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Moderation vs Abstinence: Finding the Right Approach for Problem Drinking

Moderation vs. Abstinence for Problem Drinking

Problem drinking affects millions of people worldwide.

It refers to drinking alcohol in a way that can harm the persons health, relationships, or daily life. Traditionally, abstinence has been the primary treatment option for those struggling with problem drinking.

However, a new approach called moderation has emerged as an alternative to abstinence, backed by research. In this article, we explore the differences between moderation and abstinence for problem drinking and why moderation may be a better choice than abstinence.

Abstinence as Traditional Treatment Option

Abstinence refers to completely refraining from drinking alcohol, usually encouraged through rehabilitation centers or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. This approach is prevalent because it provides those with problem drinking a clear-cut solution.

However, abstinence can have several challenges that may cause a person to return to problem drinking. For many, abstinence requires consistent active participation in AA meetings, avoiding social gatherings involving alcohol, and identifying themselves as alcoholics.

These demands can create feelings of isolation, loneliness, and can prove stressful. For others, complete abstinence can make occasional social events or even a celebratory drink in moderation seem impossible.

Additionally, the concept of never-drinking-again can prove intimidating, leading to slip-ups or full relapses. Unfortunately, slip-ups or relapses can cause people to lose motivation and give-up on achieving abstinence, leading to ongoing problem drinking.

Moderation as Alternative with Medication

In contrast to abstinence, moderation allows individuals to consume alcohol in a controlled and healthy manner. This approach focuses on harm reduction strategies, which entails a comprehensive goal to reduce the harmful effects of the behavior rather than only eliminating it.

Additionally, this approach combines medication-assisted treatment with rehabilitation centers, allowing people to safely enjoy an occasional drink in moderation. One of the benefits of moderation is that it is easier to stick with for some individuals.

When someone discovers they have a drinking problem, but cannot bring themselves to commit to lifelong abstinence, moderation offers a practical and achievable alternative. Utilizing medication to reduce cravings, combined with a game plan to monitor and control alcohol intake, can help people maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol while still enjoying the occasional drink.

Another advantage of moderation over abstinence is that it provides people with the opportunity to avoid labeling themselves as alcoholics. This labeling can become a barrier to social integration ultimately leading to feelings of isolation.

By pursuing the moderation option, individuals can take advantage of social events and gatherings without worrying about their label and avoiding the isolation of the traditional abstinence approach. Subsequently, the reduced pressure associated with moderation also allows room for people to slip-up without experiencing a sense of failure.

By acknowledging that a slip-up may occur as a part of the process, individuals can persevere in their attempts to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol. These slip-ups may ultimately lead to slowly reducing and ultimately quitting drinking altogether, thus providing support to those individuals who do not want to make an immediate commitment to abstinence.

Starting with Moderation May Lead to Achieving Abstinence

Moderation may not be the perfect solution for everyone, but it can be an excellent starting point for those who struggle with commitment or cannot imagine a life without alcohol. By starting with moderation, it allows individuals to slowly lessen their dependence on alcohol and work towards abstinence, if necessary.

Even for those who do not want to entirely quit drinking, moderation may help to minimize the harmful effects of alcohol consumption, such as addiction and dependency.

The Bottom Line

Moderation and abstinence are two different approaches to problem drinking, each with its pros and cons. While traditional abstinence may work for many, it may not work well for those who want flexibility or autonomy in determining their alcohol intake, or those who cannot imagine their social life without a drink in hand.

On the other hand, moderation provides individuals with an inclusive approach to alcohol use without requiring a complete commitment to abstinence or the challenges associated with the label of “alcoholic.” Ultimately, both approaches aim at reducing the negative effects of problem drinking and are valuable in their ways.

Reasons Abstinence From Alcohol May Be the Best Choice

At times, problem drinking can become so severe that abstinence is the only viable option. While it may seem difficult and overwhelming, choosing to abstain from alcohol can prove vital to restoring one’s overall health.

Here are some reasons why abstinence may be the best choice in certain cases.

Health Problems Require Complete Abstinence

Often, individuals with a high level of dependency on alcohol face health issues that make it unsafe to continue drinking. Abstinence becomes necessary when the body demands time to recover from impacts like cirrhosis, liver failure, and heart disease brought about by a prolonged drinking habit.

