Must heavy drinkers strive for abstinence through force of will and pharmaceutic intervention, or can they learn to drink responsibly? Although moderation is an acceptable approach in some European nations, this possibility is met with skepticism by most people in the United States’ medical and mental health communities.
To expand on this, alcohol abuse is considered by most to consist of problematic behaviors and issues related to alcohol use that stop short of full-blown addiction. Conversely, alcoholism is characterized by chemical dependence or addiction. Most health providers in the U.S. contend that that abstinence is the only appropriate treatment for alcohol dependence. At the same time, research indicates that for alcohol abusers, reducing consumption may not be an unreasonable goal.
Moreover, moderation may be the initial goal for some drinkers, but for many, unfortunately, it will not work. After repeated attempts and failures, these people will likely realize that moderation is impossible for them, and the idea of becoming abstinent becomes more palatable than it might have been if it was offered up as the only option initially.
Medications for Alcohol Abuse
To help reduce or quit drinking, among the available tools are medical alcohol abuse deterrents, including drugs such as Antabuse, naltrexone, and acamprosate. Available by prescription, naltrexone, which some believe can be used long-term as needed, can help curb the urge to drink and reduce an individual’s desire to consume alcohol intake. Acamprosate can help those who have quit drinking maintain abstinence.
And unlike Antabuse, these drugs do not cause physical illness if used in conjunction with alcohol. Consuming even a minor amount of alcohol while taking this medication can lead to a reaction that may include flushing, severe headache, breathing difficulties, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme fatigue, fainting, rapid or irregular heartbeat, and blurry vision.
What If Moderation Fails?
If multiple moderation attempts fail, says Max A. Schneider, the individual is probably among the 10% of drinkers who are exceptionally sensitive to alcohol’s mind- and body-altering effects. Someone who fits this bill may not even get much of a buzz or high anymore but are dependent on alcohol and will consume it to excess nonetheless.
Clinical evidence that alcoholism is a disease with genetic components is overwhelming and undeniable. It has nothing to do with morals or willpower but has everything to do with brain chemistry and illness. For individuals afflicted, moderation is no more realistic a goal than trying to that someday they’ll entirely conquer some other chronic disease if they relapse, such as Type I diabetes.
A common screening tool uses four alcohol use-related questions, also referred to as “C.A.G.E. questionnaire.”
1. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning (eye-opener) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?
If you answer yes to at least one of these questions, you should consider it a warning. If you answer yes to two or more, you definitely have some sort of problem. The hallmark signs of alcohol dependence or addiction include cravings and compulsions to drink, loss of control over how often and how much you consume, and alcohol-seeking behaviors despite adverse consequences, including relationship difficulties or illness.
Moreover, if you lose your ability to control alcohol consumption and the behavior associated with it, you have a problem. Often, it’s even the amount you drink—it’s what it does to you.
One of the best ways to tell what effects drinking has done to you is to see your health provider or addiction specialist who can take blood samples. Although such testing can’t determine whether or not a person is dependent, this can reveal years of excessive drinking and the bodily damage that has been incurred.
These are health tools that a physician can use to let a person who drinks know their health status. And given the life-threatening dangers of suddenly quitting alcohol or “cold turkey,” such information has the potential to be life-saving for those who are dependent upon and currently abusing alcohol.
Getting Professional Help for Alcohol Abuse
If you find yourself unable to cut back your drinking to reasonable levels or quit entirely, Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery can help. We offer comprehensive, customized programs featuring evidence-based modalities, from psychotherapy to mindfulness therapy, intended to address substance abuse and each person’s overall health and well-being.