“Drinking alcohol is like eating donuts. Having one or two occasionally isn’t going to hurt you. But having several a day is going eventually going to lead to serious consequences.”
– Cyndi Turner, LCSW, LSATP, MAC
Congratulations on making it this far in the month of Dryuary! As adults we don’t usually get awards or reinforcement. So I’m going to say it another way: I am very proud of you! Having been an addictions treatment therapist for over twenty years, I know the work that you put into being alcohol free this Dryuary.
On to the question you may be asking yourself: can I keep drinking? Only about 6% of the population in the United States meets diagnostic criteria for a severe alcohol use disorder. Or in simpler terms: alcoholic. While this is a large number—the amount of people who live in Florida—the majority of treatment facilities and self-help groups require all drinkers to be totally alcohol free. Forever. I don’t agree with this.
There is a much larger percentage of the population who struggles with alcohol but does not drink every day, have withdrawals, have a problem every time they have a drink, or gotten in trouble with the law. However, they may be dissatisfied with their health, mood, motivation, and relationships. This group encompasses an estimated 22% of the population: the number of Americans living in the Central Time Zone!
You may be wondering which group you fit into and how it affects what you do on February 1st.
I developed the “How Do I Know If I Can Keep Drinking Quiz” as a way to help people answer this question. It is designed to give you predictions on whether you will have success in attempting alcohol moderation. Some of the questions are listed below:
Please answer yes or no to the following:
- Do I have any mental health, medical, or legal issues?
- Do I have a support person to keep me accountable?
- Have I had more than one blackout?
- Am I willing to keep track of how much and how often I drink?
- Have I had withdrawals from drinking?
- Am I free of all other non-prescribed, mood-altering substances?
- Am I drinking to change my mood?
- Will my family support moderate drinking?
- Do the consequences of drinking outweigh the benefits of abstinence?
If you answered yes to any of the odd questions, you may not be a candidate for moderate drinking. Affirmative responses to the even numbered questions increase your odds of being able to continue drinking.
Other negative predictors for being able to moderate include:
- Daily drinking
- Consuming to deal with emotions
- Drinking alone
- Experiencing trauma
- Having legal, probationary, or employment conditions
The worst predictor for being able to continue drinking is having withdrawals after drinking. Withdrawals are potentially life threatening and include delirium tremens “the shakes,” sweating, increased pulse, hallucinations, and seizures. This almost always means that your body has a physical dependence on alcohol and you likely meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria for a severe alcohol use disorder. The more severe the problem, the less likely that you will be able to drink moderately.
Several predictors that lead to a better chance of being able to keep drinking include:
- Experiencing a period of abstinence to develop and implement coping skills
- Monitoring amount and frequency of drinking and staying within moderate drinking guidelines
- Consuming when alcohol is part of a celebration or event, not the main focus
- Delaying first drink until after age 15. One study of over 40,000 adults found that nearly half of the people who began drinking under age 15 met criteria for a severe alcohol use disorder while that percentage dropped to less than 10% if they waited until age 21.
- Having family support. Research shows that the number one predictor for being able to moderately drink is having a support system that can offer perspective, accountability, and motivation.
Practicing alcohol moderation involves risk. The safest amount of drinking is none at all. But for the 90 million people who are not alcoholics, drinking in moderation might be the answer. Keep coming back to Moderation Management for tools, encouragement, and support.
Post submitted by: Cyndi Turner, LCSW, LSATP, MAC
Cyndi is the Co-Founder and Clinical Director of Insight Into Action Therapy and has been in the field for over twenty years. She co-developed and facilitates the Dual Diagnosis Recovery Program©, is a national trainer on alcohol moderation, and is a Moderation Friendly Therapist. Her #1 new release book Can I Keep Drinking? How You Can Decide When Enough is Enough offers alternative ways to have a healthier relationship with alcohol.