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Moderation vs Abstinence: Should You Cut Back, or Quit Drinking?

In Europe, about half (44–46%) of individuals seeking treatment for AUD have non-abstinence goals (Haug & Schaub, 2016; Heather, Adamson, Raistrick, & Slegg, 2010). In the U.S., about 25% of patients seeking treatment for AUD endorsed nonabstinence goals in the early 2010s (Dunn & Strain, 2013), while more recent clinical trials have found between 82 and 91% of those seeking treatment for AUD prefer nonabstinence goals (Falk et al., 2019; Witkiewitz et al., 2019). Polich, Armor, and Braiker found that the most severely dependent alcoholics (11 or more dependence symptoms on admission) were the least likely to achieve nonproblem drinking at 4 years. However, a quarter or this group who achieved remission did so through nonproblem drinking. Furthermore, younger (under 40), single alcoholics were far more likely to relapse if they were abstinent at 18 months than if they were drinking without problems, even if they were highly alcohol-dependent. Thus the Rand study found a strong link between severity and outcome, but a far from ironclad one.

  • Individuals with these symptoms may also struggle to understand which alcohol is the most tempting for them.
  • About 10% of individuals who report cannabis use in the past year meet criteria for a cannabis use disorder, while this proportion increases to 18%, 19%, 58%, and 65% of those with past year use of cocaine, opioids (misuse), methamphetamine, and heroin, respectively.
  • Next, we review other established SUD treatment models that are compatible with non-abstinence goals.
  • Thus, the results may be more relevant for women with similar experiences as the investigated sample.
  • Nonabstinence goals have become more widely accepted in SUD treatment in much of Europe, and evidence suggests that acceptance of controlled drinking has increased among U.S. treatment providers since the 1980s and 1990s (Rosenberg, Grant, & Davis, 2020).
  • More recent versions of RP have included mindfulness-based techniques (Bowen, Chawla, & Marlatt, 2010; Witkiewitz et al., 2014).

In fact, for early-stage problem drinkers, a reduction in drinking to a moderate level is an acceptable and healthy goal, whereas non-problem drinking (and abstinence) are relatively infrequent outcomes for dependent drinkers. Nevertheless, depending on factors such as treatment setting and client choice and health status, abstinence would be the preferred goal for some early-stage problem drinkers. And, depending on similar factors, controlled drinking might be both an achievable and desirable outcome for some dependent drinkers. In other words, although severity is itself an important consideration, other client characteristics must also be taken into account. A number of studies have examined psychosocial risk reduction interventions for individuals with high-risk drug use, especially people who inject drugs.

4. Current status of nonabstinence SUD treatment

The Minnesota Model involved inpatient SUD treatment incorporating principles of AA, with a mix of professional and peer support staff (many of whom were members of AA), and a requirement that patients attend AA or NA meetings as part of their treatment (Anderson, McGovern, & DuPont, 1999; McElrath, 1997). This model both accelerated the spread of AA and NA and helped establish the abstinence-focused 12-Step program at the core of mainstream addiction treatment. By 1989, treatment controlled drinking vs abstinence center referrals accounted for 40% of new AA memberships (Mäkelä et al., 1996). This standard persisted in SUD treatment even as strong evidence emerged that a minority of individuals who receive 12-Step treatment achieve and maintain long-term abstinence (e.g., Project MATCH Research Group, 1998). For example, surveys of UK alcohol treatment agencies have found widespread acceptance of moderate drinking in the UK (Robertson and Heather, 1982; Rosenberg et al., 1992).

controlled drinking vs abstinence

The Rand study quantified the relationship between severity of alcohol dependence and controlled-drinking outcomes, although, overall, the Rand population was a severely alcoholic one in which “virtually all subjects reported symptoms of alcohol dependence” (Polich, Armor, and Braiker, 1981). Severity of alcoholism is the most generally accepted clinical indicator of the appropriateness of CD therapy (Rosenberg, 1993). Untreated alcohol abusers probably have less severe drinking problems than clinical populations of alcoholics, which may explain their higher levels of controlled drinking. But the less severe problem drinkers uncovered in nonclinical studies are more typical, outnumbering those who “show major symptoms of alcohol dependence” by about four to one (Skinner, 1990). You have experienced enough consequences in your day-to-day life that nobody needs to tell you that they are tired of your addictive behavior.

