Q&A – Is Moderation Possible?

Is moderation possible? I believe that some people can choose moderation – either alcohol has not become that important to them, so drinking less is easy OR they are willing to take the time and effort to do it.

For me, the entire key to freedom is changing my perception. Changing my thought and neural pathways so that my perspective is no longer; I don’t get to drink but I don’t have to drink. I don’t want to drink. That type of freedom – having alcohol become small, irrelevant and non-existent in your life is what I want for myself.  Changing my perception to ‘I don’t actually want to put that in my body’ means I always don’t want to put it in my body. That means that the question of is moderation possible became non-existent.

Part of that change is truly understanding the ins and outs of moderation – and what it means. I’ve done the research and here are –

6 Vital Things to Understand When You Want To Know Is Moderation Possible

1)     Moderation means you are always making decisions.

Studies show that a decision – no matter how big or small – takes about the same amount of brain power.

Moderation = constant decision making. How many? What to drink? When? How much is too much? Should I have this next drink? Or not? These decisions add up and fatigue your mental faculties – which in turn makes you grumpy and exhausted. And guess what? If moderation was hard when you were in a good mood, it becomes next to impossible when your brain is tired and cranky from the effort. Making a single decision to quit liberates you from the millions of tiny, daily, decisions of moderation. For me, the single decision to stop means freedom from the exhaustion of constantly wondering is moderation possible. There is more on this in my book.
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2)  Alcohol creates a thirst for itself (a.k.a. Tolerance).

This is true for any addictive substance. Substances are addictive because they stimulate (artificially) the pleasure circuit of your brain. As soon as the substance begins to leave your system your mood plunges further than it was before you started. Your brain actually turns down the artificial stimulation from alcohol in order to maintain balance (homeostasis). This is tolerance. It is what causes us to increase the amount we drink (we chase the initial ‘high’). At the end of my drinking days I had such a high tolerance I barley ever felt drunk or even tipsy. The fact that alcohol, by its very nature, makes you want (need) more alcohol means moderation doesn’t physiologically make sense. The effect of drinking one drink is to want another drink. I remember starting to think about my next drink (and feeling upset if I wasn’t planning to allow myself one) well before the drink in my hand was empty. This is a horrible flaw of moderation. Eventually the two glasses you are sticking to won’t have any impact whatsoever, so what’s the point? And tolerance is actually your body (and mind) protecting itself by negating the effects of alcohol. Alcohol by its very nature causes you to need more of it to feel the same level of intoxication – which is completely at odds with moderation. Is moderation possible on a chemical level – no, it isn’t.

3) Alcohol affects your brain, impairing its ability to make good decisions.

I would make myself a simple – and seemingly easy to achieve – rule of two glasses of wine per night. With the next morning came the heartache of not being able to recall how much I drank, but knowing it was far too much, and being absolutely miserable. I berated myself – hating my inability to stick to just two glasses, convinced I had no self-control and feeling weak and stupid.  The truth is that even a single drink changes your state of mind – so the next drink doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. This is because even a single drink impairs your decision-making abilities by harming your pre-frontal cortex. This is the part of your brain that weighs consequences and makes decisions. It regulates the more primal / animal parts of your brain and allows you self-control. Drinking takes this ability away. Drinking deadens your brain’s reasoning power stealing its ability to make sensible decisions. The very thing you are moderating actually steals your ability to moderate.


4) Alcohol makes you thirsty.

This is an obvious, but overlooked flaw in the moderation theory and a subject we gloss over when questioning is moderation possible. Alcohol is a diuretic (it makes you pee). This means your body is more dehydrated after you drink an alcoholic drink than before. Guess what? That makes another drink even more tempting. It doesn’t matter that you logically know a drink won’t quench your thirst – it will seem like it will, so the thirst from the drink you just had increases your craving for the next drink.

5) Alcohol numbs your pleasure response to natural stimuli.

When the brain’s pleasure center is repeatedly, artificially over-stimulated by alcohol, it produces a counter-chemical, dynorphin, which turns down the stimulation. Put very simply this means that over time, because dynorphin is being constantly released, you no longer enjoy drinking like you once did. Further, the dynorphin decrease doesn’t discriminate and it decreases all types of pleasure in your brain. This means that everyday activities that used to bring you pleasure are no longer felt because of the constant presence of dynorphin in the brain. This is the reason that you come to believe alcohol is the only thing that can make you happy – eventually this becomes true and with enough drinking even the alcohol can’t pull you out of the (alcohol-induced) funk you find yourself in.

6) Liking vs. Wanting.

Alcohol increases cravings (but not pleasure) by releasing dopamine. Addictive drugs, from nicotine to heroin, release artificially high levels of dopamine in the brain. Scientists now believe that dopamine is linked to learning, and learning includes feelings of wanting, expecting, and craving. Rather than giving us pleasure, dopamine teaches us how to get pleasure. It helps us learn the most effective ways to stimulate the brain’s pleasure center. Over time, the wanting aspect of drinking and the liking aspect of drinking are no longer in sync. I experienced cravings for alcohol when I knew it would make me miserable – when I didn’t even want to drink it. The misery here comes from desperately wanting and craving something you no longer even like. If you stay away from alcohol this (thankfully) goes away – but moderating perpetuates these cravings. This is because your brain has, through years of regular drinking, been conditioned to react to alcohol in a certain way. According to a study by Terry Robinson & Kent Berridge one drink, no matter how long you’ve been sober, can trigger a dopamine response and your cravings (and addiction) can come back in full force. This explains why that one drink, even after prolonged abstinence, can stimulate craving for alcohol so that you will continue to drink no matter the consequences and worse, that you won’t even enjoy it.

This is one of the primary reasons that moderation is miserable – it makes me crave something I am not even sure I want.

It’s a dangerous game, one that I no longer want to play.

Although I am convinced that moderation takes far too much effort, I will say it was helpful in one sense.

By attempting to moderate, before this naked mind, I was faced with the misery of moderating.
I found myself wondering is moderation possible and was able to realize that moderating a nasty, addictive poison is not, in truth, worth my time, brain space, or energy.

The slippery slope of moderation allowed me to find peace living an alcohol-free life.

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