What are the benefits of abstinence versus moderate drinking? For people who develop problems with drinking, the question of which goal is the best one to pursue is ultimately a personal choice. For some, abstinence is the best course while for others it’s moderate drinking. Neither is right or wrong. Furthermore, the question of which path to follow is best made in consultation with a qualified healthcare professional, such as an addiction psychologist.
The easier way out?
Unfortunately, many people believe that moderate drinking is by definition an inferior choice: ‘the easy way out’ that is doomed to fail. Too often, problem drinkers are made to feel guilty if they choose a course other than total abstinence. If they go down the abstinence road, and it’s either not attainable or just too difficult for them, they can feel demoralized and give up.
Failed attempts to completely give up drink often result in heavier drinking than before. It’s important, then, to define what some of the real benefits of moderate drinking might be as an alternative to abstinence.
An easier starting place and a smaller mountain to climb
A lot of the stigma surrounding moderate drinking is based on it being perceived as a “cop out” or easier option, almost a form of cheating. But what’s so bad about easier? Imagine you were a doctor with the option of two courses of treatment for a patient, one being much easier for the patient to follow than the other. All else being equal, you would obviously choose that one.
The goal of a doctor is to make people better. Similarly, the goal of an addiction specialist like Dr. Washton is to help clients eliminate harmful drinking patterns and the negative consequences it is causing in their lives. It’s not about climbing the tallest mountain, just for the challenge.
3 reasons modern drinking is sometimes the preferred option
First of all, for many, lifelong abstinence is simply too daunting. In order to stop abusing alcohol, you have to believe you can do it.
Secondly, quitting alcohol entirely can lead to unpleasant symptoms including intense cravings that create an often overwhelming incentive to dive back into the bottle.
Finally, moderate drinking makes it easier not to have a serious relapse. Those who believe that alcohol is ‘all or nothing’ may cascade more easily from a glass of beer into drunken oblivion.
It’s important to emphasize that when we say that moderate drinking can be an easier way to escape alcohol abuse, we don’t mean easier for everyone. For those with true alcohol dependence, it may be impossible. From the perspective of the alcohol abuser, the important thing is to seek out an expert diagnosis. From the perspective of the therapist, however, it is not only legitimate, but essential to choose the course of action that has the greatest chance of success with the easiest path for getting there.
The benefits of moderate drinking
A great proportion of addiction-recovery culture is based on the holy grail of abstinence. We often forget that being able to drink responsibly is simply a better situation to be in than lifelong abstinence, if you can do that. A well-matched glass of wine with a fine meal is something to celebrate, not look down on. Alcohol plays a central role in our culture, one that is ineradicable, as the prohibition era showed. If you can participate fully in social events that involve responsible intake of alcohol, then life is both easier and more enjoyable.
There is also good evidence that moderate intake of alcohol, if taken with food as part of a balanced lifestyle, has a number of health benefits. Again, some people are not able to participate in the benefits of moderate drinking, and should not try. However, for those who can, there is no shame in becoming a normal drinker.
Not for everyone; get an expert opinion
It cannot be emphasized enough that abstinence and moderate drinking are not rival courses of treatment. Each one is the right course of treatment for some people, but not others. And some people switch between moderation and abstinence, as needed. Ideally, every addiction specialist should be prepared to offer both options. Find out what is the right course for you. Call today or fill out the contact form and click send.