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When-a Little is Better than None: Why Not to Take Alcohol Detox Too Far

Updated on November 8, 2014

This might seem like a strange suggestion - in the face of contrary medical advice and advice from friends, family, many self-help books, health evangelists, and even some sanctimonious strangers on online forums - but for those that have a high degree of dependence on alcohol, it may sometimes make more sense to cut down than quit altogether.

How can cutting down ever be better than quitting?

It can be useful when you’re so obsessed with trying to be in control of your urges that you forget to live your life.

This may not be a light bulb moment for many. However, most of us (that are not yet in the ‘fried’ liver stages) urgently trying to quit the binges in order to get a hold on our out-of-control lives, don’t realize that trying to quit can sometimes be more stressful than it’s worth.

Is that what the experts say?

Obsessive teetotaling can often be as debilitating as obsessive drinking. The happiest people are those that manage to find a balance between being healthy and having fun.

Psychologists say that any kind of extremism is bad. This applies to frequently not remembering evenings out because you don’t know when to stop. It also applies to being so anxious to achieve perfection that you become obsessed with it. In your effort to quit drinking, you may stop socializing with friends you used to drink with. You may find yourself filled with self-disgust after you’ve succumbed to that glass of wine you forbade yourself. You may find yourself spending more and more time alone, frantic about getting through the day without a shot and about having a good night’s sleep.

If you are not happy, you’re undermining the very stability that you are trying to achieve through the detox.

So, it is a choice between my health and my friends?

It doesn’t have to come to that. You will find that socializing can act as a buffer for your alcohol cravings. There is some evidence to suggest that the ‘love’ hormone oxytocin can help to make up for the lack of alcohol in our desperate phase of forced abstinence. Many of us may know oxytocin as the chemical that is released during orgasms. But oxytocin also plays an – albeit alarmingly incestuous - role in being the major hormone that makes us feel good when we bond with friends and family members.

Research suggests that this chemical may also help us bond with the alcohol or drug that we love. Clearly our body is not much of a help in differentiating between good and bad company - in this instance, anyhow. But our brain is better at it. That is why we can choose to spend more nights socializing with friends or cuddling with loved ones than hugging the bottle. It has high chances of making us feel the craving less. If our friends are the drinking kind, we can learn to moderate if we can, and still have fun.

So the solution is…

Do not give up your nights out. Cut down on the number of tequila shots you take, maybe. Have a few less glasses of wine a week. But have your friends around you, even if they enjoy their drink. If you have been on the tough abstinence path and have enough guilt, you may find that you now wield a greater amount of control over yourself.

Of course this does not apply to those that have abused too much alcohol and show signs of dependence on it. For them, quitting is the best option.

For the rest, learning to achieve moderation early on can have plenty of benefits. There is even some new evidence to suggest that a little alcohol may be good for us.

So it is up to you, whether you want to live your life forcing yourself to watch that extra calorie, that tempting drink, that exciting weekend of booze and bromance. Or whether you want to let your hair down once in a while and not deprive yourself of some of the creature comforts that makes life fun.


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    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 5 years ago from Northern California

      Hi Juana. I appreciate your nonstandard thinking. If I've understood correctly, there's more than one type of problem drinking. And some occasional alcohol abusers do not fit into the classic alcoholic mold.

      On a personal note... I feel that I'm at risk for a couple of reasons. And I choose not to partake, except on special occasions.

      Voted up and interesting.