main reason a relapse occurs for many people is because they are unable to accept that they cannot have one drink. As you did, they erroneously believe that one or two drinks will be fine. But instead, they lead to a major relapse.

However, I still contend that some people with past alcohol dependence can learn to drink in moderate ways that do not cause them problems. This is something everyone who struggles with alcohol needs to figure out for themselves. I know this adds a gray area and ambiguity to the treatment of alcohol problems, but nonetheless, this outcome has been well documented.

As you wrote, some people who have been abstinent may interpret what I said as permission to try to drink again, which is not what I intended. I hope this does not occur..In fact, I am very glad for the opportunity to restate what I originally wrote: if abstinence is working, I would not do anything different. This is very important to remember.......