Why Can’t I Have Just One Drink?

Why Can’t I Have Just One Drink?

Alcohol might be one of the most difficult addictions to kick because it is so accepted in today’s world. Television characters drink to unwind every day. Beer ads overwhelm the commercial time during any sporting event. In high school and college, partying and losing track of days or even a weekend is a sure sign of a good time. In other words, drinking is normal. Except, it can’t be normal for you if you have an alcohol addiction. There is no moderation for the alcoholic, and one drink can lead far too easily right back into a lifestyle of addiction.

Neurotransmitters Remember

Scientific researchers have proven over the past several decades that addiction to alcohol and drugs like marijuana is rooted in the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain. Dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, glutamate and many other chemical in the brain impact the way the brain senses and experiences the world, and most drugs impact the flow of these chemicals into the brain or the way in which the neurotransmitters function upon connection in the brain.

Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to the modification created by a given drug and cannot function properly without the addictive substance. Some of what we think of as withdrawal is in a sense the brain cramping because the drug is not available. Withdrawals pass over time, but the imprint left by the addiction remains.

A single drink can trigger this imprint in the brain. While the neurotransmitters do not technically remember the addiction, the brain recognizes the shift in neurotransmitters produced by even a single drink and can switch back to the addiction mode it was previously in before recovery. This will present in your mind as an intense craving for more than one drink and is the reason many people can go from a single malt scotch after years of sobriety to passed out drunk in a single night.

Old Habits Resurface With Unexpected Power

There is so much that can happen in a single gulp of beer, wine or liquor. In a flash, your body may be overcome with a multitude of sensations and even memories. As the liquid goes down your throat, you might recall you first drink or your last drink. You might remember the song that played all the time at your favorite bar or that person you always flirted with on Thursdays. The sense of community you had at your own personal Cheers bar might come into mind.

All of this is your mind and body recalling the comfort of the old habits. Whether you want to admit it or not, you are a creature of habit. You have your favorite breakfast foods, your favorite movies and your favorite places. When you experience a favorite, there is comfort because of the familiarity. Drinking was one of your favorites in the past, and your body and mind will want to draw you back toward that favorite. The allure is strong, and many succumb to it. You can avoid the strength of this draw back to comfort and familiar by not having that one drink.

Sobriety Is All or Nothing

For the alcoholic, there is no middle ground. There can’t be any midline, where you can drink but not get drunk. This is the very point of having a drinking problem. You are not capable of managing yourself around alcohol because there is an addiction. To think you can have just one drink now and then undermines the idea of recovery.

When you choose to have a lifestyle of recovery, you are making the choice to build your life on a foundation that does not include any alcohol or drugs like marijuana. Having a drink, regardless of the reason, is a declaration that recovery is not your plan.

You Can Always Start Again

Maybe you are reading this on the back end of a bender that started with just one drink, and you know in your gut that you can never drink just one drink ever again, but you feel overcome with guilt and shame. Perhaps you were watching a ball game on the television and saw the nineteenth beer ad, and you are yearning for the smooth taste of a beer running down your throat. No matter where you are in your journey, recovery can always start today. It is never too late.

Even better news is that you don’t have to go through recovery on your own. If you find yourself at the end of your ability to battle your addiction of alcohol and drugs like marijuana in your own strength, there is support available. We can help you. We can answer your questions. The admission counselors at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can help you learn more about your mental health condition. They can help you find your way.


[1] http://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2007/10/impacts-drugs-neurotransmission, “Impact of Drugs on Neurotransmission,” Carl Sherman, accessed December 28, 2015