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For Alcohol Abusers, Roughly 50% of Addiction Therapists Say Moderation, Rather Than Abstinence, Is an Acceptable Goal

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posted 10:44 PM EST, Tue November 06, 2012

Roughly half of American addiction counselors now believe that moderating consumption, rather than abstinence, is an acceptable treatment goal for people with alcohol or drug abuse problems.

Do alcohol abusers always have to strive for complete abstinence as the only acceptable goal?

To find out, Bowling Green State University researchers polled 913 members of the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Counselors to learn more about what’s considered acceptable in the treatment of alcohol and drug abuse, and alcohol and drug dependence.

The Findings

Twenty years ago, about 75% of drug and alcohol addiction counselors would have required total abstinence, but today, that number has shrunk to about 50% - with the remaining 50% indicating that occasional alcohol or drug use is an appropriate middle point or even end stage goal to work toward.

When talking about alcohol or drug dependent clients (alcoholics), however, only about a quarter of the therapists polled said that moderation was an acceptable mid or end point goal.

Respondents who did not approve of any alcohol or drug consumption cited a lack of effectiveness, the sending of the wrong message and an incompatibility with treatment philosophy as justifications for refusing to consider moderation as an acceptable mid or end point goal.

Interestingly, although the number of American addiction counselors supporting moderation as a valid option has doubled in the past 20 years, counselors in other countries are still far more likely to endorse moderation as an acceptable choice for some; for example, in the UK, 86% of addiction counselors endorse moderate drinking as an acceptable goal.


The study authors argue that contemporary attitudes increase access to treatment for a lot of people who may be unsure about their ability or willingness to give up drinking or drugs completely, writing, “Individuals with alcohol and drug problems who avoid treatment because they are ambivalent about abstinence should know that — depending on the severity of their condition, the finality of their outcome goal, and their drug of choice — their interest in moderating their consumption will be acceptable to many addiction professionals working in outpatient and independent practice settings."

The full study findings are posted online at the APA website.

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Story Highlights
  • Addiction Treatment: About 50% of substance abuse counselors now consider moderate use, rather than abstinence, an acceptable goal for some alcohol or drug abusing clients.
  • Not for Alcoholics Though: The vast majority of counselors still suggest abstinence as the only workable solution for people dependent on alcohol or drugs.
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