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Moderation in Addiction: Real or Myth?

Addiction recovery ideologies typically advocate total abstinence. But is there another way-moderation? Is it possible for an alcoholic to drink modestly, or the problem gambler to game controllably? It is possible for some people to engage in addictive behaviors and not fall prey to addiction- If one can eat cake sensibly or take his narcotic painkillers as prescribed, then surely others are capable of the same sensibility and control. Why don’t they tell us this in recovery?

Some feel that total abstinence is the only way to effectively stay sober. AA advocates “complete abstinence” which many find objectionable, meaning that if I wish to be a part of any AA/12-step fellowship I must abstain from all “mind-altering substances.” Perhaps sober addicts in the “blame it” stage are going a bit too far in their revenge on alcohol.

Abstinence may be the way for some and even vital for many, but it is possible to combat addiction with moderation, a notion understandably contrarian among the status quo of the recovery community. It is argued that moderation allows the addict to engage in his or her behavior to a modest extent. For example, a cell-phone addict could have their phone for a few hours per day or an alcoholic could indulge in the occasional drink.

Dr. Adi Jaffe, co-founder of Moderation Management writes, ”the population of people who use MM is pretty well-educated and is made up for the most part of problem drinkers rather than those meeting full-blown alcohol dependence criteria. The idea is to teach problem drinkers more responsible drinking habits so that they don’t devolve their habits into all out alcoholism.” I feel that this is a more risky approach than total abstinence, but in risk there is reward. It’s like sailing a boat on the high seas.  Some would rather risk it, and some would stay on dry land.

Different addictions have different dynamics. For example, some addictions challenge “ability to function” more than others. For example, a cell-phone addict is likely to be highly functioning because a person can manage their life using a cell-phone. Or a person addicted to methamphetamine may be functioning because meth causes a person to be highly alert and active, compared to person hooked on pot or alcohol who battles a more tranquilizing substance that more directly challenges our ability to function.

However, there is a dark side to moderation management- it is prone to failure. It’s like using fire- you can easily get burned. 12 step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous preach that alcohol is “cunning, baffling, and powerful,” suggesting that mind altering substances have a dangerous dynamic of their own. This is quite true. Mind-altering substances and addictions are dangerous because they “short-circuit” our brains computer. The human brain, like a computer, sends signals back and forth via bioelectric stimuli. When we do drugs and engage in our addiction, it’s like sending a rouge signal through the brains “circuit board” overriding the signals that tell you something’s wrong. Another reason mind-altering substances and addictions are dangerous is because they can set off a chain reaction, where one drink/drug or risky behavior leads to another. Once starting, it’s hard to stop. For most addicts, stopping is impossible so the solution, plain and simple, is to never start. That is why Moderation Management is not for all.

But moderation is not to be dismissed either. AA would be staunchly dismissive of this article, which serves its own purposes but ignores the reality that for some moderation is obtainable. AA is a venerable institution, although not perfect and sometimes inconsistent in their message. For example, AA hails God, but fails to address that he created alcohol. Wine has been highly regarded by society for thousands of years, as have other psychoactive substances that occur naturally. None of these fruits of the land are bad, unless used in excess. AA fails to address moderation as a reality, even scorning the concept in its famous quasi-poetic mantra “half-measures availed us nothing.”

There is a genetic predisposition to alcoholism/addiction the effects “the D-2 receptor. In some people, it can be stimulated by alcohol, drugs, sex, food — or lots of gambling.” For those with this disposition, moderation is nonexistent. But whether it exists at all is a valid point in the discourse of recovery.

 

Sources:

Jaffe, Adi, Ph.D. “Abstinence Is Not the Only Option.” Psychologytoday.com. Psychology Today, 9 Mar. 2011. Web. 5 Dec. 2013.

Jaffe, Adi, Ph.D. “Moderation in Addiction Treatment: A Change Is Going to Come.” Psychologytoday.com. Psychology Today, 10 Aug. 2013. Web. 5 Dec. 2013.

Price, Lisa. “Compulsive Gambling A Genetic Disorder?” CNN. Cable News Network, 5 Sept. 1996. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.

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Kevin Giles is a product of Santa Cruz, CA – the stoner capitol of the world. A born again Christian, Kevin loves his Lord Jesus and believes that his purpose in life is determined by God. He first entered drug recovery at the age of 19, suffering from an addiction to marijuana. He is a recent graduate of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, where he earned his Master’s degree in Christian Ministry. Passionate about God’s Word, he aspires to become a pastor or missionary. Kevin has also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from California State University, Monterey Bay. His interests include traveling, movies, golf, fitness and reading. He also enjoys being outdoors as well as spending time with friends and family. Kevin’s faith, education and life experience give him a unique perspective on addiction, recovery and spirituality.

Filed under: Addiction, Alcohol and Drugs · Tags: AA, abstinence, Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, management, mind-altering, moderation