fbpx Is It OK to Resume Drinking if You Have a History of Alcohol Abuse?
Authored by Dr. Michelle Murray on March 15, 2022
Dear Dr. Michelle:

My wife has consumed alcohol throughout her adult life without having any problems. Three years ago we went through some life changes and became really depressed. Her drinking began to increase to the point that she ended up having significant liver damage. Since that event, she stopped drinking entirely. We would like to enjoy a nice drink on special occasions.  We both don’t believe that she is an alcoholic, so we don’t think there would be any harm in her having an occasional drink. Would be safe for her to resume given that she has not had a single drink in the last three years? 

Dear Steve:

You appear to be insightful about your wife’s history and it is a good idea to approach this situation with care and inquiry. It is a positive step that you are considering this decision together and are willing to think through the best alternative.

Analyze the Negative Effects of Alcohol

You do not need to struggle with alcoholism to have alcohol related problems or to abuse alcohol, nor do you need to have alcoholism to have negative results from alcohol use. 

In either case, alcohol can be misused and lead to negative behavior and consequences as well as medical issues. Therefore, what you want to focus on is what happens when you consume alcohol and why you consume it.

In other words, concentrate on the result of your alcohol consumption. If drinking alcohol effects your regular daily life, such as sleeping, relationships, mental health, physical health, or job effectiveness, then you might have a drinking problem. The best choice for dealing with alcoholism or alcohol abuse is generally abstinence. 

Reach Out to a Health Professional

If you both feel that your wife’s alcohol abuse was situational and time-limited, and you continue to doubt her risk, I would recommend she first seek a professional substance use assessment. Look up substance abuse services in your area and request an individualized evaluation be completed. This assessment will involve an interview and a questionnaire with a certified professional. 

Your wife’s liver damage needs to be an important part of her assessment as well. In addition to completing a substance use assessment, I would recommend your wife seek a thorough medical evaluation regarding her liver functioning. There are different levels of liver damage related to alcohol consumption, as well as a continuum of functioning within each level that you need to be aware.

While some levels of liver damage can heal, once the highest level of liver damage occurs, referred to as cirrhosis of the liver, permanent damage has occurred and can lead to dire consequences, up to and including early death. Even if your wife does not have cirrhosis of the liver, she needs to know the extent of the damage, so she knows if it is permanent or if cirrhosis could result if alcohol consumption continues. Please read more about the effects of alcohol use on the liver by following this link.

Finding Alternatives

If you decide that abstinence is your best option, I encourage you both to identify some other creative and unique way to celebrate special occasions. Have fun with it. Choose something that you can reserve to do for special occasions that can ritualize the event in a way that is meaningful to you both, without the use of alcohol.

Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature.  The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.


Dr. Michelle Murray