Moderation Management

The Pros and Cons of Harm Reduction for Substance Problems

No matter where you live in the U.S., substance problems are common. Some affected people are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Others are affected by serious, non-addicted abuse. In most treatment programs, the goal is substance abstinence. However, some programs rely on a different approach called harm reduction. One such program is Moderation Management. This mutual self-help group seeks to help problem drinkers reduce the amount of alcohol they consume. Abstinence is not required as a goal for all participants.

Do harm reduction in general – and Moderation Management in particular – work? Research shows that they can be beneficial in some cases. However, this approach may not work for you at all. Instead, you may need the support provided by an abstinence-based recovery program. The more serious your drinking problems, the more likely you are to need this kind of program.

Harm Reduction Methods

Abstinence-based treatment programs and mutual self-hep groups are designed to help you completely halt your substance use. To achieve this goal, treatment programs rely on a range of supervised medical techniques. These techniques includes psychotherapy, education and a range of secondary methods.

Self-help groups differ significantly from treatment programs. They are not usually run by medical professionals. Instead, they rely on a peer-to-peer approach to support your efforts to remain substance-free. They also typically provide a sponsor who offers more personalized guidance for your recovery efforts. As a rule, peer support works best in combination with formal treatment.

Harm reduction is not an abstinence-based treatment approach. Instead, it seeks to help you avoid the typical, severe consequences of untreated substance problems. These consequences may be directly related to the effects of drugs or alcohol. They may also be an indirect result of your substance use.

Immediate Placement in Drug Rehab

Harm reduction can have any of several goals. Common examples of these goals include:

  • Decreasing the amount of drugs or alcohol you consume
  • Helping you switch from uncontrolled substance use to regulated use
  • Reducing your exposure to substance-related personal or social harms

One of the most well-known roles for harm reduction is in opioid substitution. This method is commonly used to help people addicted to opioid substances. It can play a part in abstinence or harm reduction. In the abstinence-oriented approach, you temporarily switch to a safer opioid while going through withdrawal. Gradually, you take less of that substitute until you reach an abstinent state.

In the harm reduction approach, you do not stop taking your substitute opioid. Instead, you remain on a stable dose that does not get you “high.” However, it does reduce your motivation to switch back to uncontrolled opioid use.

What is Moderation Management

Moderation Management, or MM, is a non-profit self-help group that operates as a 12-step program alternative. It focuses on supporting people affected by problem alcohol use. Many of these people are not addicted to alcohol. However, they may meet the criteria used for diagnosing no-addicted alcohol abuse. In addition, some members may be hoping to avoid these kinds of issues.

Abstinence Vs. Moderation Management

Moderation Management

Moderation Management does not pursue alcohol abstinence as a mandatory goal for its members. Instead, it largely takes a harm reduction approach. The organization acknowledges that trying to cut back on drinking by yourself can be challenging at best. It seeks to provide the support needed to make this objective easier to achieve. Moderation Management does not preclude abstinence as a goal. It acknowledges that avoiding drinking altogether can be the best option.

This means that there is no clear conflict between abstinence and MM. In fact, when they join, all members of the group must commit to quitting drinking for at least one month. After this initial period, members must still commit to keeping their drinking within certain limits.

The Tools of Moderation Management

Moderation Management uses a variety of tools to support its members. As with 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, group meetings play a central role. These meetings may take place:

  • In person
  • Via video conferencing
  • Over the phone

Members can also connect through the organization’s ABSTAR drink tracker. This online tracker lets you post your recent drinking statistics. These stats are then visible to others. In this way, ABSTAR provides another layer of mutual responsibility for group members.

New members receive step-by-step instructions on gradually shifting their drinking goals. This gradual approach is intended to make the switch to moderate drinking easier to achieve. Members also have access to additional resources, including:

  • A moderate drinking guide
  • A Moderation Management blog
  • Books on moderate drinking and related topics

Studies and Outcomes With Moderation Management

Numerous studies have examined the potential effectiveness of harm reduction in general. Some studies have also focused on Moderation Management as a specific organization.

