Abstinence vs. Moderation: Which is Best?

Which is best? A complete and total avoidance of alcohol or a more moderate approach? Is it even possible for an addict to use alcohol moderately without stopping completely?

This is a difficult question and professionals have been debating the issue for more than 50 years. The answer depends on a number of factors and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

It's normal for people to resist the idea of stopping drinking completely when they begin to realize that jobs, health or relationships are jeopardized due to a drinking problem. They want to learn to drink less and to quit before they reach intoxication.

This attempt at moderation can be beneficial because for heavy drinkers, any reduction in drinking is good and an attempt at moderation is the first step to recovery. People who attempt moderation for the first time are admitting to themselves that a problem exists and they are displaying a willingness to make changes.

However, in some cases, people eventually come to the realization that total abstinence is a better solution, and is actually easier than attempting to maintain control.
According to Harvard University Medical School, moderate drinking is successful only for people who haven’t yet developed a serious dependence or who haven’t yet experienced serious consequences as a result of drinking. Learning moderate drinking can help people set goals and make better decisions before they cross the line to alcoholism.

One research study followed drinkers for three to eight years after they completed a program of behavioral self-control. The results indicated that the chance of successfully drinking moderately decreases dramatically according to the severity of dependence. People in the beginning stages of a drinking problem may achieve success.

If you are concerned as about your drinking, there are several things to think about.
Moderation may worth considering if:

  • You have a stable lifestyle, including steady employment and supportive family and friends.
  • You have no major life issues such as employment difficulties, current divorce, recent death in the family or chronic medical issues.
  • You have no depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues that may cause you to use alcohol to self-medicate.
  • You are willing to commit fully to moderate drinking.
  • You don’t use drugs.
  • You have no family history of drug or alcohol addiction.
  • You are willing to deal with presenting “easier” issues such as low self-esteem, difficulty to set boundaries or frequent issues with self-worth.

Abstinence is likely the best option if:

  • You tend to become belligerent, violent or aggressive while drinking, even small amounts.
  • You have a tendency to drive drunk, you have been arrested for drunk driving, or you have had an accident while driving drunk.
  • You are taking medications that may interact with alcohol.
  • You are under the legal drinking age.
  • You have attempted to stop or cut back with no success.
  • You have experienced severe withdrawal systems such as convulsions or delirium tremens (DTs).
  • You are unable to stop drinking once you have started.
  • You have experienced blackouts or memory loss while under the influence.
  • You continue to drink, even when your drinking is causing obvious problems in relationships or employment.
  • You are developing tolerance for alcohol (you need increasingly larger amounts).
  • You have a family history of drug or alcohol addiction.
  • You began drinking when you were very young (before age 15).
  • You have or had other addictions (gambling, work, sex, prescription drugs, etc.).
  • Your doctor has recommended that you stop drinking.

What is best for you?

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