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Abstinence versus Moderation

When most people hear the word sobriety, they also hear that a person is abstaining from alcohol and drugs. It’s clear to most people that when a person has become sober, the goal is for that person to remain that way through abstinence. Although most people find the word abstinence to be intimidating, it is precisely what most recovering addicts are aiming for.

Abstinence means the act or practice of restraining from something that one finds enjoyable, in this case alcohol or drugs. There is a reason behind the push for abstinence in recovery addicts – research clearly shows that a commitment to avoid drugs and alcohol is easier on a person in the long run versus indulging occasionally. For those who tend to have harmful behavioral traits, such as continuing to drink until drunk, abstinence is the safer option. Drinking moderately or using a harm reduction approach to recovery might be too risky. (Harm reduction is an approach to recovery that explores ways to slowly reduce the harm of drinking or using drugs. Although abstinence may eventually happen, this treatment method doesn’t expect abstinence at the start of treatment.) Research also indicates that there are a few people in various cultures who can go from having an addiction to alcohol to drinking moderately. However, for most addicts, the continued use of alcohol will only continue to lead to severe consequences in life.

Furthermore, the illness of addiction has an effect on the brain such that the functioning of the brain is affected in significant ways. A person begins to make choices with the perception that the alcohol and/or drugs he or she is addicted to is required for survival. There is a desperation that develops in an addict, and that desperation makes a person fantasize, dream about, and crave the substance more than anything else in life. As a result, he or she neglects other life responsibilities and makes the alcohol or drugs that center of life. This is the dangerous situation addiction creates. Therefore, continued use is likely to only exacerbate the illness of addiction.

For these reasons, it is best that a person discontinue use altogether. Removing the one thing that was, at one point, at the center of their lives, helps them focus on other things: health and well being, family, occupation, and friends. Drinking moderately or using a harm reduction approach can continue to put a person at risk.

Nonetheless, just because a person has agreed to getting sober and aiming to stay sober, doesn’t mean that he or she won’t relapse. In fact, on average, a person who is on the path to recovery using abstinence relapses three times before gaining long-term sobriety. It’s not easy for a person to find their full commitment to sobriety right at the beginning of recovery. Although as already mentioned, this has proven to be the best treatment method, it can be incredibly challenging. Therefore, when relapse happens, it can be a tool for learning and strengthening one’s commitment.

Whether you choose abstinence or moderation is up to you. However, be sure that you have the right personal and professional support around you throughout your recovery.

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