Moderation for addiction and alcoholism

Is Moderation possible for somebody who is an “alcoholic”

Many in recovery, will say that moderation is impossible and that it is a ridiculous idea to attempt, but I feel it may be a more practical aim for many, especially for those who are struggling at the start. 97% of people in twelve step groups, will not stay abstinent from the start of their AA style recovery and many of these people are actually harmed, by the all or nothing approach to recovery. They do not see a small blip of drinking in an otherwise abstinent period of time, as successful moderation. Moderation is seen as a controversial and worthless idea by many and is often met with resistance, if anyone mentions it as a solution, yet other people, who are ready to look at alternatives to AA, feel it can really help. I think it can as well, if managed properly.

AA and the 12 step world has really influenced the recovery world and the rest of society, over the years, with it’s all or nothing approach. In meetings you are encouraged to label yourself as an alcoholic and become convinced you are powerless. You are told you need the spiritual solution of the steps to recover, “no half measures”. The trouble is that most people don’t manage this! They then suffer the humiliation of failure, rather that viewing their efforts in trying to stop, as a success.Non moderator

The 12 step solution is the common view of how to recover, which has had a lot of exposure over the years. Most people will say that moderation is not a sensible goal and that abstinence for life is the only answer. I knew I had a bad problem with alcohol, long before I stopped, but found the thought of giving it up, pretty unbearable. A moderation program could have helped me at this point. Later on, after a few years, I decided to stop. I found it hard at first, due to cravings, but I have stayed stopped ever since. I found it hard, and went to AA for a while, and listened to the ideas they had. I did not like AA and have questioned much of their approach. I rejected the 12 steps and chose a route of self empowerment, which I feel has given me a good recovery over the years. I can now compare my progress, to others, who started out at the same time as me and have concluded that my life is better as a result of following a more rational, “higher power” free path. Many of the people who stuck with AA have sadly relapsed but may have been helped by a different approach such as some form of moderation management, especially when things did not go well for them.

I do not wish to try moderation at the moment, although I do consider myself pretty much recovered and could probably be sensible with drink now. This is not due to fear, but is a result of a massive change in my core beliefs and values. I simply view alcohol as a poison, the same as smoking and something that would not enhance my life. I feel I have dealt with the issues that drove me to abuse alcohol, but my new life is so much better, that I prefer to stay abstinent. Drinking would be a breach of the values that I now live by. I do however know several people, who after spending time working on their addiction issues, and sorting them out, have successfully managed to drink, in a sociable manner. I am sure AA will claim they were not “real alcoholics” but these people certainly fitted the AA definition at one time. One of them wrote a very popular book which talked about recovery, but has modified his approach since then. They have chosen a form of moderation after a period of abstinence.

The concept of moderation and alternative recovery techniques are a subject that still interest me and I believe that it is a valuable approach for many. I have read Stanton Peele’s new book and have written about it here which puts forward many great, practical ideas for people who are wanting to end their addiction problems. He has a great approach to moderation as a way of removing the stigma from failing to stay completely abstinent after an attempt at going alcohol free. He also talks with Kenneth Anderson here about the subject I have thought how this related to me and my early attempts at stopping.

I was one of those people who used to claim that I could not moderate, yet in fact I was actually moderating on a day-to-day basis, without really realising it!  Often people say moderation is not working, because it is so easy to go on a binge when you are out with friends, who are knocking the drink back and inhibitions have lowered to the point, when the idea of getting drunk seems to be the sensible solution and you feel that moderation has failed. I experienced that a few thousand times! However they are still moderating to an extent as they are not drinking all day at work or in front of their children. I would have been considered a high functioning alcoholic, by many. I certainly drank to change the way I felt, and once I had made the choice to drink, I would really go for it when possible. However I still managed to moderate as was not drinking at work etc, where I knew it would not be accepted. I can now see this was actually a form of moderation, because I had some measure of control over my actions. It was not an ideal lifestyle but I was controlling things when I had to work or have other responsibilities. I could stop for many hours of the day and perform difficult tasks. Most people do this. Smokers have to moderate, because they cannot smoke at work, so they have to wait. That is moderation. People do not have a bottle of wine on the desk at work (although some would like it). This is still a form of moderation. Most people who have a problem will say they cannot moderate, yet this is what they actually do, most days when they are in a situation where they have to function. Therefore they should be able to extend this with a suitable plan.

