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Can Someone in Recovery Drink Alcohol in Moderation?

Party. Two guests of formal evening party celebration holding glasses of wine in their hands

Should we trust a one-time problem drinker’s newfound moderation? How do we figure out where to draw the line between acceptance of a loved-one’s behavior and self-care? Katie weighs in.

Hi Katie!

I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary with my partner. We’ve hit milestones with our relationship, but we’ve also both individually matured emotionally.

When we met, John* had a problem. He’d drink liquor heavily when out with friends, which resulted in him being an asshole to me and one time he even threw up all over me. (I know, this was difficult to forgive.) He finally confronted the problem when he got arrested for drunk driving earlier this year.

I’m cautious about his “recovery” from the incident since he suffers from anxiety and other mental health issues. (Quality mental health care is inaccessible in his rural town, not helping the situation.) He doesn’t drink like he used to at all and even told himself he wouldn’t drink for years after the incident. However, he hasn’t kept his promise and he drinks beer occasionally, sometimes alone.

I’m nervous about him having a single drink. Should I trust him to drink in moderation? How do I not be anxious? Is there anything I can do?

From, M (name has been changed)

Dear M,

Thanks for writing and I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I’ve been on both sides of this equation: the person struggling with substance use and mental health issues, and the person who cares about the person dealing with those things. It’s a tough situation no matter which side you’re on.

When I was a teenager, I found out that someone very close to me (let’s call her Jane) was drinking and using in secret. While my own drinking was accelerating, I wasn’t at the point of drinking alone. No matter how I looked at the situation, it was clear that Jane was an addict. She was drinking and using in secret, blacking out, and pretty obviously at the “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” end stages of addiction. Even my desperate-to-escape-reality teenage self knew that Jane needed help. There was only one problem: I was the only person who knew about Jane’s problem.

The weight of this responsibility was almost unbearable, M. I ended up sharing what I knew and Jane got the help she needed. Even when Jane returned from treatment, clean and sober, I worried. I watched her like a hawk, looking for any sign that she was up to her old, sneaky behavior. Jane didn’t try to moderate her drinking like John is, nor can I say with certainty that he is an alcoholic. But I suspect the responsibility and anxiety you feel is much like what I felt following Jane’s return. I had seen the places alcohol took Jane; you’ve seen (and felt and smelled, from the sounds of it) the ramifications of John’s drinking. He’s put his life in danger. Of course, you’re worried.

See what else advice columnist Katie MacBride has to say about this issue by checking out the original feature article Ask Katie: Can I Trust My “Recovered” Partner to Drink in Moderation? over at The Fix.

Can Someone in Recovery Drink Alcohol in Moderation?

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APA Reference
Guest Author, P. (2018). Can Someone in Recovery Drink Alcohol in Moderation?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 13 Nov 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.