Is It Okay to Have Just One Drink as a Recovered Alcoholic?

Can an alcoholic have just one drink?

For recovered alcoholics, the holiday season can be triggering and stressful. Office Christmas parties, family dinners, and New Year’s Eve celebrations present many opportunities to relapse. Holiday celebrations may also bring up past trauma or lead to arguments between family members, causing a recovered alcoholic to take just “one” drink.

Recovering alcoholics are expected to abstain from alcohol after detox and rehab. Although complete abstinence has benefits, it can also be difficult to maintain over many years. As a result, a new approach to total abstinence has emerged. Referred to as “moderation management” this novel approach allows for controlled drinking, making it easier to stay committed to addiction recovery. Keep reading to learn more about this new approach and if it might be right for you.

What Is Moderation Management?

Moderation management combines the principles of traditional alcohol rehab with controlled drinking. The first step is to abstain from alcohol for 30 days. Once all alcohol has been eliminated from your body, you’ll be able to think clearly about your life and commit to adopting healthier habits. If you choose this approach, you’ll also have the opportunity to discover your addiction triggers and identify the root causes of your behavior.

Moderation management also emphasizes the importance of coming up with alternatives to drinking alcohol. Alternative activities to consider before you stop drinking or reduce your alcohol consumption include:

  • Volunteering for a charitable organization
  • Taking a class on a topic of interest
  • Going to the gym
  • Spending time with friends who don’t drink
  • Playing sports
  • Meditating
  • Reading, doing puzzles, painting, writing, etc.

Engaging in these activities keeps the mind and body occupied, giving you something to think about other than when you can have your next alcoholic beverage.

Principles of Moderation Management

The four principles of moderation management are:

  • You must accept personal responsibility for your drinking and for your recovery
  • You must commit to sharing the principles of moderation management with other people who are also recovering from alcohol abuse disorder
  • You must commit to self-management. You are solely responsible for tracking your drinking and identifying the psychological reasons behind your addiction. You must also stick to the rules you create for yourself about drinking in moderation.
  • You must commit to working continually on improving your self-esteem.

Is Moderation Management Right for a Recovered Alcoholic?

Moderation management is usually recommended for people with a drinking problem that hasn’t progressed to full-blown alcoholism. However, it’s possible to follow a moderation management program even if you belong to Alcoholics Anonymous. You may be able to benefit from moderation management if you’ve completed alcohol detox or rehab in Massachusetts or surrounding areas.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends abstaining from alcohol if you’re unable to control your drinking. If you’ve recovered from your drinking problem and feel comfortable engaging in moderate alcohol consumption, the moderation management approach may be right for you.

To succeed with moderation management, it’s important to have a strong support network. You should have family members and friends who encourage and support you in your effort to use the moderation management approach. Moderation management works best when you have personal stability as well as professional stability, so it may not be right for you if you’re going through a divorce, dealing with job loss, or experiencing other disruptive circumstances.

Moderation management isn’t right for everyone. If you experience severe withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink alcohol for a day or two, it may be difficult to moderate your alcohol consumption using moderation management principles. Drinking in moderation is also difficult for people who have a history of relapse after completing detox or rehab.

What Is Moderate Drinking?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define moderate drinking as no more than one alcoholic beverage per day for women and two alcoholic beverages per day for men. “One drink” is defined as the following:

  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (whiskey, rum, vodka, etc.)
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of beer

Spirits have a much higher content than beer and wine, which is why one drink is only 1.5 ounces compared to 5 ounces for wine and 12 ounces for beer.

Advantages of Moderation Management

Moderation management has several advantages. First, it gives you an opportunity to become more aware of the triggers that cause you to drink alcohol to excess. If you know what your triggers are, you can take steps to address them. For example, if you’re triggered by memories of past abuse, you can start seeing a therapist to work through your trauma. If your drinking is associated with seeing certain family members, you can limit your contact with those family members to avoid drinking too much alcohol.

Moderation management also increases awareness of harmful patterns in your life. If you routinely drink too much when you play pool or go to the local casino, you should look for other ways to enjoy these activities without dealing with the attraction of easy alcohol access. Instead of playing pool at a local bar, you might go to a friend’s house and use their pool table. If you’re unable to moderate your drinking during these activities, you’ll have to replace them with activities that don’t lead to increased alcohol consumption.

Finally, moderation management gives you an opportunity to create your own rules around drinking, making it more likely that you’ll be able to control your behavior. For example, you could write down the maximum number of drinks you’re comfortable consuming in one day. Or, you could make a list of places where you can’t consume any alcohol at all. Creating your own rules gives you more control over your life and can help you avoid excessive alcohol consumption.

Disadvantages of Moderation Management

One of the main disadvantages of moderation management is that you may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms during the 30-day period of alcohol abstinence. Withdrawal may cause increased agitation, nausea, vomiting, shaking (tremors), and other physical and psychological changes.

If you decide to use moderation management, it’s important to tell family members and friends that you’ll be abstaining from alcohol and may experience withdrawal symptoms. It’s also beneficial if you have someone close by who can help with food preparation and other tasks if your symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from going to work or doing your normal household chores.

Drinking in Moderation

Here are some tips to help you monitor your alcohol consumption and make adjustments as needed:

  • Keep a drinking diary. Writing down what you drink will help you determine if you’re returning to old habits. It can also help you identify negative patterns, such as a tendency to drink more when visiting certain places or spending time with certain people. If you can’t keep your diary with you, use the notes app on your smartphone to keep records when you’re not at home.
  • Set goals for yourself. You may want to limit your drinking to Friday and Saturday nights only, ensuring that you’re clear-headed on the days you have to go to work or attend school.
  • Let your family members and close friends know that you’re using the moderation management approach. They’ll be less likely to offer you drinks or encourage you to drink to excess at parties.
  • Look for alternatives to alcoholic beverages, such as seltzer or flavored water.
  • Do yoga, meditate, or participate in other activities that are proven stress relievers
  • Attend regular therapy sessions. A trained therapist can help you identify harmful thought patterns and adjust your behavior accordingly.

Alcohol Rehab Options in Massachusetts

Moderation management works for some people, but not for everyone. If you have an alcohol use disorder and need help to stop drinking, Mayflower Recovery is here for you. 

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