Abstinence Vs. Moderation: Which Is Right For Me?

“If anyone who is showing inability to control his drinking can do the right-about-face and drink like a gentleman, our hats are off to him!”

With one sentence in a chapter titled “More About Alcoholism,” the authors of Alcoholics Anonymous, more affectionately referred to as The Big Book, defined the difference between abstinence and moderation. Alcoholics who have a clinically demonstrated inability to control their drinking are rarely able to develop a manner of living in which they are able to control their drinking. Chemically, their brains have become so altered that the very thought of alcohol triggers cravings beyond control. Though they can learn to live a clean and sober life by making different choices, many have found after relapse that the myth of having “just one” or being able to control their drinking is nothing more than a myth.

There are people who develop abusive behaviors toward alcohol for a time but do not fully develop alcoholism. Such people may choose to remain abstinent after staying abstinent out of necessity for a period of time. However, they have not develop a chemical dependency on alcohol to the extent others have. Psychological cravings and even early signs of physical cravings might have developed. Upon testing their theory of moderation to see if it is possible to have “just one” they are able to restrain themselves from bingeing again. Losing control over alcohol is not longer a threat to them. Are these people alcoholics? Not according to scientific definition. They are people who have experienced difficulty with alcohol but were able to recover their ability to control their drinking. Alcoholics “of our kind” as The Big Book calls them, are never able to recover their ability to control their drinking. Alcoholics in recovery are able to recover their lives, their mental, physical, and spiritual health, in addition to recovering their constitutional ability to abstain from alcohol.

To discover whether moderation or abstinence is best for someone seeking recovery from an alcohol problem could prove to be a fatal trial. For the alcoholic, there is no control over drinking once he starts drinking. Thus, the alcoholic discovers he must remain abstinent from a drink all together. Others will find that they can set limitations, even get drunk, but never encounter problems again. Continuing to drink to discover whether abstinence or moderation is the right fit could lead to severe problems for the alcoholic. As The Big Book describes, “In some instances there has been brief recovery followed always by a still worse relapse. Physicians who are familiar with alcoholism agree there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic.”


Smarmore Castle Private Clinic promotes long term abstinence as the goal of alcohol addiction treatment. Utilizing the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in addition to a diverse range of treatment methods, our residential treatment programmes offer patients for optimal recovery. Call us today to speak with one of our caring staff members and more information on our programs at: +353 41 214 5111

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