The Myth of Moderation

Alicia Gilbert
5 min readDec 10, 2016

Note: this is a post from 2016, one week before I got sober for good.

I’ve been having an eye-opening experience with Caroline Knapp’s book, “Drinking: A Love Story.” Before I get started with this train of thought, I will just say that anyone who has or has had a bad relationship with alcohol should read this book. I find myself stopping to highlight and make notes a lot while I read. Often her words sound like conversations I’ve had in my own head.

“Me too,” I say.

Yesterday, I read her thoughts on moderation and the self-help trend during the 90’s that she dubs the “moderation movement.” She calls the idea that you can teach or train an alcoholic to moderate her drinking a contradiction in terms.

The inability to moderate is, by definition, what makes us alcoholics. Most of us have never moderated alcohol.

She writes, “The struggle to control intake — modify it, cut it back, deploy a hundred different drinking strategies in the effort — is one of the most universal hallmarks of alcoholic behavior.”

Trying (And Failing) to Moderate Alcohol

I know this behavior all too well, as did Knapp, as do probably a million folks worldwide who experience the same struggles with alcohol that we do.

I chuckled a little to myself reading the various examples she gives the reader: switching from hard liquor to beer (me, except cider), setting time limits on drinking (ex. I won’t drink before five — also me), and my personal favorite that never worked but was suggested to me by a women’s magazine, “have a glass of water for every glass of alcohol.”

The amount of mental energy I have wasted negotiating with myself on alcohol consumption, finding ways to get out of stopping and just change it up a little, is both astounding and laughable. What was I doing? Why do I STILL find myself engaging in this self-sabotaging behavior?

As an anecdote, Knapp tells the story of “Scott” who was sober for three years. He decided to test the waters to see if he was better. Could he now drink moderately?

He bought a bottle of scotch and poured himself a glass. All was fine. He poured another. Then another. Nothing terrible happened, but by the end of the night, the bottle was empty. “I’ve failed the experiment,” he proclaims.

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Alicia Gilbert

Alicia is the founder of Soberish, a website that focuses on recovery, mental health, and wellness. Read more at https://www.soberish.co