When a person has been struggling to get their drinking under control and is looking into moderation management, they are usually urged by a close loved one to seek help from a certified addiction professional, or, at the very least, begin attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. But what if the person agrees that there is a problem, but they don’t want to give up drinking? What if they believe that – with help and support – they will be able to control their drinking? For the people who believe that a problem drinker can learn to imbibe responsibly, the Moderation Management recovery fellowship believes it offers you the solution you want.
What Is Moderation Management?
Moderation Management was founded in 1994 by Audrey Kishline, a woman who did not self-identify with the concept of alcoholism as a disease. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, Moderation Management is made up of loosely-affiliated fellowship support groups for people struggling with maintaining their sobriety. But there several important differences:
- MM is made up of members who don’t want to give up alcohol – they want to practice “controlled drinking” within strict guidelines – weekly limits of nine drinks per week for women and 14 drinks per week for men.
- Most MM members reject the concept of alcoholism as a disease. Instead, they view problem drinking as a bad, but controllable, habit.
- The vast majority of MM meetings are held online, rather than face-to-face.
- Most MM members say that they did NOT have a substance abuse problem before joining.
- There is no component of spirituality associated with MM.
What Are the Guidelines of the Moderation Management Program?
Instead of the 12 Steps suggested by Alcoholics Anonymous, MM adheres to the Nine Steps:
- Attend meetings or on-line groups and learn about the program of Moderation Management.
- Abstain from alcoholic beverages for 30 days and complete steps three through six during this time.
- Examine how drinking has affected your life.
- Write down your life priorities.
- Take a look at how much, how often, and under what circumstances you had been drinking.
- Learn the MM guidelines and limits for moderate drinking.
- Set moderate drinking limits and start weekly “small steps” toward balance and moderation in other areas of your life.
- Review your progress and update your goals.
- Continue to make positive lifestyle changes and attend meetings whenever you need ongoing support or would like to help newcomers.
Is Moderation Management Right for ME?
For the most part, the MM program allows members to determine their own drinking goals. They are encouraged, but not required to follow the MM drinking guidelines and limits. Besides the aforementioned weekly drinking limits, MM recommends situational limits:
- NO drinking and driving
- NO drinking in situations that are dangerous to themselves or others
- Abstaining from drinking 3-4 days per week
What Are the Benefits of Moderation Management?
- MM believes that there are many more “problem drinkers” in the US than there are full-blown alcoholics and that by offering a different supportive model than AA, they can reach more people. Despite this claim, however, MM membership is very small – usually, less than 500 members are active on any date.
- MM says it is designed for people who have a “drinking problem” but who are not actually physically dependent on alcohol.
- MM believes that, to certain demographics, it may be preferable to AA, because AA and other treatment programs that subscribe to the disease concept of alcoholism refer to a person being “powerless” over alcohol. This can be problematic for minorities or women who may already feel powerless, victimized, or disenfranchised by society.
- Because some people find it hard to stay completely abstinent, MM states it the potential harm may be reduced even if they just cut down on their drinking.
- Trying to engage in “controlled drinking” does not rule out participating in an evidence-based recovery program at a later date. In fact, when a person discovers that they are unable to control their consumption of alcohol, they more readily admit the magnitude of their problem and freely move on to an abstinence-focused rehab program.
Does Moderation Management Really Work?
How do we know that for most people who feel the need to have a program that helps them sets “limits” on their drinking, the problem may be more severe than they admit? For starters, attempting to “bargaining” with your drinking – i.e., setting limits – is one of the characteristics of potential alcoholism. The average person – the average drinker – doesn’t look to start attending MM or AA meetings for absolutely no reason – they feel the need to go because their drinking has escalated negatively in some way – frequent blackouts, DUI charges, violent episodes, issues at work, relationship problems, etc. Yet despite these negative consequences, the person is still looking for a way to continue drinking – another behavior that is a characteristic of potential alcoholism. So there is the bargaining, the negative consequences, and the continued drinking in spite of those consequences – and the person still wants to be identified as a “moderate” drinker with nothing more than a bad habit. There is a word for that kind of self-deception that is yet another characteristic of alcoholism – denial. By the time a person gets to the point where they feel they need help, they are probably well down the path to developing the disease of alcoholism. The disease concept of addiction that is accepted by most doctors, licensed addiction counselors, mental health professionals, and scientists do not allow for “controlled” drinking. Addiction is an incurable disease that invariably progresses – unless it is arrested by timely and effective treatment, it will always worsen. Moderation does not go far enough. That point is proven by the sad-yet-ironic tale of MM’s founder, Audrey Kishline. In 1994, Kishline founded the Moderation Management program, dedicated to the idea that problem drinkers could control their alcohol consumption. In 2000, while drunk with a blood alcohol content that was three times the legal limit, she drove the wrong way down a highway and killed a father and his daughter. For her crime, she went to prison. When she was released from prison, she relapsed numerous times, and at one point, was even sent back, because drinking was a violation of her parole. For years, she struggled with not only alcoholism but guilt and remorse over what she had done while drinking. Her disease continued to progress, and in 2015, she lost her battle with her demons, committing suicide a few days before Christmas.
So What Do I Do If I Think I Have a Drinking Problem?
Unfortunately, it is human nature to minimize and justify our own problematic behaviors. If you think that you have a drinking problem, then you probably do. The best thing you can do for yourself is to speak to a trained intake specialist at an alcohol rehab program. You should be professionally evaluated by a licensed addiction specialist, and if a problem DOES exist, you should be prepared to talk about your best options.