Should I Choose Moderation or Abstinence?

Can I ever drink again?

One big question that comes up when people are making changes to their relationship with alcohol, is whether to stop drinking altogether or try to stick to moderation. This is a good question, and it is a good idea to consider this carefully. Some questions that can help guide your decision are:

Have I been able to drink in moderation in the past?
Is it possible for me to stop after one or two drinks?
Are there certain situations where I am likely to want to drink more?
How am I impacted by alcohol and what effect does it have on my body?

For some people, once they have looked at their relationship with alcohol, and made some changes to it, they may find that moderation is a good option. They may have made changes so that their consumption of alcohol is only in certain situations (like a glass of wine at dinner) and that there are some safeguards to prevent it from going further like asking their partner to support them in sticking to just the one drink.

For some people drinking mindfully will be effective in helping them to notice and enjoy the pleasant effects of alcohol, and understand when they have had enough.

When we are considering moderation, however, one really important thing to remember is that alcohol has a strong effect on the inhibitory parts of our brains, the parts that affect decision making and self-regulation. This is one of the reasons it can be really hard to stop after just one drink as our reward centres are buzzing with dopamine from that first drink, and at the same time, our ‘self-control’ centres are being taken offline by the effects of the alcohol. This is why we can sometimes have that war with our future and past selves, that part of us that was committed to going for a walk after the glass of wine might suddenly decide that it is a better idea to finish the whole bottle and watch a movie instead.

When we are considering moderation, remember this:

If we are trying to moderate our alcohol use, it can be really good to have some backup plans that can act as surrogate self-regulators. These could include having only a small amount of alcohol in the house, having a commitment where we need to be sober, having some replacement behaviours such as drinking sparkling water between drinks or having supportive people around us to gently remind us of our intentions. Checking into Daybreak is a good option as well since it can be an instant reminder of why we are wanting to make changes in the first place.

When might moderation not be a good option?

If you have never been able to drink in moderation, and have found that drinking generally results in losing control, then perhaps you are part of that population of people for whom alcohol just is not a good idea. We know that for some people, a combination of genetic and environmental factors result in them being really vulnerable to alcohol and their lives are a lot better when they are alcohol free. Attempting moderation can sometimes be stressful for these people, as it can be a huge challenge to stop at one drink and might lead to a person feeling discouraged and helpless.

Other times that moderation might not be a good idea might be when you are simply looking to take a break, to see what things are like without alcohol. It can be really refreshing to take a break from alcohol for a few weeks or months, even if you have no intention of stopping permanently.

The take home message from all of this is that, whether you choose moderation or alcohol free, the really important thing is to be realistic and guided by past behaviour.

Often when we first make the decision to change our relationship with alcohol, we will experiment with what works for us. Perhaps there are certain situations that we can drink in moderation, and others where we might find we drink more than we had planned most of the time. The key is to remain open and curious about these situations, and certain triggers. Considering what you would like your relationship with alcohol to be, in an ideal world, is a great place to start.

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