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You have likely heard the phrase, “everything in moderation” many times. Usually uttered while someone is indulging in sweets or a glass of wine, the phrase seems a handy rule to keep one from overindulging. But, it acts more like an excuse for a lot of people.
Moderation can lead to addiction. And once someone is addicted, moderation will almost definitely lead to a relapse.
Aristotle’s Ethics and Moderation
The concept of consuming things in moderation comes from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, a work of ten books, likely based on notes from his lectures at the Lyceum. These books explain that the “moral life” is one of moderation in everything but virtue.
Three Big Problems with “Everything in Moderation”
There are three major issues with the interpretation that humans can consume anything in moderation.
1. Not Everything is Good in Moderation
Some things are better left alone. Substances of abuse are one good example.
No one of sound mind would advise heroin in moderation. Some use small amounts of heroin without getting addicted, but every person is different. When it comes to drugs and alcohol, there is no way to truly know what moderation means for you.
You may use heroin once or twice and become addicted while someone else uses casually for months and walks away from it for good. In this case, moderation will not necessarily keep you from developing a problem.
2. Moderation is Relative
If you grow up with a parent who has five beers every night, you may consider a beer or two every evening as moderation.
Someone who grew up in a dry household may consider one beer a week as moderation.
There are no rules to moderation, so you define moderation to suit your perspective. This is a problem with substances of abuse. You may become addicted while you think you’re practicing self-control.
3. Moderation May Lead to Overindulgence
There is a slippery slope between moderation and overindulgence. Let’s say you set your moderation level at one drink a night. On special occasions, you may have two or three.
You’ve had a bad day, so two or three is also a reasonable amount, right?
When you allow yourself to consume addictive substances in moderation, you may gradually work up to overindulging without realizing how far you’ve progressed.
Why Moderation is Especially Dangerous in Recovery
Moderation may work for problem drinkers who are not alcohol dependent. Although the research is sparse on this topic, one article published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs supports the theory:
This study evaluated whether Moderation Management (an alcohol self-help organization which targets non-dependent problem drinkers and to allow moderate drinking goals) drew into assistance an untapped segment of the population with non-dependent alcohol problems. Although interventions like MM are unlikely to benefit all individuals who access them, they do attract problem drinkers who are otherwise unlikely to use existing alcohol-related services.
Still, there are obvious issues with moderation as a recovery tool. This is evidenced by one high-profile case.
Audrey Kishline founded the Moderation Management (MM) group in 1994 after struggling with the Alcoholics Anonymous program. The moderation movement aims to help problem drinkers moderate their drinking without having to abstain entirely. Six years later, Kishline posted a letter on her website confessing that her problems with alcohol were too severe for the moderation approach. Over the course of many years, she was in the media, on Oprah, and in several interviews with Dateline NBC.
MM’s founder later caused a fatal accident while under the influence of alcohol.
Problem Drinking Versus Alcohol Use Disorder
Moderation is dangerous for anyone, but it is especially dangerous for people who are problem drinkers. There is a fine line between problem drinking and alcohol use disorder, and it is difficult to know when you have crossed that line.
If drinking is negatively influencing your life in any way, you are a problem drinker. If your body is reliant on alcohol to function, you are a person struggling with alcohol use disorder.
In both cases, moderation can be dangerous. Even if you are not physically addicted, it is easier to get to that point as a problem drinker attempting to moderate your own use.
Moderation and Alcohol Use Disorder
In recovery from alcohol use disorder or any other substance abuse disorder, your brain and body must reacclimate to life without the substance. Detoxification is an important part of healing. You must give your body time to learn how to function without the substance.
Addiction changes your brain’s chemistry. With alcohol use disorder, your brain becomes reliant on alcohol to provide a surge of dopamine in your brain’s reward pathway. During recovery, your body must go back to producing these chemicals on its own.
This is why it is best to let your body recover without reintroducing alcohol into the system. If at all possible, detox from alcohol instead of practicing moderation.
Moderation is a well-intended concept, but difficult to practice. This is especially important for anyone who has struggled with addiction. As a person in recovery, I recommend that if you want to live your best life – avoid substances that can lead to addiction. This way, you will not have to worry about whether you are gliding down a dangerous path.
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