Drinking in Moderation vs. Abstinence: What You Need to Know

Perhaps the most notable gap identified by this review is the dearth of research empirically evaluating the effectiveness of nonabstinence approaches for DUD treatment. Given low treatment engagement and high rates of health-related harms among individuals who use drugs, combined with evidence of nonabstinence goals among a substantial portion of treatment-seekers, testing nonabstinence treatment for drug use is a clear next step for the field. Ultimately, nonabstinence treatments may overlap significantly with abstinence-focused treatment models. Harm reduction psychotherapies, for example, incorporate multiple modalities that have been most extensively studied as abstinence-focused SUD treatments (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy; mindfulness). However, it is also possible that adaptations will be needed for individuals with nonabstinence goals (e.g., additional support with goal setting and monitoring drug use; ongoing care to support maintenance goals), and currently there is a dearth of research in this area.

Part 2: recovery support services – evidence and current provision – GOV.UK

Part 2: recovery support services – evidence and current provision.

Posted: Fri, 08 Sep 2023 07:00:00 GMT [source]

They looked at demographics—who attends AA versus who attends MM—as well as the relative severity of the drinking problems in the two groups. In the present follow-up, the recovery process for clients previously treated for SUD was investigated, focusing on abstinence and CD. All the interviewees had attended treatment programmes following the 12-step philosophy and described abstinence as crucial for their recovery process in the initial interview, five years ago. In previous research, several indicators of whether CD is possible are mentioned (Klingemann and Rosenberg, 2009; Klingemann, 2016; Davis et al., 2017; Luquiens et al., 2011; Berglund et al., 2019). Clients reporting CD in the present study only met one of these criteria – an initial period of abstinence (Booth, 2006; Coldwell and Heather, 2006). However, the results show that the view on abstinence and CD can change during the recovery process.

Alcohol Moderation Management Programs

Do I want to give up completely, or do I want to be able to have a few drinks now and then. If the answer is a few now and then, the next question to ask is am I honestly able to do that? The majority of people I ask this question to will say no, it is never one or two, it always leads onto more. The only way to ascertain for certain whether you are capable of having just one or two drinks is to try it over a period of time, say 6 months.

At the first interview all IPs were abstinent and had a positive view on the 12-step treatment, although a few described a cherry-picking attitude. As the IP had a successful outcome, six months after treatment, their possibilities for CD might be better than for persons with SUD in general. On the other hand, as the group expressed positive views on this specific treatment, they might question the sobriety goal in a lesser extent than other groups. In the results, we mention that there were a few IPs that were younger, with a background of diffuse and complex problems characterized by a multi-problem situation. Research on young adults, including people in their thirties (Magaraggia and Benasso, 2019), stresses that young adults leaving care tend to have complex problems and struggle with problems such as poor health, poor school performance and crime (Courtney and Dworsky, 2006; Berlin et al., 2011; Vinnerljung and Sallnäs, 2008). Thus, this is interesting to analyse further although the younger IPs in this article, with experience of 12-step treatment, are too few to allow for a separate analysis.

In this case, moderation serves as a harm reduction strategy that minimizes the negative consequences of drinking. It’s a healthy step in a positive direction, and is often achievable with medication. “Moderation” is a term that is often used to suggest that a person with an alcohol or drug problem does not really have to give it up but can “control” it. A program called Moderation Management advocates this alternative to abstinence as a solution for a substance abuse disorder2. This team of researchers undertook to compare self-identified members of Moderation Management with self-identified members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Multiple theories of motivation for behavior change support the importance of self-selection of goals in SUD treatment (Sobell et al., 1992). For example, Bandura, who developed Social Cognitive Theory, posited that perceived choice is key to goal adherence, and that individuals may feel less motivation when goals are imposed by others (Bandura, 1986). Miller, whose seminal work on motivation and readiness for treatment led to multiple widely used measures of SUD treatment readiness and the development of Motivational Interviewing, also argued for the importance of goal choice in treatment (Miller, 1985).

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