Total Alcohol Abstinence vs Moderation: Which One Wins in the End?

New research tells us controlled drinking is a dangerous road to travel.

Sara knew she drank too much. After years of struggling, she decided she needed help. She admitted she was dependent on alcohol and started seeing a counselor.

Sara explained to her therapist that she didn’t think she could quit drinking altogether. She hoped she didn’t need to. When out for a nice dinner or attending a get-together, she still wanted the freedom of having a drink or two. Her counselor agreed that limiting her drinking could be a good solution and they set a goal for Sara to cut back her consumption to these special occasions only.

Reagan also knew she drank too much. After years of struggling, she decided to get some help. She admitted she was hooked on alcohol and started seeing a counselor. Reagan wanted to stop drinking completely. Alcohol had taken its toll – her job, friends, family and health had all suffered – and she wanted it out of her life. Her counselor agreed that abstinence was a good solution and they took steps to help Reagan achieve this goal.

Guess whose drinking problem was under control two years later – the limiter or the abstainer? If you chose Reagan, you’re right.

An Epic Battle

There are experts and ex-addicts on both sides of this fence. To say it’s a long-held debate is a gross understatement. Can you handle “just a little” alcohol? Is it better to aim for damage control (limiting the drinking) than to try to quit cold turkey (complete abstinence)? Will it be too tempting to drink more or will the thought of never drinking again be too overwhelming?

Recent research sheds some light on the subject. A study conducted at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden found that the Reagans of the world are more successful in treatment than the Saras.

Simply put; those who want to learn to drink in moderation are less likely to achieve their goal, while those who set a goal of quitting drinking entirely see greater success.

Of the patients studied, 90 percent of total abstinence patients were still sober two and a half years after treatment. Only 50 percent of those who focused on controlled consumption succeeded in controlling their drinking.

“Just Say No” or “Just Say a Little”?

When looking at the research, if you want to increase your odds of success, abstinence is the way to go. And while neither path is easy, the abstinence road seems to offer less resistance. So perhaps, “Just say no” is the best option after all.

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