To Abstain, or Not To Abstain

Choosing your goal:

The main choice is between an abstinence goal and a non-abstinence goal. Goals of safer drinking and reduced drinking are not really at odds with each other very much. You will have to be honest with yourself about successes and failures you have had with a goal of controlled drinking in the past as well as be honest with yourself about successes and failures you have had with a goal of abstinence in the past. It is worth writing down two lists—one of successes and failures with the abstinence goal and one with successes and failures with the non-abstinence goal.

If you are currently abstaining and are considering experimenting with controlled drinking, we suggest that you follow each drinking session the following day with a written evaluation of what worked and what didn’t.

We also suggest that yo write out a Cost Benefit Analysis of the pros and cons of adopting an abstinence goal and the pros and cons of adopting a non-abstinence goal.

Harm reduction is aimed at those who are unwilling or unable to abstain—it is not a magic bullet to allow successful abstainers to drink again as much as they want with no consequences.

If you choose abstinence as your goal then we suggest that many people may find it helpful to participate in an abstinence-based group as well as in HAMS. If HAMS is the only group that you use then you might find that constantly hearing others talk about controlled drinking strategies is a temptation to pull you away from your abstinence goal.

HAMS always supports abstinence as a goal. However, the evidence shows that the traditional notion of “hitting bottom” is erroneous. People often use alcohol or drugs to cope with trauma, and increasing the trauma increases the drug or alcohol use. The more resources that people have intact, the more likely they are to succeed in either a goal of abstinence or in non-abstinent recovery. Stripping people of all they own  in an attempt to force then into AA is less successful than doing nothing at all. After all, research tells us that the normal outcome of addiction is recovery without AA and without treatment.

Many people find that their first step towards abstinence is through harm reduction.

 Copyright © 2012, The HAMS Harm Reduction Network




About Kenneth Anderson

Kenneth Anderson is the author of the book How to Change Your Drinking: a Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol. He is also the founder and CEO of The HAMS Harm Reduction Network.
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