Moderation Management – An Early Intervention & Harm Reduction Approach

by Josh

Not everyone who abuses alcohol and engages in risky drinking behavior is an alcoholic.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are 4 times more problem drinkers than full-blown alcoholics in the US.  That’s 4 times as many people whose lives are at-risk due to their risky drinking behavior, but who haven’t yet descended into full-blown alcoholism.

Yet despite those numbers, there are literally thousands of different recovery groups, treatment programs, rehab centers etc. dedicated to treating this small-subsection of alcohol abusers, and yet very few programs that actually seek to help problem drinkers before they become alcoholics.  This is the very time when treatment is the easiest, and yet most of the focus in this country is on treating abuse only when it has already severely mangled one’s life.

Why Problem Drinkers Often Shy Away From Treatment

Whether they’re problem drinkers or alcoholics, many people avoid traditional treatment for very specific reasons.  For one, they know that the 12 step programs that make up 90% of treatment programs in the US will label them an alcoholic, force them to acknowledge their powerlessness over alcohol, and demand life-time abstinence from drinking.

While the 12 step program might be the right approach for a small subset of the population, for the majority of problem drinkers and even many full-blown alcoholics, its an approach that scares people away from seeking treatment.  Many problem drinkers and full-blown alcoholics can benefit from a program that is less intensive and less demanding.

What Is Moderation Management?

Moderation management is a support network and behavioral change program for people who are worried about their drinking and want to make a change in their life. Moderation management’s goal is to help people who recognize their risky drinking behavior and provide support and treatment that focuses on moderating problem drinking behavior, rather than demanding abstinence.

  • The Moderation Management program is a 9 step program that:
  • Provides education and information about alcohol abuse
  • Offers guidelines and limits for moderating drinking behavior
  • Offers exercises to help problem drinkers become more actively aware of their drinking habits
  • Set goals
  • Manage their drinking so it doesn’t interfere with thier lives

How Is Moderation Management Different Than Traditional 12 Step Programs?

Because moderation management (MM) focuses on early intervention with problem drinkers rather than people who are seriously dependent on alcohol, the focus is on harm reduction – that is, moderating alcohol intake – rather than pure abstinence.  Most professionals and researchers believe that alcohol abuse is a learned habit rather than a disease (whether full-blown alcoholism is a disease is a much more contentious issue)

While MM acknowledges that moderation might not always be a good option for people who are chronic dependent drinkers.  The theory is that for people with risky drinking behaviors – but not full-blown alcohol dependence – moderation is a much more reasonable option than 100% abstinence.

MM acknowledges that moderation is not for everyone – in fact, they state that 30% of their members go on to abstinence focused 12 step programs.  However, MM fills a need for those who want help managing their drinking behavior, but aren’t ready to commit to abstinence.

Moderation management isn’t necessarily an alternative to traditional 12 step programs, since its focused on treating people at an earlier stage of alcohol abuse.  The philosophy behind MM is to provide early intervention support with a harm reduction mentality – by helping out problem drinkers before their habit spirals into full-on alcohol dependence, MM offers a much needed treatment path for people who aren’t right for the 12 step approach.

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