Does Alcohol Moderation Management Work?

Since the very beginning of alcohol treatment in America, the primary approach to managing alcoholism has been abstinence. Conventional thinking says that if a person is addicted to alcohol, they are unable to control their drinking — therefore they must avoid consuming any alcohol at all.  

In this article, Cottonwood Tucson explores the Alcohol Moderation Management approach, which focuses on moderating alcohol consumption as opposed to total abstinence. 

What is Alcohol Moderation Management?

Alcohol Moderation Management (MM) is a behavioral change program and support group network for people who want to reduce their drinking and make healthier lifestyle choices regarding their drinking. 

Unlike the conventional total abstinence approach used by the vast majority of alcohol rehabs in the United States, Alcohol Moderation Management seeks to teach people how to change their behavior. The idea is that some people may be able to limit their drinking behaviors without quitting alcohol entirely. 

Moderation Management was developed by Audrey Kishline in 1994  as an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other abstinence-based programs.

The Alcohol Moderation Management Program Explained

First, it is important to recognize that the Moderation Management approach to addressing alcohol addiction is not professional clinical treatment — such as what is offered at residential alcohol treatment centers. Rather it is a behavior modification program. Simply put:  Alcohol Moderation Management is not so much an “alternative” to alcohol rehab as it is an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous. 

With that out of the way…

Here are the key components of the Moderation Management approach to alcohol addiction:


Individuals are encouraged to take stock of their drinking habits and the impact alcohol has on their lives. This often involves keeping a drinking diary to track consumption. The idea is to establish an honest baseline from which goals to moderate your drinking can be set. 

Moderation Guidelines: 

Naturally, Alcohol Moderation Management provides guidelines to help individuals set limits on their drinking. For example, it recommends that men limit their intake to no more than 14 standard drinks per week and women to no more than 9 standard drinks per week, with designated days for abstaining from alcohol entirely. 

Behavioral Change Techniques: 

The alcohol moderation approach incorporates various strategies to help individuals manage their drinking, Many of these mirror the strategies used in the abstinence-based approach followed by the vast majority of alcohol rehab centers. They include learning to recognize triggers, developing coping mechanisms for stress that don’t involve alcohol, and improving problem-solving skills.

Peer Support: 

MM offers both online and in-person meetings where participants can share experiences, challenges, and successes with others who are also trying to moderate their alcohol consumption. These are similar to the fellowship found in 12-step meetings — albeit minus the transformative effect of working the 12 Steps themselves. 

Stepping Stones to Abstinence: 

To its credit, Alcohol Moderation Management does recommend the abstinence approach to those who find that alcohol moderation does not work for them. The MM approach not only suggests its participants consider abstinence if moderation does not work, but it also offers to help them transition to a more conventional abstinence-based recovery method. 

Does Moderation Management Work for Alcohol Addiction?

Now, to the elephant in the room. Is Alcohol Moderation Management actually effective? Does MM work? What does the science say? Is Moderation Management a viable alternative for people addicted to alcohol? Numerous studies have been done with mixed results

What we can say is that the MM behavior modification approach has helped people who were drinking more than they should moderate their alcohol consumption to a safer and healthier level. The evidence suggests that attempting to moderate alcohol consumption with behavior modification is most effective for people who drink more than they should, or more than they want to — but who are not quite addicted to alcohol. 

Is Alcohol Moderation Management Effective?

  • Research suggests mixed results, but MM appears to work well for some.
  • The severity of a person’s drinking plays an important part in how successful MM can be.
  • People who are addicted to alcohol usually find moderating intake very difficult.
  • MM is probably best for people who drink more than they should, but are not addicted. 

Alcohol Dependence vs. Alcohol Addiction 

Bear in mind that dependence on alcohol and addiction to alcohol are two different things. Anyone who drinks enough alcohol regularly will become physically dependent. That is, they will experience physical withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop drinking. That is dependence — not addiction.

Alcoholism or alcohol addiction is when a person has become psychologically and emotionally dependent on alcohol as well. When they feel a need and compulsion to drink. People who reach for a drink when they get upsetting news or good news. People who refuse to attend a party or gathering where alcohol will not be served. People who are filled with fear by the idea of stopping alcohol consumption altogether — and not just because they fear withdrawal symptoms. 

Alcohol dependence compared to alcohol addiction:

  • Dependence on alcohol means a person will have physical withdrawal if they stop.
  • Alcohol addiction means you feel compelled to drink despite the consequences.
  • A person may be dependent upon alcohol, without being addicted to it
  • People who are addicted to alcohol are almost always dependent as well. 

Is Alcohol Moderation Management Right for Me?

Moderation Management has been a subject of controversy, especially following an incident involving its founder. However, it may be an option worth considering for people who simply drink a bit more than they know they should — but who are not psychologically dependent (addicted) to alcohol.

The catch of course is that few people can objectively evaluate their own drinking, especially if they are, in fact, addicted to alcohol. We recommend using caution when considering the moderation approach. Don’t make the decision alone. Consult a professional first and consider having an evaluation. Tell people who trust what you are doing. Make sure multiple layers of accountability are in place for your own safety.

Finally, remember that it is impossible to get “too much help” for a problem like alcoholism — but it’s very possible to get too little, and that may have serious consequences. 

Should you try Moderation Management to control your drinking?

  • Consult a medical professional before you decide and be honest with them.
  • If you drink a little more than you should but are not addicted, MM may work for you.
  • If you have a genuine addiction to alcohol, the chances of moderation are slim. 
  • Don’t make this decision alone. Make sure others you trust know what you are doing. 

Enjoy a Life Beyond Alcohol Addiction

Believe it or not, there is a satisfying life beyond alcohol waiting for you. We will not tell you that sobriety is easy. If you are addicted to alcohol — it will be a challenge. However, we can say with complete confidence that it will be one of the best decisions you ever make for yourself. 

The nationally recognized treatment program at Cottonwood Tucson is one of the finest you will find in the United States. Find the expert help you need to overcome alcohol addiction on our 35-acre campus in the pristine foothills of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Call us anytime at  (888) 727-0441.

Related Posts

Call for more information and daily rates:

(888) 727-0441


CARF - Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities NATSAP | National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs NAADAC newsweek