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Which is Harder: Abstinence or Moderation?


Which is Harder: Abstinence or Moderation?

People often assume that abstaining from alcohol is harder than moderating, but it makes sense on the surface: If you quit cold turkey, then your body and mind crave the substance until the temptation becomes overwhelming and your will breaks. 

Then there’s moderation, which is when you give yourself the freedom to enjoy a small dose in a safe, controlled environment. The majority of people who use mind-altering substances without becoming addicted are able to maintain their sobriety by carefully moderating their intake. However, moderation could also be a way to wean yourself off a chemical or psychological dependence. The idea is that there will come a point where you’ll be able to retake control of your life. 

On the surface, moderation probably seems easier, which could be why moderation is more common. But recovery isn’t about figuring out what works best for everyone. Rather, it’s about what works for each individual.

In reality, moderation can be even harder than abstinence as it can take as much, or perhaps even more, willpower to stop once you’ve already started.  

Abstaining From Alcohol 

Abstinence is easily defined as when you abstain or choose not to partake in a particular activity. For our present discussion, we’re specifically referring to abstinence in relation to alcohol and drug use. 

It’s already quite common to abstain in the real world; look no further than certain religions—e.g. Mormons, Muslims, and Bahais—that forbid practitioners from consuming alcohol. Similarly, there were teetotalers and prohibitionists who tried to ban alcohol altogether throughout the twentieth century. 

People may find the concept of abstinence to be off-putting due to its implied finality. Because do you really want to commit to never having a social cocktail?

As it happens, there are many reasons for a person to choose to be abstinent, including for the simple reason that many things from which people abstain can be quite dangerous. 

Tools for Abstinence 

You can undergo professional therapy, either alone—often called individual therapy or “talk therapy”—or in a group setting. Therapy not only helps you develop strategies to manage addiction but also helps you identify and address underlying factors that increase the chance of relapse.

In addition to—or, perhaps, instead of—therapy, there’s medication you can take that helps with alcoholism. However, clinicians often reserve these medications for extreme situations. 

Some medications help to alleviate side effects. Others, like naltrexone, can quickly alleviate intoxication, which is crucial in overdose situations. However, if the individual cannot become intoxicated, then what’s the point of consuming alcohol or drugs? The idea is that these medications take away the motivation to drink. 

There are also support groups dedicated to abstinence, including the most famous support group of all, Alcoholics Anonymous. These kinds of groups become a source of support from people who understand, who are looking for solidarity and hope. 

Moderating Alcohol 

Moderation means never drinking too much or too often. In other words, this means staying within existing health guidelines. 

The US Department of Health & Human Services recommends no mo than 2 drinks per day for men and only 1 drink per day for women. If drinking more on certain days than others, then it’s recommended that men drink no more than 14 drinks in a week for men and 7 drinks in a week for women. Of course, these amounts are “standard” drinks, meaning that we’re talking about the amount of alcohol in the beverage rather than the drink itself. It’s a system that encourages you to really think about how the alcohol content of a drink varies depending on the type of alcohol you use to make it. 

Since it tends to be more socially acceptable, moderation can be easier, at least where peer support is concerned. It also has health benefits: Moderation is a way to drink that minimizes the side effects of heavy use, binge drinking, or alcohol poisoning. 

Techniques for Moderation 

When you surround yourself with others who moderate their drinking, it’s much easier to moderate your own intake. (Surely, you’ve heard that you should surround yourself with the people you want to be like?) Because many people have an unconscious desire to conform, you can essentially turn peer pressure toward alcohol in the other direction.  

Benefits and Drawbacks of Moderation 

Moderation can be easier than cold turkey, at least insofar as it requires less upfront commitment. You’re free to fulfill the occasional craving, which can be a good thing as long as you’re not suffering from addiction. If it works, this balanced approach gives you the best of both worlds: careful, occasional drinking that you can enjoy without guilt or long-term health effects.

On the other hand, the temptation to continue your consumption will be ever-present and, potentially, getting more severe. This is important to keep in mind if for no other reason than the fact that it might be easier to not start at all than it is to will yourself back to sobriety if you get carried away. 

Abstinence vs. Moderation: Which is Harder? 

Abstinence and moderation both have pros and cons; however, moderation would seem to be the more difficult option for one main reason.

With moderation, you’re effectively flirting with disaster. Because even in moderation when you’re restricting your intake, the door remains open for your consumption to become less and less moderate. In fact, this is how addiction often occurs: over time, without the individual even realizing it.

If you had initially assumed abstinence to be the more difficult of the two, here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • It’s simply not possible to get carried away with alcohol or drugs if you never started using alcohol or drugs in the first place.
  • When you associate only with other abstinent people, you’ll never be in situations where you’re tempted to use.
  • With moderation, your self-control is all that stands between you and a substance use disorder.

Make Silicon Beach Behavioral Health Your Way to Wellness

There are many different ways to achieve wellness and an equal number of ways to sustain that wellness over time. But what if you’re someone for whom total wellness is elusive?

For some people, certain hereditary, familial, environmental, and relationship factors prevent them from achieving health. At Silicon Beach Behavioral Health, our mission is to ensure that every person can reach his or her full potential. For more information, call us today.