The Myth of Moderation for Problem Drinkers

Moderation Myth

When I realized that I had a drinking problem, I immediately told myself I would moderate how much I drank. If I could just control my drinking, then I wouldn’t have to give it up. I told myself I would only drink on weekends, I would only go out for one beer after work, I would only drink on special occasions, I would only, I would only, I would only… 

The conundrum for me was that I knew with every fiber of my being that I genuinely could not stop drinking once I started. So telling myself I would be able to moderate my consumption was probably one of the biggest lies I ever told myself. But I set out with honest intentions to wrangle in my drinking and tried to just have one beer after work. I tried to only drink on weekends and I tried to limit myself to drinking only on special occasions.

It didn’t work. But just because I couldn’t do it, doesn’t mean everyone who wants to moderate their drinking is destined to fail. However, depending on your relationship with alcohol, it may be more challenging than you think.

Can I moderate? 

I hate to be a buzzkill, but the unfortunate reality is that most people who have to ask themselves this question likely have a problem with alcohol. Most “normal” drinkers don’t have to contemplate moderating their consumption because they don’t have that kind of relationship with alcohol. They can leave a drink half full on the table, or turn down a drink after they’ve only had one or two. 

People that could do that were always such anomalies to me, because I just couldn’t. Every drink I had needed to be finished and even with a full drink in hand, I was always thinking of the next one. So when I set out on my moderation field research, I immediately failed because of my obsessive relationship with alcohol – I abuse it every time

A lot of people struggle with the realization that their drinking is a problem. They attempt to moderate to reel in a problem that’s already beyond their control. So before trying to moderate yourself, it may be a good idea to ask yourself some honest questions. 

Questions to ask yourself about moderation

  • Is there a bigger issue at play that set you on this path (such as a DUI or an ultimatum from family or friends)? 
  • What does your moderation plan look like and is it sustainable? 
  • If you could moderate your drinking, why haven’t you done it already? 
  • Are you drinking to have a drink or are you drinking to get drunk? 
  • Also, what’s the need to keep a substance in your life that may be negatively affecting you to the point where you feel like you need to control it? 

It’s also important to have a realistic idea of what moderating alcohol consumption actually looks like. According to the CDC, moderate drinking for men is two drinks or less a day and one drink a day for women. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks on an occasion for men or four or more drinks on an occasion for women. If these stats don’t widen your eyes and scare you, then you may be able to moderate. But if you set out to moderate and continue to lose control of your drinking, moderation may not be possible. 

Some people also try to moderate by switching one alcoholic beverage for another. For example, they may believe that if they drink beer instead of hard alcohol, they are successfully moderating. However that doesn’t always work, as people may find themselves drinking more of the tempered choice to reach that of the stronger. 

What’s next?

There are drinking mindfulness apps like Reframe, Sunnyside, and Monument that can help track your drinking and monitor your progress. You can talk to your doctor about medications like Naltrexone and Vivitrol to help curb cravings and cease the desire to drink once you start. There’s also the The Sinclair Method which suggests taking a non-addictive opioid antagonist before drinking to remove one’s interest in drinking alcohol overall. So there are resources that can assist you in your quest for moderation if you are having trouble on sheer willpower alone. 

Sometimes, one of the first stops on the way to abstinence is an attempt at moderation. This is because for some people, moderating is harder than just not drinking at all. In recovery, we often hear the expression “when I control my drinking, I don’t enjoy it. When I enjoy my drinking, I can’t control it.” Maybe that will be different for you and I hope it is. But you won’t know if you can moderate until you try and if you can’t, abstinence is always an option. And abstaining from alcohol has certainly been easier for me than having just one. 

What a lot of us have in common is that we think we can learn how to moderate, we just have to figure out how to do it. If anyone has figured that out, please let The Wagon know so we can update this post, LOL.

Have you tried moderation? Did it work for you? Let us know in the comments below


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