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Is Controlled Drinking Possible for an Addict?

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Controlling your drinking is yet another highly debated issue in the recovery community. It closely mirrors the debate over whether alcoholism is a disease or not. The people who think that it is a disease are likely to believe that abstinence is the only way to recover. The people who think that alcoholism is just simply a behavior that can be easily changed are likely to think that controlled drinking is possible. The battle here is abstinence versus moderation. There are people firmly committed to each camp and while it’s possible that controlled drinking may work for some, it’s not the norm.

So why are we discussing this? Well, if a person’s drinking has gotten to the point that you have to consider either, something is wrong. We can already establish that trouble has arisen due to drinking. It may have been publicly embarrassing yourself, perhaps more than once, or other events that have gotten you to think that maybe you should cut back, stop, or even consider a drug and alcohol treatment center. When you have a problem with alcohol, you have problems controlling your intake. So to those in camp of moderation, you simply moderate the drinking and all will be well. What could go wrong?

To those from the school of Alcoholics Anonymous, abstinence is the only way. There is a common saying among members of A.A. and it goes like this, “It’s not the first drink that gets you drunk, it’s the first.” If you are an alcoholic, the first drink gets you going and after you feel compelled to drink, which is the disease at work. How does this work you ask? Well, we can look to the example of boiling a frog.

If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will be able to feel the heat and jump right back out. For the drinking comparison, if you went from dead sober to instantly drunk, you would feel it and know without question that you were drunk. However, if you put a frog in a pot of cold water, and the start the heat, the frog will sit there until it dies. This is because the frog has trouble being able to tell when and what changes have happened because the water coming to a boil was gradual. This is what drinking is like for an alcoholic. At each next drink, a new baseline has been set and it becomes impossible to be able to tell what condition you are actually in. By comparison, when a normal person becomes dizzy from the effects of alcohol, they stop. Unlike the boiling frog, they can feel the change.

You could certainly try controlled drinking, but you won’t find any drug and alcohol rehab centers pitching it to you. Some of their programs revolve around providing “drink tickets”, say, 2 a day. You can save them up and use them all at once, or spread them out. The problem is that eventually the desire to keep going gets too strong and trouble will present itself again. Maybe not this week, or month, but eventually. You can bank on it.

The problem with trying to control your drinking is that it does not treat the issue at hand, only the symptoms. It is the dream of every alcoholic to be able to control their drinking. They long to be able to drink like a “normal” person, as they convince themselves that nothing is really wrong with them. Controlling your drinking is like holding out a carrot on a stick for horse – they want it, but will never reach it. In a way, it’s providing false hope and provides for a cycle of denial. Without totally accepting that you shouldn’t drink at all, all controlled drinking does is prevent them from accepting the reality that they can never drink in moderation at all.

If you’ve thought about controlling your drinking, then it’s likely part of a much bigger problem.

Please seek the help of a drug and alcohol treatment center and treat the problem at the source.