The process of rehabilitating the body to recover from these health hazards usually takes an extended period, making quitting alcohol entirely the best choice.

Preference for Not Taking Medication for Alcohol Addiction

One significant issue with using medication to reduce alcohol craving is that it doesn’t work for everyone. For some, the medication may create adverse side effects or fail to address the root of the problem.

Additionally, some individuals may prefer a more natural approach to recovering from alcohol addiction, without any medication. In such cases, abstinence may be the ideal choice, allowing an individual to take the time to recover and heal from problem drinking without relying on medication.

Even One Drink is Too Triggering

Suppose a person is struggling with a more severe drinking problem where they become triggered even by small amounts of alcohol. In that case, it may be impossible to sustain a moderate drinking lifestyle.

For such individuals, abstinence may be the most effective option, allowing them to stay in control of their drinking habits and avoid the risks associated with consuming alcohol.

Personal Choice to Quit Alcohol Entirely

Finally, one common reason for quitting alcohol altogether is simply due to personal choice. Some people opt to abstain completely as they experience negative effects and are turned off from drinking.

Such individuals only realize that they have had enough and would instead avoid alcohol entirely. For these individuals, the choice to abstain from drinking is motivated by a sober and rational decision.

Moderation vs. Abstinence: What’s Right for You?

Choosing between moderation and abstinence regarding problem drinking is a personalized choice in the end. Several factors may play a role in deciding which method is more effective for an individual.

A question to consider when evaluating which approach is the best fit is, “Would I feel more comfortable knowing I can drink in moderation, or should I completely abstain?”

Individual Choice, Most Effective Option, Questioning Drinking Habits

Although it may seem like a tough decision to make, it’s essential to understand that it is ultimately an individual’s choice to make. The issue of problem drinking is personal, only the individual can make the decision as to what is best for them.

Additionally, it is crucial to note that what worked for someone else may not necessarily work for everyone. Consequently, choosing the most effective recovery method should depend on what works for them.

One way to evaluate whether moderation or abstinence is the most effective option is by assessing the severity of the drinking problem. If an individual finds that they cannot control their drinking, quitting altogether is the best choice, while for others, cutting down on alcohol or drinking in moderation may prove the better option.

Ria Health’s Support for Both Options

Ria Health offers individuals the option to choose between moderation and abstinence as a path to recovery. Our medical professionals and addiction recovery coaches will work hand in hand to guide individuals through either option, providing expert medical support, and giving them the tools and resources to help their journey.

Our virtual program ensures that those in need of help don’t have to leave their comfort zones to get it.

The Bottom Line

Choosing between abstinence or moderation regarding problem drinking can be a difficult decision to make, but it’s essential to remember that it is an individual choice, which should be based on their personal preferences. For some, quitting drinking altogether through abstinence may be the most effective option, while others may benefit from moderation, as they gradually recover from problem drinking.

Regardless of the method chosen, seeking support from expert medical professionals and addiction recovery coaches is key to a successful recovery journey. In conclusion, the decision to choose between moderation or abstinence regarding problem drinking is a personal choice that can depend on several factors, including the severity of the drinking problem and personal preferences.

It’s important to remember that what works for one person may not work for another, and everyone’s journey is unique. Seeking support from expert medical professionals and addiction recovery coaches is key to successful recovery.

Remember, the road to recovery is not an easy one, but it is worth it. Here are some common questions and answers to help navigate the issue of problem drinking.


– What is problem drinking?

Problem drinking refers to drinking alcohol in a way that can harm the person’s health, relationships, or daily life.

– What is the difference between moderation and abstinence?

Moderation allows individuals to consume alcohol in a controlled and healthy manner, while abstinence requires completely refraining from drinking alcohol.

– What are harm reduction strategies?

Harm reduction strategies are comprehensive goals that aim to reduce the harmful effects of problem drinking rather than only eliminating it.

– Why can abstinence be the best choice?

Abstinence may be the best choice when an individual’s health condition requires complete abstinence, when an individual prefers a natural approach over medication, when even one drink is too triggering or when an individual decides personally to quit alcohol entirely.

– What is Ria Health and how does it support recovery?

Ria Health offers individuals the option to choose between moderation and abstinence as a path to recovery, with expert medical support and addiction recovery coaches, and a virtual program to ensure comfort throughout the entire process.

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