Most people, who try to stop drinking, will have setbacks, which can give rise to dreadful lowering of self worth, which starts the cycle of drinking up again. If you then make them feel powerless, this can really add to the situation in a negative way, and lead to a huge binge. They hold the view, that they are destined to loose control, because they have had a drink after a few days, or weeks, months or even years. However you could look at what has happened as successful moderation over a period of time, where that person is sober most of the time. The blips certainly happened, but overall they have managed to stay sober far more often that they have in the past, when they were drunk every day. They should feel good about achieving this, view it as a success,but thanks to the AA preaching, many don’t, and they feel like a total failure! This is due to the stigma that has been piled onto them. It is true they may not have completely succeeded in their aims, but it is wrong to view their actions as a total disaster. If they are 12 step members and have to suffer the humiliation of loosing all their time, therefore going back to having to collect that 24 hour chip, which can make the feeling of failure even greater. It would be better for many, to get their achievements in perspective. They probably already had low self-esteem to start with, but now they have made it lower!

As I have mentioned before, I aim for complete abstinence. One of the things I have proved to myself in the last 8 or so years is that I can stop and stay stopped. I have that ability and can do it. I was told by a great therapist that if I start again, I can stop again and that I proved that to myself. She told me not to be obsessed by the fear of relapse. This was incredibly empowering and helped free me from the AA, 12 step method which I did not like. I was suffering depression, mainly due to having done step 4 in AA,which had not done wonders for my self esteem and because my privacy had been abused by gossips, in the AA fellowship, which is sadly common. I wanted to leave, but felt inhibited to do so, after the many stories of relapse which you are told are inevitable if you stop going to meetings and praying to higher power! My experience was the opposite ,as life improved for me when I stopped going to meetings and I had worked other methods and gained independence.

I realise that the times I felt that I could not give up before, had been partly driven by negative thoughts that it was complete abstinence, rather than any form of moderation that was my goal. Abstinence may well be the best ultimate goal and solution for many and certainly the best for your health, if you can manage it, but I did not give myself any credit for abstaining several months, or over a year on two occasions, before I caved in. This was because I set the bar to high for the initial attempts and it held me back, when things did not work out. Most people will not succeed in their first attempt to stop completely, whatever method they use. (This certainly makes running a 12 step rehab rather profitable!).Many AA people will succumb to the drink at some point, which will start the cravings up again and because they see themselves as a powerless alcoholic, they really hit the drink until their self-esteem hits another low point and they attempt to stop again. Many of these people would do better if they tried the methods in something like the HAMS reduction program, which gives people the tools to help themselves cut down safely if they are having problems with addiction. Following this approach, is totally different to going down the pub as usual with your friends, with intention of only having a couple and calling that an attempt at moderating. This program allows you look at your problem in a sensible way and find a method of managing in it, that you are conscious about, with realistic aims. Most people who say they cannot moderate have not looked at a sensible method to help them moderate.

I believe I was unconsciously moderating to a greater or lesser extent, when I was drinking. I had to so that I was able to work etc. However as I have said before, I did not see this as moderating, I saw it as a failure and a moral shortcoming. This is because of the old-fashioned ideas that have taken hold over the years about alcohol abuse from the temperance movement, in which AA has its roots. The 12 step movement attempts to dress up its approach as scientific with the brain disease theory, which are also often challenged, by more rational thinkers. On reflection, I think that my own moderation attempts really helped me after all. I did feel physically better when I stopped alcohol and it was like a transition period before I finally stopped. It gave me some time when I could get my thoughts together, and made me acknowledge some uncomfortable problems. It is a shame I did not know about the HAMS, method as I feel it would have empowered me much earlier on and I would have been able to have seen the benefits of changing my ways when I was much younger. I think it can help many, but for it to be really effective, people have to be more honest about the results of the old methods that most are encouraged to use. I have a statistic on the front of this site that says that only 3% of people stay completely abstinent after joining a 12 step group. Some leave, while others do stop in time after a period of stopping and starting which you could view as a form of moderation for a while. Unfortunately, I watched many go on dreadful binges that resulted in dreadful results including, two deaths, a stroke and a jumping off a bridge from my groups. The HAMS reduction method puts safety into the mind of those who are going to have a drink in recovery (97% of you in 12 step groups!) and offers a realistic approach to dealing with many of the problems, that addicts face.

