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Alcohol Abstinence Vs. Moderate Drinking

Published on July 28, 2021
Alcohol Abstinence Vs. Moderate Drinking

Complete abstinence from alcohol is recommended for people going through alcohol addiction treatment. There are some programs out there that take a non-abstinence approach, where the effects of alcohol abuse are treated above the drinking habits themselves.

Moderate drinking means drinking about 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor in one sitting.

The effectiveness of alcohol moderation programs are still being studied. Future research may be needed to weigh the benefits and risks of moderation compared to abstinence.

Benefits Of Alcohol Abstinence

Health experts have historically recommended abstinence for people struggling with chronic alcohol problems.

Any amount of alcohol consumption is a risk factor for relapse. Even if you think you will only have a little bit of alcohol, the act of drinking can be a trigger for your mind, and you may end up drinking heavily without planning to.

Total abstinence from alcohol is also linked to a lower risk of liver problems, certain types of cancers, violent behaviors, and other problems.

Learn more about The Benefits Of Alcohol Abstinence

Does Abstaining From Alcohol Have Risks?

Complete abstinence from alcohol, also known as quitting “cold turkey,” can be risky for people who have an alcohol dependence. These people will likely experience withdrawal when they quit, because their bodies need alcohol to function.

Left unchecked, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can lead to relapse, sleeping problems, seizures, and even death. Abstinence programs may encourage people to quit drinking alcohol over a period of time, instead of all at once, to reduce the risks that come with withdrawal.

An effective abstinence treatment program likely involves:

  • cleansing (detoxing) alcohol from your system
  • administering medication (like naltrexone or methadone) to reduce cravings and deal with withdrawal symptoms
  • setting you up with support groups (like Alcoholics Anonymous) to put you in a recovery-focused environment
  • focusing on the mental health aspect of alcohol abuse and addiction through psychotherapy

Potential Benefits Of Moderate Drinking

Some alcohol treatment programs do not involve abstinence, or even getting people to reduce their drinking habits at all. These are known as harm reduction or moderation treatment methods.

Harm reduction programs focus on the motivating factors behind a patient’s treatment. Some patients want to reduce their alcohol consumption slightly, but not completely. Others want to reduce risks related to drinking, such as driving drunk or engaging in risky behavior.

Studies show that some non-abstinence recovery programs are connected to a faster recovery period and reduced drinking problems, especially in younger patients.

Moderate Drinking & Health Benefits

There are many studies that link moderate drinking to health benefits, such as improved digestion and reduced risk of gallstones. As a depressant, alcohol can also improve your social life and mood in moderation.

Recently, experts have questioned and revisited the benefits of moderate drinking. Many of their results point to less benefits and more risks of drinking than was previously reported.

Risks Of Moderate Drinking

Studies that recognize the potential benefits of moderation programs also see its risks. People who went through non-abstinence programs reported a lower quality of life compared to people who went through abstinence programs, according to one study.

Non-abstinence programs may be more effective in younger adults. Older patients on non-abstinence programs have reported worse results on average compared to younger patients.

Moderate drinking can still put you at risk for health effects like certain cancers and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, many people who have gone through non-abstinence programs seek out complete abstinence later in life.

Alcohol Treatment Programs

Alcohol use disorder treatment programs employ a variety of methods. Some treatments try to help you quit alcohol and find ways to establish a healthy recovery. Others may not promote abstinence, and look to reduce addictive behaviors and related health risks.

Many treatment programs share a goal of minimizing the damage caused by alcohol use disorder (AUD).

If you or a loved one struggles with AUD, it may be time to seek help. To find the best treatment for alcohol abuse available, talk to your healthcare provider or contact us today.

Find An Alcohol Rehab Program Near You

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Facts about moderate drinking
Harvard School of Public Health - Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Drinking Levels Defined
PubMed Central - Differences between abstinent and non-abstinent individuals in recovery from alcohol use disorders

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