From the AA Book Living Sober 

Expressions commonly heard in A.A. are “If you don’t take that first drink, you can’t get drunk” and “One drink is too many, but twenty are not enough.”

Many of us, when we first began to drink, never wanted or took more than one or two drinks. But as time went on, we increased the number. Then, in later years, we found ourselves drinking more and more, some of us getting and staying very drunk. Maybe our condition didn’t always show in our speech or our gait, but by this time we were never actually sober.

If that bothered us too much, we would cut down, or try to limit ourselves to just one or two, or switch from hard liquor to beer or wine. At least, we tried to limit the amount, so we would not get too disastrously drunk. Or we tried to hide how much we drank.

But all these measures got more and more difficult. Occasionally, we even went on the wagon, and did not drink at all for a while.

Eventually, we would go back to drinking—just one drink. And since that apparently did no serious damage, we felt it was safe to have another. Maybe that was all we took on that occasion, and it was a great relief to find we could take just one or two, then stop. Some of us did that many times.

But the experience proved to be a snare. It persuaded us that we could drink safely. And then there would come the occasion (some special celebration, a personal loss, or no particular event at all) when two or three made us feel fine, so we thought one or two more could not hurt. And with absolutely no intention of doing so, we found ourselves again drinking too much. We were right back where we had been—overdrinking without really wanting to.

Such repeated experiences have forced us to this logically inescapable conclusion: If we do not take the first drink, we never get drunk. Therefore, instead of planning never to get drunk, or trying to limit the number of drinks or the amount of alcohol, we have learned to concentrate on avoiding only one drink: the first one.

In effect, instead of worrying about limiting the number of drinks at the end of a drinking episode, we avoid the one drink that starts it. Sounds almost foolishly simplistic, doesn’t it? It’s hard for many of us now to believe that we never really figured this out for ourselves before we came to A.A. (Of course, to tell the truth, we never really wanted to give up drinking altogether, either, until we learned about alcoholism.) But the main point is: We know now that this is what works.

Instead of trying to figure out how many we could handle—four?—six?—a dozen?—we remember, “Just don’t pick up that first drink.” It is so much simpler. The habit of thinking this way has helped hundreds of thousands of us stay sober for years.

Doctors who are experts on alcoholism tell us that there is a sound medical foundation for avoiding the first drink. It is the first drink which triggers, immediately or some time later, the compulsion to drink more and more until we are in drinking trouble again. Many of us have come to believe that our alcoholism is an addiction to the drug alcohol; like addicts of any sort who want to maintain recovery, we have to keep away from the first dose of the drug we have become addicted to. Our experience seems to prove this, as you can read in the book Alcoholics Anonymous and in our Grapevine magazine, and as you can hear wherever A.A. members get together and share their experiences.

Permission Pending, A.A. World Services, Inc.

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