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Alcohol Moderation - Real or Myth?

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For decades, the linchpin of alcohol treatment has been complete abstinence from drinking. "Rehab culture" maintains that any drinking is dangerous drinking - and no one with an alcohol problem can expect to handle alcohol responsibly again. But for many people, drinking moderately is a more realistic goal than strict abstinence. The Moderation Movement, a rapidly growing alternative approach to standard alcohol rehab, provides tools to help people take control of their drinking behaviors and learn to use alcohol in moderation.


Many Addictions, but Only One Treatment Plan

With very few exceptions, standard inpatient and outpatient alcohol rehab programs follow the same treatment model - total abstinence from alcohol, backed up by counseling and therapy to help alcohol abusers understand the triggers for drinking and learn new strategies for living sober. Many of these rehabs draw from the principles of the 12-step program to give alcoholics a framework for recovery that requires them to admit to being powerless in the face of their addiction, or afflicted with a disease that can't be consciously controlled.

These kinds of programs treat all "problem drinkers" in the same way, although people take many paths to addiction. A college student arrested for drunk driving after a weekend binge probably abuses alcohol differently than a chronic alcoholic with severe personal and health problems caused by years of steady drinking. Between these two extremes lie many other drinking behaviors - and they may not be well served by the standard model of treatment. Fusion Recovery treats each client as an individual and respects clients treatment goals.

Alcohol plays an important role in social life in many parts of the world, and moderate drinking has its health benefits too. Learning to use - not misuse - alcohol gives people a sense of control over their drinking behavior and reduces the stress and sense of guilt that often affects people struggling with strict abstinence.


Moderation Requires Motivation and Support

Many people who misuse alcohol try to moderate their drinking behaviors, setting limits on where, when and how they drink. But until relatively recently, they had little or no support for choosing this way to manage drinking.

Enter the Moderation Movement, a program formally created in the mid-1990s that has recently been rediscovered as an alternative to standard abstinence-based alcohol rehab. The program's founder, Audrey Kishline, was an alcoholic who had experienced just about every aspect of abstinence and 12-step rehab programs and seen firsthand that these programs failed to serve many people who misused alcohol.

Today, some experts on addiction agree - and they're taking another look at moderation rather than abstinence as an effective way to resolve issues of excessive drinking for many people. But to drink moderately and responsibly requires self-awareness and commitment, so the Moderation Movement provides its own framework for helping people make healthier choices about alcohol. Fusion Recovery is one of the few programs in the country that support people seeking to attempt moderation of alcohol consumption.

Taking Back Control From Alcohol

Learning to drink moderately after a period of drinking excessively requires some changes in thinking and habits. For people who are disheartened by the 12-step directive to admit their powerlessness over addiction, deciding to drink moderately puts them back in control by giving them the power to choose how to drink - or not to. And for those who are uncomfortable with the notion that alcohol abuse is a disease, moderation puts the focus on the behaviors that led to an addiction instead.

Moderation does involve some abstinence, though. The Moderation Movement recommends taking a "30" - thirty days of not drinking at all. In some areas, the idea of the "30" has risen to the level of a national challenge, such as Australia's "Sober October." Choosing not to drink for a month gives drinkers a chance to observe their behaviors and feelings around alcohol, so that at the end of that month they can either choose to start drinking in moderation again - or stay away from alcohol altogether if that feels right.

Moderation also means more than just drinking less. The moderation plan involves setting limits and parameters around using alcohol, such as designating only certain days for drinking, or deciding beforehand how to handle situations where alcohol is present. Keeping a journal or diary is a key part of the moderation protocol, too. That gives users a place to record things such as the occasion for drinking, emotional states and other details to help identify triggers for drinking and devise new ways to handle situations where drinking could become a problem.

Like many 12-step programs, the Moderation Movement is based on peer-to-peer support, although its principles have been adopted by some formal rehab programs too. Moderation groups have sprung up in Europe, the U.S. and other parts of the world, giving people a place to share experiences, offer support and learn new ways to manage alcohol responsibly. The moderation approach maintains that moderation is a choice like other lifestyle choices - including the choice to abuse alcohol.


Moderation or Abstinence? It All Depends

The notion of moderation as a way to manage alcohol abuse is gaining momentum, but for some, abstinence from alcohol may still be the best choice. People who try moderation but repeatedly return to old patterns of abusing alcohol may be better off not drinking at all. And for those with serious, longstanding alcohol dependence, any kind of drinking could trigger a relapse. For them, standard abstinence-based rehab programs offer the support they need to stay away from alcohol in any form.

But for many people who misuse alcohol, the "myth" that moderate drinking is impossible is just that - a myth. With motivation and support, choosing to drink responsibly and moderately can provide real benefits for life.

If you are interested in discussing a program of moderation, call Fusion Recovery today at 408-484-4740.

Written by Michael O’Brien, SAP, CATC, CSC

 

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