Moderation V Quitting

3 reasons why alcohol moderation is futile

Moderation V Quitting

I have no doubt, if you have a drinking problem you fit into one of these categories:

  • you’ve tried to reduce your alcohol intake
  • you and thinking about moderating your intake

Alcohol moderation is a strategy many problem drinkers first choose to deal with their bad habit. The idea is to reduce their intake to within acceptable medical guidelines. From my experience and through reading forums, it seems that many try to taper their drinking unsuccessfully. Let’s review some research to see whether it supports my anecdotal evidence.

Moderation v Abstinence: The Research

Research carried out by Miller et al. found that, as alcohol dependency increased, abstaining for 12 months was a much more successful strategy than moderating. In fact, those that are highly dependent on alcohol had a 0% success rate with moderation.

Conversely, those with a very low dependency on alcohol were more likely, over 12 months, to be successful with moderating rather than abstaining. The abstainers did not do as well. In practical terms, this makes sense. If you have low dependency you’re not as invested in giving up. Living alcohol free is more of a “nice to have” rather than a “must have” outcome. In this situation, moderation would be a lot easier to accept than giving up totally.

Success Ratio: Abstinence v Moderation

Alcohol Dependency ScaleSuccess Ratios
0-141 abstainer: 3 moderate drinkers
15-201 abstainer: 1 moderate drinkers
21-2711 abstainer: 6 moderate drinkers
28+6 abstainer: 0 moderate drinkers

Research also found that moderation was more likely to be long term if you were:

  • young
  • female
  • in stable employment
  • in a stable social environment

My opinion on why moderation doesn’t work

  1. You lose logic: It’s fine to have all the best intentions of cutting back but all that goes out the door after a few. You relax and the logical side of your brain becomes quieter. The fun, irrational side steps up and reels off excuses as to why it’s okay to keep drinking. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
  2. It’s frustrating: If you’re only going to have a couple of drinks, what’s the point. That’s a common belief in alcoholics. Moderating becomes a frustration – an E-brake that will eventually be released.
  3. Peer pressure: I always thought peer pressure was a problem for teenagers. In reality, it continues into our adult lives. We want to fit in and, in many social circles, moderate to excessive drinking is expected.

The scary part about moderation is what happens when you resume old habits. I always found consumption spiked massively after a period of moderation. It was catch-up time and I needed to make up for lost time.

Final words on moderating alcohol

There are some individuals out there who will be able to moderate their drinking successfully. If you can succeed with this strategy do it. The reality is that most won’t last over 12 months moderating. This is backed up by solid medical research.

If you’ve been drinking for many years already or your dependency on alcohol is moderate to high, you should seriously consider completely stopping all drinking. I know this isn’t what you want to hear and you’ll no doubt make several attempts at moderation. I hope you are one of the lucky ones who can pull it off. For the rest of us, take heart in the fact that life without alcohol is actually very good. Check out these compelling reasons to quit if you need some motivation.

Whatever path you choose, I wish you the very best of luck.

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