Alcoholics Anonymous is commonly considered the gold standard for helping people control their drinking problems.
But there's a growing school of thought that there are problem drinkers who can cut back — as opposed to severely dependent drinkers who must cut out drinking altogether. There are new tools, such as medication and online support.
Journalist Gabrielle Glaser says women in particular need an alternative to AA. She's author of "Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink — And How They Can Regain Control" and a recent New York Times op-ed "Cold Turkey Isn’t the Only Route."
People are reluctant to seek treatment for it when the condition is mild or moderate.Gabrielle Glaser
Severely alcohol-dependent people should consider an abstinence program, Glaser tells Here & Now's Robin Young, but research has shown there are far more mild to moderate problem drinkers than severe problem drinkers.
"We say, ‘oh if you have a drinking problem, you should be abstinent forever more,’ and not a lot of people want to do that. Not a lot of people what to say to themselves ‘I don’t ever want to have a drink again.’ It’s very frightening. So they don’t enter treatment and they develop worse and worse problems," Glaser says.
The term 'alcoholic' is problematic too, she says, noting that scientists don't use the term anymore, instead defining an alcohol use disorder on a severity spectrum.
"People are reluctant to seek treatment for it when the condition is mild or moderate, because they think, they believe, the AA narrative that you have to hit bottom. But that’s really just not true, that’s not what the evidence shows. That’s not what you would tell someone who’s eating too much and has rising cholesterol figures. You don’t say 'hey buddy keep going with those bacon cheeseburgers until you have your first heart attack.' You intervene when the condition is mild," she says.
One program that offers an alternative to abstinence is Moderation Management, which recommends taking a 30-day break from drinking, and then using its strategies to change drinking behavior.
More Information & Resources
- ModerationManagement.org: Why is a Moderation Program needed? (MM is a "behavioral change program and national support group network for people concerned about their drinking and who desire to make positive lifestyle changes.")
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Tips to try (One of the nine tips is: "Keep track of how much you drink. Find a way that works for you, carry drinking tracker cards in your wallet, make check marks on a kitchen calendar, or enter notes in a mobile phone notepad or personal digital assistant. Making note of each drink before you drink it may help you slow down when needed.")
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: What are symptoms of an alcohol use disorder? (This is an 11 question anonymous quiz that gives you feedback on your drinking use.)
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: What's "at-risk" or "heavy" drinking? (For women, it's more than 3 drinks on any day or 7 drinks per week.)
This segment aired on January 20, 2014.