The Next Round: What happens after you change your drinking?

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Summer Drinking

Will I ever be able to have just one drink?


I’ve been alcohol-free for a while, but I’d love to be able to enjoy just one drink. However, experience tells me that if I start, I might it difficult to stop after one drink. Is it worth the risk? Will I ever be able to have just one drink? Nic


This is a great question, Nic, and thanks for asking it. People who take an extended break from drinking often think about starting again, wondering if it’s OK to have just one and then stop – and whether that’s even possible for them. So it’s something I talk about fairly often with people doing Club Soda’s courses.

Club Soda helps people who want to cut down, take a break or quit drinking altogether, and we’ve got a track record of helping thousands of people drink less or not at all. Unlike other organisations, our approach isn’t abstinence-only. That’s in part because there is good research evidence that even people who have been very heavy drinkers can reduce their alcohol consumption and maintain it at a lower level. But it’s also because we know that everyone is different, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution that works universally. Moderation works for some people, while for others, sobriety is the only viable answer.

It’s OK not to know which might work for you. And it’s fine to experiment and change your mind. But in the process, it’s vital to learn about yourself so you can be realistic about the options that are open to you.

Looking for the third door

A little while ago, I interviewed Amanda Eyre Ward, one of the authors of The Sober Lush. In our discussion, she talked about changing her drinking and examining her options, a process she described (to borrow writer Sarah Hepola’s phrase) as “looking for the third door”.

When we contemplate changing our drinking, we imagine there are two doors. The first door leads to a life that is good because we put our problem drinking behind us. But we hold back from walking through that door, wondering if life is boring on the other side. Meanwhile, we know life is wild beyond the second door, but there are consequences. Pleasures, yes, but pain too. So we look for a third door, one that gives us a life with the upsides of drinking, but none of the downsides.

“A lot of us search for that door,” Amanda told me. “For some of us, it’s possible to find and that’s fantastic. But for me, it was not.” In the end, Amanda admitted to herself, the third door didn’t exist for her.

The third door is real, of course. I know people who’ve cut down their drinking, and who drink little and rarely. I know others who didn’t drink for long periods and later, slowly and carefully, reintroduced alcohol in a way that is unproblematic. They are able to drink in a way that makes life better for them, not worse. They find their third door.

But some of us will never find the third door, and not for lack of trying. I know too many people who go around in circles, stepping through each of the doors in turn, always hoping that they can have just one drink, and discovering they can’t. Going back to day one. And inevitably beating themselves up in the process.

Can you have just one drink?

You asked me this question, Nic, and I wonder if you’re asking me for permission to drink, or if you want me to predict the future? I’m sorry to tell you that I can’t do either.

I can tell you with absolute confidence that some people can have just one drink. But can you have just one? I don’t know.

More than that, I can’t know. And neither can you. Your question is unanswerable in theory. In practice, it might be that you’d have one drink and you’d be absolutely fine. Or perhaps that one drink would lead to two, three or more. You may have an intuition about which outcome is more likely, but you can’t know for certain. That’s where the element of risk comes in.

One way to address any risk is to gather more information. So ask yourself: what would that one drink add to your life? If your instinctive answer is “alcohol, obviously”, dig a little deeper. Nobody drinks for no reason; all of us want to get something out of the experience other than alcohol. We drink because it gives us something, whether that’s pleasure, relaxation, significance, connection or happiness. Sometimes it just gives us relief from the feeling of not having a drink. Perhaps it shuts up the incessant voices around us. Maybe it gives us a break from ourselves.

Whatever that one drink gives you, the need in you is real. It deserves to be taken seriously.

Facing your needs honestly, bravely and kindly gives you the freedom to choose. You can choose to meet your needs in so many ways, and not just with alcohol. Having a drink might be an option for you in the future, but choose alcohol consciously and mindfully because it adds real value to your life, not just because it addresses an unspoken need.

The question is not “will I ever be able to have just one?” but “can I meet my needs without a drink?”

And the answer to that question is always a resounding “yes”.


one drink

Dru Jaeger is one of Club Soda’s co-founders and leads courses for people who want to cut down, stop for a bit or quit, including How to Change Your Drinking. If you’ve got a question about any aspect of changing your drinking, Ask Dru.

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