Do Non-Abstinence Treatment Programs Encourage Drinking?

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

Why Don’t We Have More Non-Abstinence Treatment Programs? Part II

As you may recall, the first article of this series focused on the introduction of a number of myths that are the main cause, according to us, behind the paucity of non-abstinence treatment programs in the United States. (Europe and Australia don’t have such an obvious gap.)

To review, the reasons we named in the last piece are:

  1. The notion that moderation programs give permission to “true alcoholics” to continue drinking.
  2. The fear is that people who are currently abstinent will decide to try drinking again, thinking they should be able to moderate.
  3. The belief that use of a mind-altering substance, especially by individuals who have previously struggled with them, is a means of escape and therefore unhealthy even if it is currently non-problematic.

This article will tackle the second myth on the list.

Myth: Abstinent alcoholics will try to return to drinking

First, I have to say that this specific argument is troubling in that it suggests a real paranoia, in certain circles, about the very light grip members of the recovery community have on their life. Indeed, this is nothing but a Red Herring. That is to say – if you truly believe that the mere availability of drinking options will cause an abstinent individual to throw away their current program, you are also suggesting that such an individual is not at all satisfied with their present experience. That would seem to support the view that there is a problem with the current system that specifically requires new thinking!

…it suggests a real paranoia, in certain circles, about the very light grip members of the recovery community have on their life.-Adi Jaffe

Now sure, I’m positive diabetics would jump at the chance to stop injecting insulin, but the freedom to take on such an experiment is always available to them regardless of our recommendations. The same is true for abstinent individuals in recovery – they can always decide to drink again, and many in fact do. This is why success rates for complete abstinence 12-months post-treatment are in the 5 to 15 percent range.

Additionally, this particular fear is one that can easily be handled by ethically-sound admission principles. For instance, Alternatives simply does not accept abstinent clients who are seeking to find out if they can drink again. As I have personally told the two or three callers we have had who expressed interest in this, “We treat individuals with current drug and alcohol problems.” If a person wants to try their hand at drinking after an extended abstinence period they are welcome to attend some self-help and peer-support meetings that are specifically meant for that (such as Moderation Management). Since less than 0.5 percent of our phone calls have even proposed such a course for treatment, I’m not too worried about this problem on a large scale.

The truth is that many people who have been successfully abstinent are very satisfied with their new life and are not at all interested in reintroducing alcohol into their lifestyle.-Adi Jaffe

The truth is that many people who have been successfully abstinent are very satisfied with their new life and are not at all interested in reintroducing alcohol into their lifestyle. This is barely the issue at all. Instead, the problem is that most people who struggle with substance use (90 percent to be exact) never even enter treatment (SAMHSA, 2010; Center for Substance Abuse Research, 2012), and a tiny proportion of those who do enter treatment find successful recovery. We are dealing with approximately 1 percent of substance use problems being successfully handled now. The goal is to introduce options that increase the reach of treatment, and abstinence-only approaches are simply not doing it.

Research suggests that introducing non-abstinence options would open up treatment to millions more. The Center for Substance Abuse Research found that 40 percent of individuals who did not enter treatment cited “Not ready to stop using” as a major reason. My own UCLA and NIDA research (Jaffe, 2013) further supports that finding, looking at a group of people seeking addiction treatment online. All of this suggests that rather than serving as an excuse, offering non-abstinence methods is a necessary step to open up solutions for the tens-of-millions of Americans currently struggling with substance use problems. Their battles with depression, anxiety and other co-occurring conditions (Jaffe, 2007) will be considerably eased if we stop sticking to outdated dogma that simply isn’t enough.

Head out of sand now please.


Photo Source: pixabay

Does your insurance cover addiction treatment?

Use our free and confidential online insurance checker to see if your insurance covers treatment at an American Addiction Center facility.

See if you’re covered