Alcoholism is an addiction, characterized by cravings for alcohol and a compulsion to drink, even when the drinker knows he or she will suffer harmful side effects from it. Alcoholic’s bodies become physically accustomed to the presence of alcohol, and they may even suffer from symptoms of withdrawal if they stop drinking alcohol or try any kind of moderate drinking.
Abstinence from Alcohol
Current addiction treatment programs consider abstinence from alcohol to be the most effective means of recovering from alcoholism and maintaining sobriety long-term. This means absolutely no alcohol consumption, at present or in the future. Abstinence-based programs maintain that there is no level of drinking that is safe for alcoholics in recovery; in fact, many programs consider an alcoholic who stops drinking to be continuously “in recovery” but never “recovered,” because any amount of drinking could trigger a relapse. That being said, there is a current movement called “Moderation Management” proposing that alcoholics can learn to drink responsibly. This begs the question: Can problem drinkers learn moderation?
Can An Alcoholic Achieve Moderate Drinking?
The Moderation Management program is designed to help alcoholics change their behavior so that their drinking is no longer a problem. Like many addiction treatment programs, this one begins with abstaining from alcohol, but instead of attempting to maintain that abstinence forever, members can transition to moderate drinking or alcohol use after 30 days. Moderation Management guidelines include:
- Attending meetings in-person or online
- Monitoring alcohol consumption
- Conducting a regular self-inventory
- Abstaining from alcohol 3-4 days each week
- Limiting drinking; for women, this means no more than 3 drinks per day or 9 per week; for men, no more than 4 drinks per day or 14 per week
While this treatment model may be appealing to current alcoholics who do not want to stop drinking, evidence shows that as many as 15% of Moderation Management members have clinical symptoms of alcoholism, suggesting that the program is not completely effective.
Why Is It Difficult for Problem Drinkers to Learn Moderation?
It is challenging for problem drinkers to drink in moderation for the same reasons that they became problem drinkers in the first place. The causes of alcoholism vary from person to person but may include a genetic predisposition or other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. These root causes will not go away, and continued drinking may even mask them, preventing the alcoholic from receiving proper treatment.
A person with a strong family history of alcoholism may have a genetic tendency toward addiction that will always be triggered by alcohol consumption, even at low levels. A person who suffers from undiagnosed depression or anxiety may drink to self-medicate and continuing to drink will further the condition and prevent the individual from seeking treatment for either problem. Even people without any of these conditions may drink as a social crutch or as a stress management technique, and unless they truly stop drinking, they will never learn how to handle stressful situations in a healthy manner.
In addition, alcoholics frequently lack the ability to regulate their drinking–that is part of the reason they developed a drinking problem. Moderation is a poor management technique because alcoholics cannot stop at the “just right” level of drinking — any exposure to alcohol triggers cravings for more. The idea of moderate drinking is more likely a way for the alcoholic to placate the people pressuring him or her to change or to deny to himself the extent of the problem behavior.
For these reasons, the answer is no: alcoholics cannot drink in moderation. Complete abstinence from alcohol is the best treatment approach for alcoholism. If you would like more information on alcohol abstinence, call our toll-free number.