Is Moderate Drinking an Option for You?

Not everyone with a drinking problem has to give up drinking forever. Learn how to moderate your alcohol consumption and keep it within safer limits.

Perhaps you’ve come to realize that your drinking is a problem. But you still enjoy it. And you don’t think that you’re an alcoholic. You want professional help, but don’t want to go to a standard treatment program that pressures you to give up drinking forever and attend AA meetings. If that’s the case, our moderation management program may be a good alternative for you.

Moderation Treatment

We offer two types of treatment options for people who want help for drinking problems. One option is abstinence-based treatment for individuals who have decided to stop drinking completely and want to stay stopped over the long term. Their decision is often the result of failed attempts at controlled drinking and/or suffering severe alcohol-related consequences.

The other option is moderation-focused treatment. This option is generally intended for “problem drinkers;” i.e., non-alcoholics with less severe drinking problems who have not suffered life-damaging consequences from their drinking and have no prior history of alcohol dependence (alcoholism).

You’ve probably been told that controlled drinking is simply not a safe or realistic option for anyone who’s developed a drinking problem. And that it is a setup for failure based on the assumption that drinking problems always progress and inevitably gets worse. According to this view, lifelong abstinence is the one and only way to deal successfully with a drinking problem.

Scientific evidence does support the notion that people with severe drinking problems are not good candidates for moderation (controlled drinking) and generally do much better with abstinence. And it goes without saying that for anyone who has developed a really serious drinking problem, abstinence is by far the safest course. However, research also has shown that with proper help “problem drinkers” (non-alcoholics with less severe drinking problems) can and sometimes do successfully learn how to moderate their drinking and reliably keep it within safer limits.

Who is Most Likely to Succeed at Moderate Drinking?

According to recent studies, problem drinkers most likely to succeed at moderating their alcohol intake are those who:

  • Have shorter drinking histories and less severe alcohol-related problems
  • Have never been physically addicted to alcohol
  • Have never been addicted to or had severe problems with other drugs
  • Are not currently grappling with severe life problems such as divorce, job loss, bankruptcy, debilitating or life-threatening medical illness, death of a loved one, depression or other psychiatric illness, etc.
  • Have no medical or psychiatric problems that would only be made worse by drinking alcohol, even in moderation

It is interesting to note that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and other U.S. public health agencies estimate that there are at least four times as many problem drinkers as alcoholics in this country today. In light of this fact, it is truly unfortunate that the overwhelming majority of alcohol abuse treatment programs in the U.S. are designed only for people with the most severe drinking problems; i.e., alcoholics. Not surprisingly, people with less severe alcohol problems often avoid seeking help at these programs because they do not want to be labeled as “alcoholics”, be pressured to attend AA meetings, or accept lifelong abstinence as the only legitimate treatment goal, especially if there’s reason to think that giving up drinking forever may not be necessary to resolve their problem.

How Does Moderation Work?

We do not have a pre-formulated program that every client must follow. To the contrary, we pride ourselves on providing our clients with truly flexible, individualized treatment that’s designed to meet their unique situation and needs. We will provide you with a combination of advice, guidance, education, and support– all designed to maximize your chances of success at moderate drinking. We will meet with you individually in private one-on-one sessions, recommend suggested readings, and point you to other helpful materials. You will also have the option of joining one of our moderation groups where you can benefit from the support and feedback of other people grappling with similar issues.

Your course of treatment will take place over several weeks or several months depending on a variety of factors including the initial nature/severity of your drinking problem, your motivation and readiness to change, the presence of other complicating factors, your available support system, and your rate of progress in achieving your desired goals. Most clients begin by coming here once a week for the first several weeks and then taper off to once every 2 weeks and then once every 4-6 weeks as they continue to achieve and maintain progress toward achieving their desired goals.

We encourage (but do not mandate) that all new clients entering moderation-based treatment start this process with a 30-60 day period of not drinking at all. Why? Because it’s likely to significantly increase your chances of success. That’s what the research shows. For whatever reasons, transitioning directly from excessive drinking to moderate drinking is very difficult for most people and they are more likely to succeed after establishing an interim baseline period of abstinence to “set the stage” for attempting moderation. Some of the unique and important ways this baseline abstinence period can be beneficial to you are:

  • It will give you some indication of how easy or difficult it is for you to actually stop drinking and stay stopped for a while.
  • It helps you identify more clearly the internal (environmental) and external (emotional) “triggers” that lead you to drink excessively.
  • It gives you a chance to break old habits, experience a change, and build some confidence.
  • It provides a unique opportunity to see things through a “different set of eyes” and valuable information about the ways you think, feel, and behave in the absence of alcohol.
  • It helps to reveal the nature and extent of your attachment to alcohol, including the degree to which you rely on it to cope with stress, bad moods, and negative emotions.
  • It can help to reduce conflicts with family members and significant others caused or exacerbated by your alcohol use.

Can Medication Be Helpful?

Recent studies suggest that several medications, including naltrexone (Revia), acamprosate (Campral), and topiramate (Topamax), can reduce the likelihood of heavy drinking and can also make it easier to maintain abstinence by offsetting changes in the brain caused by alcohol. Clients considering the use of medication to supplement their treatment here can be seen by one of our physicians who can prescribe and monitor the appropriate medication.

What if Moderation Does Not Work for You?

If it turns out that you are unable to consistently moderate your alcohol intake without lapsing back into harmful drinking patterns, we will offer you the option of switching to abstinence-based treatment and work together with you to formulate a revised treatment plan. Should this happen, it’s important that you not see this as failure, but as a valuable learning experience which has provided you with important information.

Discovering through your own experience that moderation is not attainable for you right now is likely to enhance your acceptance of abstinence as a more realistic choice and increase your motivation to make abstinence work for you. You will also feel more empowered by making this choice based on your own experience rather than feeling like you have submitted to the demands of others.

We Will Help You Decide

We will help you decide whether moderation-based treatment or abstinence-based treatment is best for you. Our evaluation process will give you objective feedback about the nature and severity of your drinking problem and its impact on your life. And we will help you develop a more useful perspective on the problem. We will work collaboratively with you to formulate a treatment plan that is effective, feasible, and makes sense. We are not here to coerce, badger, or humiliate you. We will discuss with you the pros and cons of abstinence and the pros and cons of moderation. And we will respectfully offer you our professional advice and recommendations. But the final choice is yours. You get to choose your own treatment goals.

Contact us today to schedule your confidential evaluation to help you develop a better perspective on your drinking patterns and find out if moderate drinking is the right option for you.