Can moderation work?

There is a widely held belief, in the US especially, that if you have a drinking problem (a ‘real ‘drinking problem, or alcohol abuse disorder) that your only option to get better is to stop drinking alcohol entirely. This is partly because of the prevalence of Alcoholics Anonymous as the only brand name treatment for alcohol abuse disorder - they advocate for abstinence and maintain it is the only possible course of action to resolve a drinking problem.

This belief in the US was strengthened by the death of the founder of Moderation Management, a popular online moderation program, in a drunk driving accident (however, it should be noted that said founder had actually returned to Alcoholics Anonymous and was trying to quit entirely at that point).

While there are benefits to quitting drinking (see our previous post on this topic), there is strong evidence that moderation can work well as a goal, and actually has some additional side benefits.

As for the proof that moderation can work, here are just a few examples of studies showing that programs designed to reduce drinking rather than eliminate drinking can work:

  1. One University of New Mexico study followed people 3 to 8 years after completing moderation-focused goal-setting and self-monitoring therapy for problem drinking, and found 65% were doing better than they were originally. It suggested moderation could work for all but the most heavily addicted to alcohol.

  2. A University of Texas study followed up with people a year after an 8-week drinking reduction program, and found they had reduced their drinking by 64%, and that those who still used the strategies from the program were most likely to be controlling their drinking.

  3. Two surveys published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that of people who resolved their drinking problems on their own, without treatment, 40-60% were successfully moderating their drinking.

  4. One study of 59 drinkers showed that moderation techniques as delivered by Moderation Management and ModerateDrinking.com

Now, for the side benefits:

  1. Better awareness of your problem: If you start moderating your drinking (and tracking it, using an app like Drinker’s Helper), you become more aware of how much you’ve been drinking and how strong your desire to keep going after 1 or 2 drinks is. If you simply quit, you miss the booze, but it’s easier to convince yourself that you might not have had a problem in the first place.

  2. More people getting help. More people are comfortable with the idea of moderating their drinking than quitting entirely (in fact, one study found that when people are given the option, 80% choose moderation over abstinence). If you try to ask for a change as significant as quitting entirely, you may just get a no. But once someone is moderating, it is much easier to then contemplate taking that further step.

The most interesting part is that aside from having a LOWER level of dependence on alcohol, one of the biggest contributing factors to success with moderation is BELIEF that you can do it.

So go forth and do it! We believe you can, and we can help, with Drinker’s Helper.