Published On: February 4, 20221682 words8.5 min read


What is moderating and are there pros and cons to moderating? When we talk about moderating in the drinking sense, we talk about slowing down and taking stock of our drinking. Usually, when a drinker decides to moderate, it coincides with their drinking too much. And, usually, when a drinker is drinking too much, they are feeling a bit of guilt, a bit of shame, and a bit ikky about their health and fitness-wise.

So, they decide that instead of ditching the booze, they will rather moderate. Most people who decide to try moderation fail and this is simply because the people who decide to moderate are the people who are drinking too much and who just cannot moderate. They need to get professional help or stop drinking. Usually.

Moderation is a Choice – Or is It?

There have, however, been people who have slowed down their drinking to be moderate. This means that they only drink the stipulated amounts of alcohol that are recommended before health issues creep in.

How did you stop drinking? Did you try to moderate? Did you realize that you simply could not moderate? The drinkers who realise that they simply cannot moderate are the ones who usually have a drinking problem. That is not to say that they are alcoholics.

Grey Area Drinking

We live in the day and age of grey area drinking: alcoholism (dependence on alcohol)– alcohol use disorder (uncontrolled drinking) – drinking problem – moderation (trying to control drinking) – sober curiosity (taking periods of sobriety in between the drinking) – sobriety (no more drinking) – teetotaller (never was interested in drinking anyway).

If you see yourself anywhere on this graph, then take note. There are very fine lines between all the steps – and drinkers will always try to justify where they are in their drinking. The worst part is, however, that drinking does not taper off, it picks up speed. If you think you are a moderator, great.

But if you are stuck on the thoughts of moderating and tend to be consumed by drinking and stopping-starting drinking and when to stop and when to start and how much you are drinking and how much guilt or shame you are feeling when do you do drink, then the chances are that you do have a drinking problem.

A Drinking Problem vs Alcoholism

From here, it gets worse. Your reliance on alcohol deepens as your brain needs more and more of that dopamine rush so you tend to consume more yet think you are fine and not getting drunk. Meanwhile, you are forgetting things, telling your partner the same stories over and over, and dropping a few balls at work. You think you are fine but the sober people around you are totally aware of your drinking and what you are doing. Pouring glass after glass of alcohol, drinking it like cooldrink, staggering off to bed after 11 pm at night because you wanted to stay up and watch a film or read a book or listen to a podcast but meanwhile you wanted to drink more.

David DiSalvo puts it just so in Forbes: “By jacking up dopamine levels in your brain, alcohol tricks you into thinking that it’s actually making you feel great (or maybe just better, if you are drinking to get over something emotionally difficult).  The effect is that you keep drinking to get more dopamine release, but at the same time you’re altering other brain chemicals that are enhancing feelings of depression.”

Did you know that most people drink for two reasons?

  1. To enhance the positive effects in their lives – to have more fun socially and to feel more joy emotionally.
  2. To decrease negative effects in their lives – trying to deal with too much work, not enough time for hobbies and relaxing, a bossy partner, too much going on with the kids, not enough money, the weather, the traffic, the in-laws, you name it.

Drinking to enhance positive effects in life is just an excuse to feel high all the time and why would you need to feel this anyway? Life is a yin and yang process of feeling the joy, feeling the sadness, feeling the contentment, feeling the pain – it comes in waves, and the more we “suffer”, the higher the lighter feelings of joy become.

Drinking to cope is a minefield of digging a mine – pull into the bottle store after a shitty day at work, it will help. Pour a stiff whiskey when the wife is rude to you, it helps. Pull into the pub after work because your boss was anal today, it helps. Pour a glass of wine with dinner because hey, that is what we do, and the budget is shot, and the kids are fighting. There are endless excuses for the reasons to drink.

According to the European Journal of Public Health, “Drinking based on these decision strategies is associated with higher alcohol consumption than drinking merely from social motives, which has been linked to moderate consumption.”

The Stages of Change

Again, the stages of change come into play. Please re-read this blog about the stages of change as they are very real in the decisions that drinkers take around drinking. I am going to have a drink today because it is Friday, it is Wednesday, it is hot, it is cold, I am happy, I am sad, I got caught in a traffic jam, my partner is grumpy, I have no money…

The drinker who says that they can moderate often vacillates between the decisions to drink and the decisions to not drink. There is conflict in the thinking. What can I gain if I drink? What will I lose if I drink?

The lizard brain is trying to dominate the heart and soul. This podcast will tell you more about your lizard brain which can sabotage your good work and lead you away from sobriety into a life of trying to moderate and then drinking too much anyway.

It is fascinating to note that when a drinker takes a break from consuming alcohol, their health immediately benefits. Their thought processes immediately benefit and that conflict in the head decreases and even disappears. There is no longer that issue of the drinking to fight over within your head. When you don’t drink you are on a new path to do things differently and to feel good. When sober, you argue for the sobriety and not for the alcohol, so the goalposts move.

Where Does the Urge to Moderate Fit In?

Picture your own life. You are probably reading this because you are worried about your own drinking, or you know someone who drinks, or you are newly sober. You like drinking because you feel more outgoing, and you fit in when you go out and everyone else drinks anyway.

When you drink, you feel relaxed and on top of things and you feel happier and funnier and less alone, right? All these reasons are simply your lizard brain justifying your drinking behaviour. They are all untrue, of course. Alcohol is poison. Full stop.

The moderator will always be consciously weighing up the pros and cons of their moderating. Is it working for me? Should I just go all out on Friday as my friends are celebrating? Should I just start again on Monday with one drink a day, as today I feel like 4 drinks?

What do the journals say about moderation? Is it possible or is it just a farce? The latest research tells us that alcohol causes cancer, even low levels of drinking can cause cancer, yes. Many people do not drink every day. They moderate. But every time you drink, you top up. You can never just go back to day one. You top up and keep topping up and eventually, the wine bottle is done in one sitting and the whiskey bottle is empty on a Monday morning, say what?! But you feel OK and that is weird. Go back to learning about dopamine and alcohol.

Alcohol is Unhealthy

Every country has its own guidelines around moderate drinking: how many units of alcohol a week is considered to be safe. In South Africa, it is recommended that 14 units of alcohol a week is the limit, and remember that ONE wine glass is already TWO units! So that means, one glass of wine a day is the limit! Some moderators will pile these glasses into one night or a weekend and have 3 to 4 a day. This, in reality, becomes binge drinking and binge drinking is another drinking issue completely!

A fact sheet written by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “While some studies have found improved health outcomes among moderate drinkers, it’s impossible to conclude whether these improved outcomes are due to moderate alcohol consumption or other differences in behaviors or genetics between people who drink moderately and people who don’t.”

It is very possible that problem drinkers decide to moderate. It works for some, and it does not work for others. A problem drinker is defined as someone who does not drink every day but who likes to drink and may not have that off switch that non-drinkers have.

In most countries, programs that deal with alcoholism are directed at people who are dependent on alcohol, and not on problem drinkers. Problem drinkers can hide behind their problem until it affects the people around them and they need to get help. Often, the type of help at the AA or other institutions does not serve a problem drinker. That is when Tribe Sober and other sober groups come to the fore and assist these people.

The first step to take is to decide: can I moderate or not? Then reach out and tell someone you are going to moderate. It is often a good idea to join a sober group and to reach out to people just like you. You will find similar people who have tried moderation. This is your life, and you need to find out what works for you. Good luck.


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