Let’s be straight here, when it comes to addiction, the idea of being able to moderate substance use downright scares people, especially those in treatment circles and families who have been exposed to the treatment industry. As a culture, we’ve taken on the idea that certain people “can’t” drink or drug like others who drink or take drugs moderately. According to our recovery-centered society, these people – these “addicts and alcoholics” – lose control. They can’t stop once they start which means they can’t moderate. But that’s not true.
We know from extensive research that more than 50% of past heavy habitual users, meaning those who qualify as “addicted”, reduce their use to non-problematic levels and do so permanently. We also know that many people choose to abstain from an illicit substance like heroin, but then are able to drink alcohol moderately without issue. And there are also many people who choose complete abstinence from substances, most of whom receive no treatment at all.
I began my book, The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap with a line about moderation. I state, “All people, even those who have a serious drug or alcohol problem, can choose to use moderately, and contrary to popular belief, they can do so successfully.” Of course, moderation is the great heresy of the addiction world, so saying such things brings some significant backlash and skepticism. But someone had to draw a line in the sand and bring the conversation about addiction back into reality. Know this, people who have not been exposed to treatment rhetoric, moderate their use of drugs and alcohol with stable regularity, and do so without fear or dread.
If you are a parent with an addicted loved one, know that when you remove the loss of control myth, what you get is an empowered son or daughter who is free to decide what level of use they want in their lives. By removing the distractions of this mythology, you expose drugs for what they are – substances that are lifeless, have no power, and provide people an experience they value at some level – but you also provide a path free of fear-based decision making. Moderation is just the individual deciding that they can be happier using less and/or using less frequently. By clearing away the distractions of disease ideology, and powerlessness, it becomes much easier for people to decide if using less might be a better fit for their life. Why would we shut people off from this option? By making the argument that “you must choose complete abstinence,” you take away a person’s options, and frankly this can make heavy use look more appealing for some.
This abstinence mongering is promoted because 70 years ago the revenue-driven treatment industry wanted a black and white option in a grey-scale situation. The truth is your child uses substances for very personal reasons, probably much like you did at some point in your life. By telling them that they “can’t stop and they have a lifelong disease” suddenly, your child, who once knew they could stop “when they wanted to”, comes to believe that they can’t control their substance use, and worse yet, that they can be triggered to use by factors outside of their control. This is how people die needlessly. This is the recovery trap.
In treatment there is an all or nothing mentality. They provide only two options, complete and total abstinence or out of control heavy, chronic usage. Subsequently most people those who go to treatment end up bouncing from one extreme to the other. Due to their faulty beliefs and bad advice given by treatment providers, families react to seeing their loved one have one or two drinks with the same panic they do to a 5 day full out binge. Certainly when a substance user knows that taking a couple drinks is going to engender the same fear, panic and anger in their parents, as going on a 5 day meth binge, then that makes that 5 day meth binge seem that much more attractive.
I began The Freedom Model stating that moderation is possible for anyone because learning that you have total control is the key to putting addiction behind you for good. We didn’t begin The Freedom Model for the Family with moderation because we know the fear and dread this topic can cause those who have watched their loved one struggle with heavy use. We knew it was important to debunk much of the mythology for families first. When people know the facts, and they can let go of the fear that substances contain power like an orange contains vitamin c. Substances do not have the power to enslave people. If they actually did, no one would ever be able to stop once they start using, not even to go into treatment. But even the heaviest substance users stop and take a break every so often.
Once you clear away the mythology that substances have the power to enslave people, then you can have a productive and honest conversation with your son or daughter. You can ask them why they like to get drunk and/or high. You can ask what benefits they believe they get from heavy use. It’s likely they won’t be honest due to the stigma attached to substance use, and because they know you disapprove of the behavior. But perhaps, if you can convince them that you’re not judging them, you’re just curious, you will begin to have an honest conversation which will open the door to discussing the possibility that they may be happier using less, switching to less risky substances or trying abstinence for a while.
Regarding attempts at moderation, here are some important points to remember:
If your son or daughter is a believer in the addiction disease they should NOT attempt moderation.
If they are a believer in a class of people known as addicts and alcoholics, they SHOULD NOT attempt moderation.
If your son or daughter is a believer in the loss of control in regards to substances they SHOULD NOT attempt moderation.
Only those who have adequately unlearned our society’s addiction myths should consider moderate use. Also, no matter where you stand, abstinence is a great option. I abstained for decades and then opted to drink once in a while. I did both without fear or feeling deprived.
So again, anyone can moderate – no matter how bad their addiction might be. Just because someone doesn’t moderate and continues heavy use doesn’t mean that can’t, it just means they didn’t. And they didn’t for one of two reasons, either because they now believe they can’t due to treatment and 12 step indoctrination, or what is more likely is that they don’t really want to use moderately. They may say they do because that is what they know others want to hear, but if they did truly want to use less, they would.
Of course all substance use has risks, but so does driving a car, walking down the street, or playing sports. If you know the facts about what addiction is and isn’t, making a decision about what substance use option you want becomes as easy as any other decision in life. But it is only by clearing away the myths first that all options become doable and can be carried out without fear and guilt. The best path to this understanding is by reading The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap and The Freedom Model for the Family. All the information for making informed decisions is there for the taking. Enjoy!