Addiction vs Moderation Problem: Can Addicts Use in Moderation?

If you find it tough to relax or enjoy yourself without having a drink, it’s possible that your drinking habit has crossed the line from moderate and social to problematic. Drinking in moderation, according to the CDC, is defined as limiting your alcohol intake to 1 drink or less in a day for women and 2 drinks or less in a day for men.

But does drinking more than this mean you have an addiction problem? Absolutely not!

Addiction vs. Moderation Problem

Addiction vs. Difficulty With Moderation

Studies have established that 9 in 10 adults who drink heavily are not considered alcohol dependent. Addiction to alcohol is a chronic illness that needs medically-supervised treatment to recover from it.

But having a difficulty with moderating your drinking habit is different, and you can say, less severe. It is natural to want to quit or cut down on your drinking if your goal is to live a healthier, more mindful lifestyle. Going over some addiction education could help you decide if you may have an addiction to drinking (and should seek a medical opinion) or if you just have a problematic relationship with drinking.

Excessive drinking – while very different from addiction – can increase the risk of developing health conditions, such as liver disease, digestive problems, and high blood pressure. It’s a common misconception that terms associated with damaging behavior concerning smoking, alcohol, and drugs are interchangeable.

The difference between being addicted to something and having a problem in practicing moderation while using it lies in the spectrum of addiction. The term “addiction” refers to the most severe form of a full spectrum of substance misuse. It’s a chronic medical condition caused by repeated misuse of a substance and characterized by continued use despite harmful consequences.  

Many heavy drinkers think that complete abstinence is the only solution for a drinking problem but that’s not true for everyone. For some people, learning how to drink more moderately is a more attainable and realistic goal. For many others, moderation is often the first step toward quitting drinking/drug use altogether.

Moderation: A Realistic Goal For People With Less Severe Substance Use Problems

Multiple studies support the fact that with proper help, many people with less severe drinking/drug use problems can achieve better control over their situation and keep the consumption within safer limits.

More and more addiction education professionals are recognizing that not everyone with a drinking problem is alcohol dependent and that this issue actually lies on a spectrum, rather than a single condition that is either absent or present.

For example, on one end of the spectrum are people who can’t think of a Friday night without having a few drinks to get a bit tipsy, and on the other end are people for whom alcohol has become more important than their families, jobs, and pretty much everything else.

But Can Addicts Use in Moderation?

The question of whether individuals with a past addiction can drink alcohol in moderation is complex and debated among professionals. Traditional models of addiction treatment, such as the 12-step programs initiated by Alcoholics Anonymous, advocate for complete abstinence. This is based on the belief that someone with an addiction to alcohol possesses a chronic, relapsing disease that necessitates avoiding alcohol entirely to prevent a full relapse.

Research tends to support this stance. According to a study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, individuals with a history of alcohol dependence were significantly more likely to experience harm from drinking, even after periods of sobriety, compared to those without such history (Witkiewitz, K., & Masyn, K. E. (2009). The role of drinking patterns in the development of alcohol dependence, relapse, and remission. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 33(12), 2091–2098).

Moreover, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) notes that alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. This loss of control suggests that moderation might not be a feasible option for those with AUD.

However, there are some emerging perspectives. Some harm-reduction models suggest that with proper therapy and support, some individuals with past addiction issues can return to a pattern of moderated, non-compulsive use. This approach is supported by data from the Sobriety Project, which indicates that a small percentage of people with previous alcohol dependence can engage in moderate drinking without relapse (Peele, S., Brodsky, A., & Arnold, M. (1992). The Truth About Addiction and Recovery. Simon & Schuster.).

Yet, it’s crucial to approach this idea with caution. The success of moderation for former addicts depends on various factors, including the severity of the previous addiction, the presence of co-occurring mental health conditions, stress levels, family history of addiction, and the individual’s understanding of their relationship with alcohol.

Given these considerations, anyone with a history of addiction considering moderated drinking should seek professional guidance. Healthcare providers can assess an individual’s specific risk factors and provide appropriate advice or refer them to specialists who can. Ultimately, the goal is to find a sustainable path that prioritizes the individual’s long-term health and well-being.

Take This Quick, Free Screener To See If Your Drinking Habits Are Risking Your Health

At CheckUp & Choices, we have a 10-question screening test for people who want to gauge whether their drinking habits are compromising their ability to lead a happier, healthier life. This questionnaire was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and evaluated in hundreds of countries worldwide.

The test only takes a minute and will give you objective feedback about your drinking and your willingness to change your alcohol use. If you want a deeper understanding of your relationship with alcohol and its impact on your life, consider signing up for our more comprehensive CheckUp. If you’ve already decided you want to change your drinking habits, the 3–12 month, self-guided Choices Program might be a good option.

CheckUp & Choices is a scientifically-proven wellness program which has helped thousands of heavy drinkers to reduce the intensity, quantity, and frequency of their drinking. And with an excellent money-back guarantee, you have nothing to lose!