Addiction Coping and Recovery Overcoming Addiction Is Moderating Drinking Possible for Alcoholics? By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on September 24, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE Medically reviewed by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Hollie Fernando / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Moderation Management Drawbacks Helpful Tips Healthy Alternatives One of the most common questions people who struggle with alcohol use and try to quit drinking ask is whether they really have to stop forever. Can they learn how to drink in moderation? Can they become social drinkers? Is it true that they can never have another drink? For years, the answer was assumed to be no, there is no room for “just one drink” for anyone with a drinking problem. Today, there are programs like Moderation Management, which do allow for a certain level of controlled drinking and have helped many learn to drink safely. However, these programs are not meant for everyone. What Is Moderate Drinking? “Moderate consumption” is limited to one to two alcoholic drinks per day for healthy men and one alcoholic drink per day for healthy women. One drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Moderation Management Those who commit to a Moderation Management (MM) program must undergo a 30-day period of abstinence during which they learn strategies for identifying and controlling triggers, adopting other healthy behaviors and activities to replace drinking, and managing future moderate drinking behaviors. MM asks participants to take a realistic look at their drinking patterns and reasons for drinking. Moderate drinking is possible for some people who previously had an issue with alcohol, even for those who have joined Alcoholics Anonymous, although it's likely these individuals didn't have an official alcohol use disorder (commonly referred to as "alcoholism"). They may have been "problem drinkers," "heavy drinkers," or "binge drinkers." Moderation management has been found most successful for those who have a problem with drinking but who do not meet the criteria and have not been diagnosed with moderate or severe alcohol use disorder. Drawbacks With Moderating Drinking Many people who struggle with heavy or unhealthy alcohol use or alcohol use disorder and who try moderate drinking come to realize that abstinence is the only option. Here are a few reasons why moderate drinking may not work for people with an alcohol use disorder: You may experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to reduce alcohol.You may quickly forget the downside of drinking, including the hangovers, blackouts, upset stomach, and remorse the day after.Once you start drinking, you may not be able to predict or control how much alcohol you'll end up consuming. Definition of Abstinence in Addiction Treatment Withdrawal Symptoms If you have an alcohol use disorder, you may experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms if you try to reduce or quit drinking, including: Psychological Anxiety Bad dreams Depression Difficulty thinking clearly Fatigue Feeling jumpy or nervous Irritability or becoming excited easily Insomnia Rapid emotional changes Shakiness Physical Clammy skinElevated blood pressureHeadacheInsomniaLoss of appetiteNausea and vomitingPalenessRapid heart rate (palpitations)Sweating, especially on the palms of your hands or your faceTremor of your hands Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Tips for Moderating Drinking If you are not living with alcohol use disorder, small changes can make a big difference when it comes to moderating your alcohol intake and reducing your risk of having a problem with alcohol according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Track Your Intake Whether you carry a physical card in your wallet or use your smartphone, try tracking your drinks to get a better handle on your consumption. Similarly, make sure the drinks you are counting are standard sizes (12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits). Of course, this is easier to do at home—but you can try communicating your needs to the bartender or waiter. Set Attainable Goals When you’re looking to drink in moderation, it’s a good idea to designate a few days as no-drinking days. Take some time to decide which days are OK to have a drink and which days are off-limits. Inquire About Medication The medication naltrexone (commonly sold under the brand names Revia, Depade, or Vivitrol) has been found to help people learn how to drink in moderation by blocking the pleasurable effects of alcohol and thereby reducing further cravings for more alcohol when used consistently (i.e., each and every time the person drinks). The Sinclair method is an approach that involves taking either Revia or Vivitrol before people drink. These medications minimize the endorphin release in the brain that usually accompanies drinking. Because this makes drinking less pleasurable, people are less likely to crave alcohol. With the Sinclair Method, Revia or Vivitrol must be taken one hour before drinking alcohol. At the end of four to six months of treatment with the Sinclair Method, 80% of people who had been overusing alcohol were either drinking moderately or abstaining entirely. Effective Alcoholism Treatments Seek Healthy Alternatives One of the best things about moderating your alcohol use is filling those times spent drinking or obtaining alcohol with fun hobbies and activities. By doing so, you may even identify any triggers that cause you to drink—for example, certain social situations, stress from work, or even boredom. Plan Your “No” Script Drinking in moderation means you’ll likely need to turn down a drink now and again. Planning exactly how you’ll say no—in a quick, polite, and convincing way—can make it easier for you to stick with your convictions and avoid a spiral of uncomfortable excuses. Talk Through Urges Whether via self-talk or a conversation with a trusted friend, family member, or healthcare professional, it’s important to talk about your urges and remind yourself why you chose to moderate your drinking in the first place. Learning to accept these feelings, and finding healthy ways to distract yourself from them, will also go a long way toward helping you to handle any urges to drink. Replace Alcohol Instead of drinking alcohol, plan out the non-alcoholic beverages you can order or make instead. Enjoyable, non-alcoholic alternatives include soda and fresh lime juice, virgin mojitos, soda with fresh fruit, kombucha, or mocktails. Try Other Relaxation Techniques If you've been using alcohol as a way to unwind, there are plenty of healthier alternatives that can help ease your mind and body. Consider strategies such as: Deep breathing Exercise Meditation Mindfulness Progressive muscle relaxation Spending time outdoors Yoga If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. How to Stop Drinking for Good 7 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking levels defined. Hester RK, Delaney HD, Campbell W. ModerateDrinking.Com and moderation management: outcomes of a randomized clinical trial with non-dependent problem drinkers. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2011;79(2):215-24. doi:10.1037/a0022487 Mirijello A, D'Angelo C, Ferrulli A, et al. Identification and management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Drugs. 2015;75(4):353-65. doi:10.1007/s40265-015-0358-1 National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Rethinking your drinking. Umhau JC. Conquering the craving: Treatment to curb alcohol use disorder. J Christ Nurs. 2019;36(3):148-156. doi:10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000624 Sinclair JD. Evidence about the use of naltrexone and for different ways of using it in the treatment of alcoholism. Alcohol & Alcoholism. 2001;36(1):2-10. doi:10.1093/alcalc/36.1.2 Edwards MK, Loprinzi PD. Experimental effects of brief, single bouts of walking and meditation on mood profile in young adults. Health Promot Perspect. 2018;8(3):171-178. doi:10.15171/hpp.2018.23 By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.