Managed Drinking is Not a Solution for Alcoholics

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a woman who participates in what is known as an alcohol moderation program to discuss the merits of managed drinking versus abstinence. In case you don’t know, moderation/managed drinking programs are the idea that a problem drinker can be taught to drink socially. The program attempts to transform someone who drinks abusively and compulsively into someone who can choose to have a glass of wine with dinner or not. In other words, someone who can take it or leave it. 

The woman presented several examples of people she knew who supposedly learned to moderate their drinking, though even in moderation these people sounded like alcoholics to me. Despite her attempt to sell me on the idea, I came away even more steadfastly committed to abstinence programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and believe there is no such thing as changing a problem drinker into a normal drinker.

Our conversation was friendly and I did a good job explaining the true nature of addiction and why moderation is not possible, even dangerous for a real alcoholic. Having this conversation made me think of how alcoholics go through a progression of failed attempts to curb their drinking until they finally accept they have permanently lost their drinking privileges. 

If you are in the throes of active addiction you are no doubt attempting to moderate your alcohol consumption, while also most likely experiencing frustrating results. If you are a family member or friend of someone trying to control their drinking you are again watching in disbelief as they once more attempt to prove otherwise. Perhaps there have been a couple of good days or even an optimistic week or two of moderation, but sadly these experiments never end well. 

I also attempted moderation and drink management before getting sober in Alcoholics Anonymous fourteen years ago. I had similar failed attempts at trying to control my drug addiction and food addiction. Towards the end of my run, I tried things like measuring my alcohol consumption in shot glasses or keeping a spreadsheet of my pill intake in hopes of altering a bad pattern. Ultimately, I would say screw it and take back control returning to previous quantities plus a little more. 

The summer before my daughter was born my descent into full-blown drug addiction started gaining real velocity and it became increasingly more tricky to explain my desperation for getting doctors prescriptions. People were starting to ask why I was running out of prescribed meds or they would say doesn't your doctor prescribe thirty-days worth or why is insurance refusing authorization? Excuses such as forgetting to pick-up a script before leaving for vacation is something that can happen, but I used this excuse every time we traveled. A sudden pill shortage one summer in Italy caused me to make up an excuse for returning to the states early, because I was afraid of going into drug withdrawal. 

As a consequence of having been exposed by a pharmacist, after the insurance company refused payment because it was "too soon", I agreed to let my wife, Julie, be the pill-keeper during our last vacation before the baby arrived. This new set-up caused me to make-up excuses for returning to our hotel room alone where I would ransack her carry-on bag to search for pills. Having guarded access to my stuff left me feeling anxious and desperate not to mention it turned my pregnant wife into my opponent instead of being my lover.

The more I tried to moderate my drinking and using the worse it got. It's no problem if the brakes fail as long as you don't try to stop. This is the nature of addiction, you're never a little in. You're either addicted and nothing else in the world matters or you’re a normal person but you can't be both. Compulsion and intimacy never co-exist.

The great big hope is we will magically learn to control our drinking and avoid consequences. I was aware of my addiction for a long time, but I didn't dare break character for fear if the truth were known I would have to stop using drugs and I didn't think I could live without them.

After so many years of having freedom from addiction, I couldn't imagine going back to the psychological torture and vain attempts of trying to control my drinking. To me, the idea of moderation feels like having poison ivy and while your hands are tied behind your back. For the real alcoholic/addict there’s no such thing as moderation. In order to achieve long term recovery we must embrace abstinence and give it enough time to work.   

South Florida Intervention offers exclusive solutions for families struggling with the devastating effects of addiction. Marc Kantor is a professional interventionist and the founder of South Florida Intervention, based in Boca Raton, FL. If someone you know is struggling with addiction, we can help. For additional information please e-mail us at

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