I often think you need different approaches, at different times in your recovery, to move forward to the next stage. I am sure many will often feel that moderation is too difficult long-term, after trying it for a while, and will decide to stop which is probably what happened to me. I feel it is important to acknowledge the fact that recovery is difficult and that very few will do it perfectly to start with and that old out of date ideas are actually holding people back. Sometimes people need to move forward in a series of small steps and change methods if they are not working, rather than plough on regardless, with a method that is not helping them. Many cannot see the advantages of stopping drinking, even though they know they have a problem, and some moderation may help them get things in focus.

Here is a link to an interesting discussion on the subject

They talk about resistance to the idea.

Here is the HAMS site page with loads of links

and a blog page

Please look at the Stanton Peele site which has so much information about recovery and often challenges the old-fashioned flawed ideas of conventional recovery.








Commenting area

  1. Good post. I believe moderation is possible for some people who have been an alcoholic. There are some people it seems it is just best they leave it alone. For some it is a case of been there done that and have no desire to mess with it again. I respect either choice. What I do not respect is AA’s stance that a real alcoholic never can moderate. That is just not true and there is evidence to prove it. People do best given choices and see which one is best for them and their over all mental and physical health.

  2. I think it can also be really important as a transition stage for people as so few make abstinence work first time.

    • I agree, for many the all or nothing approach just makes many chose to continue as they have been, It is like society gives them no credit or encouragement to moderate. I think it is very important to teach teenagers about moderating. Most are going to drink, we need to teach them more that if they are, how to do so in a way that reduces the harm of drinking.

      Some people learn to moderate and then just decide they just do not need it at all. There does seem to be some people that when they drink even moderately become mean and you see more of a personality change than others. There are many variables about moderating, but it certainly needs to be discussed more and not have AA out there telling the world that it is impossible for any “real alcoholic” to moderate. It is one of the most damaging messages they have. It is so obviously and glaringly self serving on AA’s part as an organization in an attempt to retain lifelong members. What gets me is that so many people have bought this hook line and sinker when we probably all know people who had been an alcoholic only to later moderate in life.

  3. It’s tough to trust a man who cannot trust himself with a beer.

    That is not to say that everyone can nor should moderate … but moderation is more than possible. Most people learn to moderate and are free from the negative labels they must embrace about themselves in 12 step groups.

    It’s tough to trust a man who cannot trust his own thinking around a beverage. You have a choice and you know which choice is best for you. This ‘phenomenon of craving’ is only a self-fullfilling prophesy. If you’re brainwashed to believe your thinking is ‘diseased’, you believe that once you take that first drink, you have lost all control. BILLshit. Keep coming back!

    Great post. Moderation is just as viable a choice as abstinence. Faith healing is for snake oil salesmen.

  4. I have just finished the book you have linked to on your site this morning. Thought it was pretty good. Will write a review about in the next few days. Many congrats again, by the way!

  5. Hi Cougarblogger! I have to say there are some men I would prefer not to be around even after one drink, but for many moderation is an option and should be discussed and rewarded more.

    • Agree! The ‘man’ in this quote references all mankind. If you can’t trust yourself to make a decision whether to drink a beverage … or you can’t trust yourself to drink one or two and make a choice from there … well, you really can’t trust yourself at all. THAT is exactly where the AA religion wants you to be. Stinkin Thinkin!

  6. I think that being alcohol free is still the best idea if you are committed and have turned your life around. The main way I recovered was with a huge shift in values and I do not think drinking is a healthy thing, or something that I would want to do. I would not say that moderating something like heroin is really going to have the best outcome either. It depends how bad you got and how you feel about things. I drank heavily for many years and have quite happily left that behind. A one size fits all solution is never a good idea, in recovery.

    • Sometimes people have nearly destroyed their body and liver by drinking, which makes the liver more sensitive to alcohol while it is in healing mode.Moderating heroin I guess is one way to try to wean one off of it and not need to spend as much money and build a huge tolerance. That is what I like about Harm Reduction in general, it needs to be taught more so maybe one’s addiction can have less of a negative impact in one’s life, or one might learn to moderate successfully on things like drinking.

      • Yes, I did not word my reply that well. I think moderating something like heroin using harm reduction methods for a while could help you to stop and would be a good approach for many. I think total abstinence is too difficult for most people at the start. Attempting moderation can really help people see the extent of their problem and hopefully see the benefits of changing lifestyles.

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