Moderate Drinking – Is it Right for You?
We often have people reach out to us because they want help with their drinking. They don't necessarily want to quit - but hope to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol. In the world of mental health and substance abuse, it's often the case that resources are lacking for people who don't want or need a black and white approach to help them with with their unhealthy drinking patterns.
Treatment programs often subscribe to abstinence-based philosophies that suggest if someone is drinking too much that they are an alcoholic and that they need to stop. Go-to referrals for support in the community are addiction treatment centers that help people remain abstinent from drinking and AA (alcoholics anonymous). AA - and their world-famous 12-step model - helps members who want to get or stay completely sober...and it's been a life saver for many people struggling with addiction - and for those who have come to the realization that alcohol can have no longer have a place in their life...the only problem with their one-size-fits-all (once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic) approach, is that it's not helpful for everyone.
It may be possible (and even more helpful and realistic) in some cases for people with problematic drinking behaviors to decrease their use - and to develop healthier habits that allow them to cope with life's challenges in more effective ways while lowering the risk of harm. A goal of more moderate drinking may not be in everyone's best interest depending on health or the impact that drinking has on one's life, but those who can achieve moderation by taking a structured and intentional approach to drinking, may have a greater likelihood of long-term success.
The key here is first exploring whether or not moderate drinking is a realistic goal for you and your unique circumstances and relationship with alcohol. So how do you know? Read on to find out ways to start to determine whether or not moderate drinking might be right for you.
- Get real honest with yourself about your drinking patterns. How often do you drink? And how much? Problematic drinkers are often not fully aware of how much alcohol they are actually consuming. Start a log and track exactly how much alcohol you consume any given day or week. Make sure when tracking drinks that you count a drink for what it really is. A standard drink is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of a 5 percent beer, and 1.5 ounces of 40 percent hard liquor. Don't get sneaky with yourself and count that 9 percent craft beer or double pour of bourbon as just one drink. You might find that honestly logging your drinks actually leads to drinking less, as awareness often naturally leads to this. National guidelines for moderate drinking usually suggest that drink limits stay at or below 14 drinks per week for men and 7 drinks per week for women - although this varies by country and occasionally going in excess of recommended guidelines is not always a problem.
- Get clear on when and why you drink. What time of day do you drink? Where do you drink? Who do you drink with. Do you drink socially for fun? Do you drink before or during situations that make you anxious? Or do you find yourself drinking when you are stressed out or depressed? Answering these questions can help you figure out the role of alcohol in your life and whether or not you are using it to simply self-medicate.
- Identify the impacts that alcohol has had on your life. Has your drinking interfered with your work, home, or school life? Have you experienced legal consequences as a result of something you were doing while drinking? Have you suffered any health-related consequences or injury? Do you say or do things you regret as a result of drinking? Is the cost of alcohol causing a financial strain? Are you blacking out, dealing with severe hangovers that limit your ability to function, or feeling strong urges to drink when sober? Are your relationships suffering as a result? Do you have a hard time stopping once you have started? Answering yes to any of these questions does not necessarily mean that moderate drinking will not be possible, but understanding the severity of the problem will help guide the decisions you make.
- Get a physical and talk to your doctor about your drinking patterns. Even if you haven't suffered any significant consequences at home, work, financially, or in your relationships, it might be the case that drinking is taking a toll on your body. Get lab work and drinking-related recommendations from your doctor based on the results.
- Explore some other reputable online resources for moderate drinking and harm reduction. Moderation Management is a "behavioral change program and national support group network for people concerned about their drinking" and HAMS Harm Reduction is a "support and informational group for safer drinking, reduced drinking, or quitting alcohol altogether". They both have resources, worksheets, and online support groups that will help you learn about harm-reduction principles and that may help you decide whether or not alcohol should have a role in your life.
- Talk to a counselor who is competent in moderation management/harm reduction principles. Even if you've scoured the resources, answered the questions proposed here, and gotten aware of your drinking habits, you may still not be totally sure where to start or what to do. A counselor can help you develop a plan for moderate drinking and provide a certain level of accountability to help you meet your drinking-related goals. When searching for therapists, you might want to ask them their philosophy and approach as it relates to alcohol-related counseling as some might be more inclined to suggest abstinence alone when problematic drinking has been identified.
Float on Counseling offers counseling services geared towards moderate drinking and abstinence from drinking when more appropriate. Call or text 813-515-9602 or send us a message to see if we might be a good fit for working with you. We are located in the Carrollwood area of Tampa and offer in-person and virtual counseling sessions that allow us to work with anyone in the State of Florida (and in some countries outside of the United States).
Tune in soon to learn more about creating a roadmap for moderate drinking.
Joel Schmidt, MA, Licensed Mental Health Counselor