Harvard Mental Health Letter

Alcohol abstinence vs. moderation

Degree of dependence predicts which strategy works best.

 A debate that started in the 1960s remains an important one in the addiction field: is it possible to control problem drinking, or must the drinker give up alcohol completely?

Clinicians often find that patients who enter alcohol treatment for the first time say they would like to find ways to cut back on their drinking rather than abstaining. And many people who have not yet developed symptoms of alcohol dependence, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), such as high tolerance or withdrawal symptoms, are nevertheless in danger of crossing the line into dependence.

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