Do I have to stop drinking forever?

Jessica Kennedy, Mental Health America

Maybe.

Abstinence (the idea that you stop drinking completely) is the dominant approach to ending an alcohol addiction and has been for a long time. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is just the largest and most well-known network. You are likely going to find the most support with abstinence.

That doesn’t mean abstinence is the only solution. There are many other alternatives that fall under a philosophy that we call “harm reduction,” which is a theory that getting someone to stop drinking less is better than doing nothing. You’ll hear a lot about moderation in approaches in these groups.

People also change throughout their lives. It’s totally possible that 16-year-old you couldn’t spend a weekend without getting drunk, but 30-year-old you can have a champagne toast at your wedding and leave it at that.

The real thing you want to do here is check yourself. Is moderation the right solution, or are you trying to get out of really fixing yourself? A lot of people who want to cut back on drinking will start by saying, “Oh, I don’t want to stop drinking entirely. I want to be able to have a few beers now and then.” Or they will decide that abstention means that they aren’t really in control, because if they were in control, they could have one or two drinks and stop (this logic makes a lot more sense when you have a drinking problem, by the way.)

The thing about abstinence is that it’s easier to measure your success. It’s hard to know if you’re succeeding when you’re trying to moderate your drinking.

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