There are many substances that are prone to abuse, including a number of them that one wouldn’t be likely to expect. However, the majority of the ones posing the biggest threat are likely to be familiar to most. Marijuana has been a controversial problem for decades and is even more controversial today with some states having legalized marijuana for medicinal or even recreational use. Meanwhile, cocaine began being imported into the U.S. in the mid-twentieth century, and has since remained in fairly widespread use and a scourge to our society. Since OxyContin was released in the mid-twentieth century, rates of opioid abuse continued to climb year after year until a number of policy changes were put in place that made painkillers much less prone to abuse; consequently, many people who’d been abusing painkillers switched to heroin, growing into a heroin addiction epidemic that continues to affect us today.
Additionally, there are newer, more unexpected drugs to have hit the streets, causing rather disturbing effects to people and the communities in which they live. For instance, the recent popularity of so-called “bath salts” have led to a number of incidents involving extreme violence and injury, raising concerns to citizens, law enforcement, and legislators alike. However, the number one most-abused substance with the highest number of addicts is also the substance that most people underestimate, especially when compared to the many other drugs that exist. The substance to which this refers is alcohol.
Our history with alcohol goes back thousands and thousands of years with some sources suggesting as many as 10,000 years. There were even periods during which people encouraged one another to drink alcohol rather than drink water that often contained a number of dangerous contaminants that were known to cause infections, diseases, or even death. Today, we’ve come to see alcohol as a substance that, despite being completely legal and widely available for purchase here in the United States, is one of the most overly dangerous and highly addictive. Millions upon millions of people have developed physical and psychological alcohol dependence, requiring the aid of alcohol addiction treatment programs to gain back their health and independence. From the point of recovery onward, it’s typically said that a person must remain abstinent in order to sustain his or her recovery indefinitely. However, is abstinence the only way?
What exactly does drinking “in moderation” mean?
When people who don’t have drinking problems consume alcohol, they drink in such a way that’s often described as “social”, but moderation is another word that can be used to describe such behavior. In fact, virtually everyone who’s not an alcoholic drinks alcohol in moderation. There are many ways that one could define or elucidate on moderate alcohol consumption, but a relatively straightforward explanation would be to say that drinking in moderation is a practice of alcohol consumption wherein the individual is aware of the intoxicating effects of alcohol and—in order to prevent intoxication—consumes alcohol at a rate that is safe and isn’t debilitating.
There are actually guidelines set by the government that help people to distinguish and abide by moderate alcohol consumption behavior. The amount of alcohol that would constitute drinking in moderation differs between men and which due to factors such as body mass and other aspects of biology. According to the United States Dietary Guidelines, drinking in moderation would refer to when a man consumes only two units of alcohol in a day or fourteen units per week while a woman drinks one unit of alcohol per day and seven units per week. In the literature, it’s stated that these figures have been determined according to the most up-to-date scientific evidence and research; moreover, guidelines for moderate alcohol consumption is meant to help prevent both the immediate and the long-term effects of alcohol abuse, which include effects that are personal, social, and financial in nature, among many others.
Moderation versus abstinence
After beginning an alcoholism treatment program, a person is required to become abstinent for the duration of his or her stay within the facility. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is because continued alcohol consumption would interfere with the recovery process, limiting the extent to which the person could benefit from the variety of treatments and therapies being offered. Moreover, it would be virtually impossible for a person to overcome physical dependence on a substance that he or she is still consuming. For these and other reasons, abstinence is an essential part of the early phases of alcoholism recovery.
Moderation differs from abstinence in that moderation would mean that a person continues to consume a substance without intending to become intoxicated or otherwise abuse the substance. The idea behind moderation is that the individual would have the ability to prevent his or her consumption from escalating to a level that would be likely to result in many serious consequences. While this is an ideal solution for most, moderation would be an inherently difficult concept to those who have proven unable to control their substance use.
Is abstinence really the only way?
Although it may seem extreme or unreasonable to say that abstinence is the only way to overcome addiction, the reality is that abstinence is really the only certainty one can have that he or she won’t relapse. Similar to how a person must start abusing a substance before he or she can become an addict, a person would be much less able to relapse—or return to a state of heavy alcohol abuse—if he or she remained abstinent from all alcohol consumption. If a recovered alcoholic were to try to return to drinking moderately, it would be very easy for one or two drinks per day to turn into two or threez and then three or four. In short, there would be much more temptation to return to alcohol abuse since the individual continues to have alcohol in his or her life and is making contact with the alcohol on a somewhat frequent basis.
Instead of trying to drink alcohol in moderation after completing an alcoholism treatment program, a person who is in active alcoholism could attempt to taper—or slowly reduce consumption over an extended period of time—his or her alcohol consumption to a point where he or she is only drinking moderately. This could be more effective since there wouldn’t be the extended period of abstinence followed by a return to consumption; rather, the individual would be overcoming addiction by slowly backtracking, decreasing consumption to a more manageable level.
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