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can you learn to drink safely, moderation management

Being the alcoholic I am, I know for certain that I can’t drink safely and I have all the experience in the world to back that statement up. It is funny though my mind will still try to tell me sometimes that maybe I could learn to drink safely, but then I just look at my past and see that I have nothing to base that on. There is nothing in my drinking that tells me I would be able to drink safely. And thank God for that.

Not everyone feels like me though. According to a program called moderation management you can learn to drink safely, just as long as you aren’t an alcoholic. And that is probably the scariest thing about this program; no alcoholic really believes they are; initially.

So what is the program moderation management?

Moderation management is a recovery program and national support group founded by Audrey Kishline, for people who want to reduce their drinking and make other positive lifestyle changes. Moderation management makes itself very clear that it is a program not for alcoholics nor is it for chronic drinkers or anyone trying to stay abstinent.

Moderation management is a program for problem drinkers who have experienced some light consequences to their drinking. Moderation management program even goes into detail about what a moderate drinker is:

  • Considers an occasional drink to be a small, though enjoyable, part of life.
  • Has hobbies, interests, and other ways to relax and enjoy life that do not involve alcohol.
  • Usually has friends who are moderate drinkers or nondrinkers.
  • Generally has something to eat before, during, or soon after drinking.
  • Usually does not drink for longer than an hour or two on any particular occasion.
  • Usually does not drink faster than one drink per half-hour.
  • Usually does not exceed the .055% BAC moderate drinking limit.
  • Feels comfortable with his or her use of alcohol (never drinks secretly and does not spend a lot of time thinking about drinking or planning to drink).

Moderation management even has “steps”; nine of them.

1. Attend meetings or on-line groups and learn about the program of Moderation Management.

2. Abstain from alcoholic beverages for 30 days and complete steps three through six during this time.

3. Examine how drinking has affected your life.

4. Write down your life priorities.

5. Take a look at how much, how often, and under what circumstances you had been drinking.

6. Learn the MM guidelines and limits for moderate drinking.

7. Set moderate drinking limits and start weekly “small steps” toward balance and moderation in other areas of your life.

8. Review your progress and update your goals.

9. Continue to make positive lifestyle changes and attend meetings whenever you need ongoing support or would like to help newcomers.

But here is the big question: Can you learn to drink safely with moderation management?

Let’s look at the Audrey Kishline’s story for the answer to that one because she is the founder and attempted moderation and drinking “safely”.

Audrey Kishline found alcohol when she was 16. Alcohol became a problem for her pretty quickly. And as a young woman later on, getting ready to get married she decided to herself into a treatment center. In her interview with Dateline NBC here is what she had to say about her experience in rehab:

“Course after I had been there for about a month I said, “There’s no way I’m as bad as these people.  They’ve lost their homes, their jobs, their this, and their that.  I’m not that bad.  I’ve been mislabeled.” 

She checked out of rehab after a month long stay and stayed sober; but not for long. After about two or three months she started secretly drinking. For the next few years this is what she did; she secretly drank. She was married now and her husband would be away on business trips so it was easy. She had two kids Lindsay and Samuel and that was when she got a “handle” on the booze.

And, here’s where my experiment with this told me in my mind then, “I’m no alcoholic.  I could quit drinking through the pregnancies. I could drink when he was gone and not get hung over. I could control it.”

She still thought she needed to cut down even though she was controlling and this is when she decided to create a support group for people she believed were just like her: problem drinkers who just needed to reduce their drinking. She called it “MM” for moderation management.

So how does the story end?

Moderation management got a lot of press and groups started popping up. But for Audrey things didn’t look so good. Audrey’s story ends with another bout in detox and soon after getting out, driving drunk and killing  a 12 year old girl and her dad on their way to mom’s house, while she was driving the wrong way down the freeway in Washington State. She went to jail for three and a half years after pleading guilty. She lost her marriage. Got out on parole and drank again and ended up back in jail for another 42 days. She now lives alone in Portland, Oregon. And when asked now if she believes a person can be a moderate controlled drinker here is what she had to say:

“As long as they’re not truly an alcoholic.”

The Belief in Moderation within Rehabs

There is one treatment center that opened up about learning to moderate to The Fix that believes in teaching moderation to its clients. In fact some of the practices in the rehab may stun you. They take you to a bar, and sit with you while you have a drink. Of course there’s more to it than that. In the initial abstinence phase, the doctor does “exposure work” with each client—the techniques of which come from methods used to combat anxiety or phobias. This means exposing the client to progressively more and more realistic representations of things which are troubling to them. An example of this exposure therapy explained in an article by The Fix talks about a young girl Erin.

“For Erin, who liked to smoke heroin in her car, that meant Dr. Jaffe going with her to her car, bringing tin foil with him, and sitting in the vehicle and having her handle the foil. They discussed the feelings that arose, to aid in the extinction process of associating her car with smoking dope. Later, Jaffe and Erin went to her home and repeated the exercise.”

Now whether or not this works, I have no idea. I know for myself I wouldn’t want to find out.

So can you learn to drink safely? In my opinion. . .

I believe that if you have to learn how to drink safely your best bet is probably not to drink at all. Someone who isn’t an alcoholic, in my own personal opinion, doesn’t need to “learn” how to drink, it either is or isn’t a problem for them and if it is a problem they don’t need a program to cut it out. And to me the fact that moderation management was basically created by someone who couldn’t moderate says a lot about the success of such a program.

If you aren’t an alcoholic you don’t need a moderation management program and if you are an alcoholic then you can’t moderate as much as you wish you could. Learning to moderate, once again in my opinion, is only an idea someone who should probably be abstinent would come up with. In my mind; you can’t learn to drink safely. You either do or you don’t. But then again what do I know about alcohol? My perception on it is definitely skewed in some manner that is part of what makes me what I am, and I am an alcoholic.

If you or someone you know is in need of alcohol abuse treatment, please give us a call at 800-951-6135.




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