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Abstinence vs Moderation: Everything You Need to Know

Our last few blogs have discussed my experience reintroducing alcohol and successfully moderating after an extended period of abstinence, and Lucy’s ongoing commitment to abstinence. In team Thrivalist we therefore have one moderate-drinker and one non-drinker.

In this blog, I’m summarising our recommendations and then comparing these two choices side-by-side, so that you have all the information you need to make an informed decision for yourself. 

Our Recommendations:`

  1. The safest level of alcohol consumption for everyone is zero, and the safest option for anyone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is abstinence. Therefore abstinence is the safest option, always.
  1. If you do want to moderate, taking an extended break from drinking first is highly recommended. This gives you a chance to ‘do the work’ (educate yourself, build healthy habits and coping mechanisms, heal root causes and life traumas, all aiming to get your mind, body and spirit to a healthy, happy place) and your body a chance to reduce your tolerance, which puts you in a better position to moderate. 
  1. Not everyone who attempts moderation is able to achieve it. We believe there are a number of factors that influence your chances of success in being able to sustainably moderate, including (but not limited to):
  • The severity of your alcohol use disorder: We recommend completing the AUD questionnaire here to determine this. The more extreme the problem, the more difficult sustainable moderation will be to achieve. If you have or have ever had a severe AUD, we strongly recommend abstinence.
  • How long you’ve been drinking problematically: the longer, the more difficult sustainable moderation can be to achieve.
  • Your personal situation: for example, unresolved trauma, high stress levels, existing mental health issues, poor emotional regulation skills, lack of supportive relationships, lack of healthy coping mechanisms, low self-esteem and self-belief, low levels of motivation to change, can all make achieving sustainable moderation much more difficult.
  1. Attempting moderation, without first taking an extended break from drinking, is better suited for those on the milder side of the AUD spectrum, those who are in a fairly healthy mental and emotional space, and who are drinking less than a bottle of wine a night.

The Thrivalist ‘Which Course is Right For Me?’ quiz can be used as a tool to help you determine your own personal path to recovering from your AUD. 

And now, for a comparison of Abstinence vs Moderation:

Health & Safety: As mentioned, abstinence is by far the safest option when it comes to alcohol.Health & Safety: Even moderate levels of alcohol consumption have been found to negatively impact health. For example, three glasses of wine per week increase a woman’s chance of breast cancer by 15%.
The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol.
Mental energy: When you choose to go alcohol-free, you make one firm decision: I don’t drink. If you commit to this decision AND commit to never questioning that decision, you close the door to drinking being an option which frees up so much mental space. There is no ‘should I?’ or ‘shouldn’t I?’, ‘what should I have?’, ‘how much should I have?’ and so on. And you’re free to use that newfound mental energy for more productive and creative thinking which is hugely beneficial. 

However, if you decide to go alcohol-free without closing the door on drinking again, the internal chatter will likely still be there. In our Sobriety Course we teach you how to avoid this by making a rock-solid decision to quit. Making the decision in this way provides a sense of freedom from alcohol that is life-changing for many women.
Mental energy: When you choose to moderate, there are lots of decisions to make about alcohol, and if you don’t have a clear set of guidelines and effective strategies to negate the onslaught of decisions, alcohol can take up a lot of mental space, which is draining. Honestly, who wants to spend their precious time obsessing about alcohol? Anyone? Didn’t think so.
Our Conscious Drinker Course teaches you how to create an overarching Drinking Protocol which takes all the debate out of your drinking, as well as how to set realistic Weekly Drink Plans so that you only need to think about your drinking once a week for 5-10mins. Then, provided you don’t question your Drink Plan, alcohol doesn’t need to take up any more mental space.
Alcohol Quantity: With abstinence, the quantity of alcohol you drink is very clear: none. Alcohol Quantity: With moderation, quantity is more vague. Ask two different people what moderate drinking is and you’ll probably get two very different answers.
The Government’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines are a good guide, and if you ensure that you’re staying within the Guidelines by tracking the number of standard drinks you have and ensuring you don’t go over the recommended weekly or daily limit, then you can be certain that you are actually drinking moderately.  
Social implications: Because we live in an alcohol-centric society, being a non-drinker goes against the grain. Abstinence is harder to navigate socially than drinking moderately (with moderation you’re still participating which tends to make people more comfortable). But as your confidence in being a non-drinker grows, other people’s reactions and opinions about your choice not to drink tend to bother you less and less. In our Sobriety Course we give you step by step instructions on how to navigate your social life without alcohol.Social implications: With moderation you’re still drinking with other people so you tend to be able to avoid the uncomfortable questions and conversations about your drinking that sometimes happen with abstinence. Although there may be times when people want you to overdrink in which case these kinds of conversations can arise. 
FOMO: More potential to feel like you’re missing out because you’re not participating in drinking at all. But FOMO is a mindset and at Thrivalist we give you the tools to turn FOMO into JOMO (the JOY of missing out).FOMO: Generally not an issue because you can choose to participate.
Sustainability: Being alcohol-free long term is tough for many people to achieve. The statistics vary but the general consensus is that at least 70% of people going alcohol-free will drink again before the one year mark. The good news is, the longer you maintain sobriety, the better your chances are of continuing to be sober long-term.Sustainability: Moderation can also be tough. Firstly, can you actually do it? Meaning are you able to stick to your moderate plans week on week? And if you are, are you sustaining moderate consumption, or is your quantity creeping back up? 
To use as a stepping stone: Abstinence can be a helpful stepping stone to moderation as an extended period without alcohol gives you time to learn new coping mechanisms, build new healthier habits, learn to socialise without alcohol, heal root causes etc., which puts you in a better position to attempt moderation.To use as a stepping stone: Attempting moderation and not being able to achieve it can be a good stepping stone for you if you’re initially resistant to abstinence. If you’re able to moderate – great. If not, you’ve proven this to yourself which can make abstinence easier to embrace.

In closing, everyone is different. There are many different paths to recovery from an AUD, and there is no single ‘right way’. While we can give you what we believe is helpful information when deciding whether abstinence or moderation is the right path for you, this is something that you will come to decide for yourself based on your own experience. 

Whichever option you’re exploring right now, we have the relevant course and a wonderful community of women ready to support you.

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