Why Does the Disease of Alcoholism Progress?by Betty Ford Center on Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 10:25am

Question: What do they mean when after being sober for years, if you start drinking again, your drinking will take off as though you haven’t been dry at all? In fact some say that it is worse, like if you were drinking all those dry years too. I am not planning to do this but a couple of members in my AA group described this, and I just wanted to check it out. I also wonder if you could explain why this happens?

Answer: Your friends represent the profound wisdom of AA. Over the years and with thousands and thousand of years in recovery, it has been observed that when the occasional person who, after many years of abstinence from alcohol, relapses (AA language: “slips”), the mental and physical consequences are more severe than they ever were in the past. The biological explanation for this is not clearly understood, but the possible cause may be found in the brain. The brain may have been damaged during the previous history of excessive drinking, is now older, and has lost its tolerance to alcohol. Those delicate circuits involved in the functions of memory and thinking seem to respond much more sensitively to the toxic effects of alcohol. One fact is indisputable, however, is that chronic alcohol consumption accelerates the aging process. Following relapse is a deep remorse.

Source: Dr. James West, retired Medical Director, Betty Ford Center