Many struggling alcoholics and drug addicts would love to learn how to moderate their intake.
The problem is that when they let themselves go crazy and use as much or drink as much as they want, they lose control and they suffer consequences in their life as a result.
On the other hand, if they try to restrict their intake severely, to the point where they do not lose control, they find that they are not really enjoying the buzz any more.
This dynamic between the two extremes–being out of control drunk, or sipping one drink through gritted teeth and resenting the fact that you cannot indulge yourself–is a defining characteristic of real addiction.
In other words, if you do not experience what I have just described, then I don’t believe you should bear the label of “addict” or “alcoholic.”
It is only those people who have proven to themselves over and over again that they cannot successfully curtail their intake that should bear the label of alcoholic or drug addict.
Now there are some programs out there that attempt to teach addicts and alcoholics how to moderate their consumption. To be honest I do not have any direct experience with such programs, but I have certainly seen some stories about them that lead me to believe they may not be so effective. Conversely, I have had direct experience with recovery programs that are abstinence based, and I know for myself that these can be effective.
One of the suggestions that recovery programs make is that if you doubt your addiction then you can do some controlled drinking experiments in order to find out for sure. Simply limit yourself to 2 drinks per day for the next, say, year. If you can maintain this maximum of two drinks per day without cheating then you can probably pat yourself on the back and declare that there is no problem.
Any alcoholic who is attempting this exercise is going to lose control long before they get to the one year mark. Putting two drinks into your system is setting off that chain reaction that wakes up the alcoholic disease and causes even more craving. You won’t be able to sustain the two drink per day maximum if you are a true alcoholic.
Apparently the moderation people set their own level of what they believe to be acceptable. I have heard of one person who currently has one drink each month. I would like to ask such a person: What is the point of taking only one drink per month? Are you enjoying the flavor of that drink, honestly? Are you catching a tiny buzz from it and remembering the good old days? What is the point of torturing yourself with one drink each month?
I am a real alcoholic and if someone put a gun to my head and told me to take one drink of alcohol each month I would be extremely annoyed. If you are going to force me to drink at gunpoint, at least let me do it right!
Which is another way of saying: Because I am a real alcoholic, I don’t enjoy a single drink. Not at all. A single drink is a tease, it is the alarm that awakens the giant inside of me that is alcoholism. One drink is just barely priming the pump for the chaos and the nightmare that is about to unfold. And if for some crazy reason someone forces me to take a single drink of alcohol, the beast inside of me is going to want to finish the job. Simple as that.
This is what real alcoholism is: An insane desire to self medicate that throws caution to the wind, and the alcoholic continues to seek alcohol even in the face of serious consequences.
A problem drinker may not be a full blown alcoholic. A problem drinker may be just fine if they can slow down successfully and not experience cravings and urges to get drunk.
But at some point, the problem drinker has to get really honest with themselves and figure out the question on their own. A million people can point fingers at you and try to tell you that you are an alcoholic, but if you don’t believe it for yourself then you are not going to act on it and seek help.
The alcoholic in denial has a million and one excuses as to why alcohol was not really the problem. Here is why:
The alcoholic can remember two things better than anyone else in the world:
1) The time that they drank heavily, had a great time, and did not get into any trouble at all, and
2) The time that did not drink anything at all, and somehow they got into trouble anyway, even while sober.
The alcoholic in denial is clinging to those two truths much tighter than a person would normally hold on to any belief.
Why? Because it justifies their drinking. They can point out these examples and say to themselves “It can’t be the alcohol that is the problem, because that one time I drank and had a great time and no one got hurt, and that other time I wasn’t drinking at all and I still got into trouble for no good reason!”
And for whatever reason, their alcoholism forces them to stay stuck in denial and cling to these two truths. They cling to them so fiercely that it can cost them their happiness and maybe even their life at some point.
They finally break through their denial when they realize that it is not the world that is the problem, that it is not everyone else that is the problem, but it was actually alcohol all along. Alcohol or drugs was their problem all along, even if they never wanted to admit it, or see it. And at the moment that they break through the last bit of their denial, they will finally realize this. They will stop blaming everything and everyone else, and point the finger of blame squarely at themselves and their alcoholism.
My contention is this: If an “alcoholic” learns how to moderate successfully, then that person was merely a problem drinker, not a full blown, real alcoholic.
True alcoholics cannot moderate successfully, and this is really the only thing that defines their disease. If they could control it, there would be no problem, and there would be no discussion at all. People who do not have problems with addiction do not typically talk about their consumption of drugs or alcohol at all, ever. It never comes up, because it is never a problem.
If there is no problem, there’s no problem.
If you decide that you cannot moderate successfully, and therefore have a problem, you might consider reaching out and asking for help. At the very least, pick up the phone and make a call, find out what your options are.