Why Does the Moderation Approach Not Work?

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More often than not, addiction begins when an individual is curious about recreational substance abuse. This curiosity can occur for a number of reasons. In some instances, individuals begin to wonder if increasing their prescription medications will make the medications more effective. Unfortunately, medications taken in doses higher than what is considered therapeutic renders them either completely ineffective or much less effective while putting the individual at risk of developing a chemical dependency. Alternately, there are those who are intrigued by recreational intoxication and experiment with alcohol or drugs because substance abuse is their means of achieving feelings of euphoria and pleasure.

However it occurs, the development of addiction results in a number of effects that fill an individual’s life with hardship. Oftentimes individuals associate alcohol and drug addiction with physical and health effects, but many would argue that the changes to an individual’s psyche that occur as a direct result of addiction have more significant and severe implications. As a result of active addiction, substance abuse becomes a primary, driving influence on an individual’s life. Since an addict must maintain their substance abuse in order to keep withdrawal symptoms at bad, they become increasingly desperate in the search for their substance or substances of choice. If necessary, addicts will often lie to their own loved ones or even resort to criminal behavior in order to avoid withdrawal. Over time, this mindset becomes a way of life and, consequently, has proven very difficult to overcome.

As difficult as it might be, recovery from addiction is possible and attainable. In fact, there are many different ways and strategies that individuals can implement as they progress from a state of active addiction to one of health and sobriety. In particular, the addiction treatment programs available at rehabs arm individuals with the tools they need to remain sober as they receive quality, evidence-based treatments. Additionally, many have found success in recovery through the twelve-step method of Alcoholics Anonymous and its derivative groups. However, there are other techniques, such as the moderation approach, that are much more controversial.

The Magical Amount: What is Alcohol Moderation?

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Most of those who are familiar with addiction recovery have frequently heard the word “abstinence”. By definition, abstinence refers to the voluntary act of refraining from indulging in a developed appetite or craving. In other words, an individual who abstains has decided, for one reason or another, to resist behaving in a particular way in spite of his or her desire to do so. Traditionally, the concept of abstinence has been associated with self-control and has often been associated with sexual intercourse, but has more recently been extended for use with regard to the willful resistance of alcohol and drug consumption.

Moreover, abstinence has been a key concept in the overall philosophy of addiction recovery. Abstaining from alcohol and drugs is considered the most effective—and virtually the only sure way—to remain sober. However, the concept of moderation has been around at least as long as the concept of moderation and is similarly associated with the exercising of self-control or restraint, but can also be used in the sense of safety and health. In the plainest terms, exercising moderation is intended to prevent oneself from too much or too little in situations where either extreme would result in some level of harm or risk.

Whereas the concept of abstinence suggests that it is safer to resist a behavior than to indulge in it at all, moderation suggests that a behavior can be safe when at a controlled level with the risk involved only when the behavior reaches an extreme level. In short, moderation refers to the Goldilocks principle of achieving a level that is neither too much nor too little, but just right or “the magical amount”. Moreover, there are a variety of other, old adages based on the idea that just about anything can be safe when at a safe, controlled level; however, this concept also assumes that an individual has the ability to identify those instances in which even a moderated behavior is unsafe.

The Problem Inherent in the Moderation Approach of Addiction Recovery

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While it might seem like moderation would be a viable solution to many problems due to moderating oneself requiring somewhat less restraint than abstaining altogether, there’s a major, glaring problem when one applies the moderation approach to substance abuse and addiction. In particular, the problem has to do with impulse control and the mounting research that describes addiction as an impulse control disorder. In fact, a number of diagnostic materials classify several behavioral addictions like sex addiction and gambling addiction as being derived from underlying problems with impulse control, which essentially means that an individual is sometimes unable to control him or herself and, consequently, becomes extremely impulsive when a behavior is perceived to induce pleasure.

For addiction, this means that addicts show signs of impulse control issues, which make them unable to refrain from impulsive substance abuse. In theory, moderation would allow addicts to simply taper their substance abuse to a level that couldn’t be described as abuse and, therefore, wouldn’t entail chemical dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and the numerous health and behavioral effects that result from the development of an addiction. However, the close relationship that addiction has with impulse control disorders indicates that this would be either impossible or an unstable means of achieving sobriety.

Over the course of active addiction, many addicts reach a point when they tell themselves they will conquer addiction by weaning themselves down while meantime exercising moderation to prevent themselves from consuming too much of the drug. Unfortunately, this proves to be impossible as the individuals quickly begin to overindulge in alcohol and drugs. This illustrates that, while the moderation approach would theoretically be effective and more easily achievable means of overcoming addiction, the inability of addicts to control the substance abuse impulse renders the moderation approach to addiction recovery little more than a means of temporary harm reduction. In instances when an addict was to somehow demonstrate prolonged restraint and the ability to moderate his or her consumption behavior, the continual access to and interaction with his or her substance of choice puts the individual at daily risk of losing control and reverting right back to being in the throes of active addiction.

Make Your Way to a Safe, Healthy Life at the Palm Beach Institute

There are ways to achieve a state of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction because the method that yields optimal results for one individual might not be the best or most comprehensive solution for another. If you or someone you love is suffering from alcohol or drug dependency and would benefit from learning more about treatment, the Palm Beach Institute is here to help. Call us at 855-534-3574 or contact us online today to speak with one of our recovery specialists who has helped countless individuals begin the journey toward a better, healthier life of sobriety and fulfillment. Don’t wait—a better life is only a phone call away.



Elysia Richardson
Digital Content Editor

Elysia L. Richardson is a content writer and editor who covers addiction and substance abuse for Delphi Behavioral Health Group. Previously a writer and editor for various digital and print publications, she enjoys researching news in the recovery field and finding engaging ways to share information that helps improve people’s lives.

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