Immediate Placement in Drug Rehab

Harm Reduction in General

Research shows that harm reduction can be a useful method of helping people with substance problems. Its particular noted benefits include:

  • Providing resources for people from a wide variety of backgrounds and situations
  • Reaching people who may lack access to formal substance treatment
  • Increasing the overall number of people who seek some kind of help

However, studies also indicate the harm reduction is not suitable for everyone. Its primary usefulness is for people who lack either treatment access or a strong motivation to seek help. For example, you may be ambivalent about the idea of entering an abstinence-based program. You may also be openly resistant or hostile to this idea.

In these circumstances, help reducing your exposure to harm may be better than no help at all. But if you have a personal goal of quitting drugs or alcohol, harm reduction is not an adequate substitute. The same may also hold true if you have access to a suitable abstinence-based program.

Moderation Management in Particular

Research shows that most people enrolled in the organization do not have severe alcohol problems. In fact, they do not meet the criteria for diagnosing alcohol dependence or alcoholism. However, some members do meet these criteria. Others have diagnosable symptoms of non-addicted alcohol abuse. Bear in mind that alcoholism and serious, non-addicted abuse are part of the same condition: alcohol use disorder.

How effective is Moderation Management? People who are not alcohol-dependent may view MM as a more suitable option than a group like Alcoholics Anonymous. They may, in fact, be unwilling to join such a group. In these circumstances, MM or a similar group may be beneficial. In other words, it may help you meet your goal of limiting but not halting your alcohol use.

When Moderation is Not Recommended

Moderation Management

Not everyone is well-suited to a group like Moderation Management. This may be especially  true if you meet the criteria for alcohol dependence. While some alcohol-dependent people succeed in harm reduction programs, the results are mixed. Without the assistance provided by an abstinence-based program, your condition may grow worse. At the same time, you may mistakenly feel you are getting adequate help for your problems.

For these reasons, abstinence-based programs remain essential recovery resources. They allow you to stop drinking or taking drugs in a safe environment. In addition, they help you gain a better understanding of the problems affecting you. Crucially, such programs also provide the evidence-based care you need to remain substance-free. If you have the motivation to get sober, be sure to act on it at every opportunity. Also, be aware that treatment can work even if you are initially resistant to it.

The Importance of Peer Support Groups

Whether your goal is abstinence or moderation, peer support can be vital. In fact, the importance of peer support groups is backed by extensive research. In combination with formal treatment, this kind of group often increases your odds for recovery success. A form of therapy, called 12-step facilitation therapy, is dedicated to helping you prepare for self-help enrollment.

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Learn More About Moderation Vs. Abstinence at Emerald Isle

Need more information on the benefits of moderation vs. abstinence? Contact the experts at Emerald Isle Health & Recovery. We can explain the difference between these two approaches. We can also help you identify their pros and cons.

At Emerald Isle, we feature abstinence-based treatment programs. These programs rely exclusively on modern treatment methods. Such methods are based on firm scientific evidence. They offer the best available options for addressing your condition. This is true whether you are affected by drug problems or alcohol problems. It is also true regardless of the severity of your symptoms.

Emerald Isle also specializes in the treatment of dual diagnosis. People with this condition need help for multiple serious problems, not just one. As a result, they need broader-based treatment plans to recover. All people who enroll in our programs receive fully customized care. This care not only focuses on your specific treatment needs. It also focuses on you as a person. The comfort offered by this approach may help improve your motivation in recovery. In this way, it may also increase your odds for lasting treatment success. To learn more about how we can help, call us today.

  1. Journal of Clinical Psychology: Harm Reduction Therapy – A Practice-Friendly Review of Research
  2. Moderation Management: Moderation Management Overview
  3. Moderation Management: MM’s Steps of Change
  4. Moderation Management: Meetings
  5. Moderation Management: ABSTAR
  6. Psychiatric Services: A Research-Based Analysis of the Moderation Management Controversy
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse: Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment – A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition), Pages 56- 57