Abstinence vs. Moderation (S.M.A.R.T Recovery)

This word “abstinence” can be an intimidating word to many, especially those in the early stages of recovery. Your whole body may convulse saying, “I’ll do anything, just don’t ask me or tell me that I have to stop forever.” This is normal. If this is how you feel, commit yourself to being open to new ideals and beliefs that may result in a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle. Here are some answers to your questions.

What we know is that after one has developed a severe addiction, the simplest, easiest, safest and surest way to keep from repeating past behaviors is total abstinence. This is not to say one may not go thorough a period of “day at a time,” or “week at a time,” or even try a “harm reduction” approach. Still, if you want the easiest way to minimize the problems in your life, go for abstinence eventually. It actually is much easier to just give it up entirely than punish yourself trying to moderate or control your addictive behavior. Studies have shown that regardless of the method employed to become sober, the number one factor for sobriety success is a permanent commitment to discontinue use permanently; a commitment to abstinence.

Some of you are ready right now. You have experienced enough consequences in your life that no one needs to tell you that you are fed up with your addictive behavior. You just need some tools to help you. If you are just starting your recovery program it may take time to make a decision on a commitment to abstinence before it is really firm in your heart. It needs to be something that you are really committed to and not just something you would like to do. Stick with the program and let the decision build in your heart. When you are ready, you’ll know it.

Studies have shown that in some cultures there are a small percentage of people who can return to moderate drinking. Still, the chance of being successful is unclear. Attempts at moderation may not be worth the effort or the risk when considering the consequences. If your own life has been a mess because of your addictive behavior, why chance it? What has the empirical evidence in your own life been? Have you tried to moderate and not been successful? Then that’s your answer.

Abstinence may not be a realistic solution with some addictions, such as eating and in some cases sexual addictions. For these addictions moderation is the prescribed course of action. Even in these instances commitment to moderation is an important factor for success.

First of all, as mentioned earlier, don’t make a commitment until you are firm in your path to sobriety. Second, realize a commitment to sobriety is not a commitment to be forever perfect. Before you consider that to be a SMART Recovery®
license to relapse, it is not. The reality for alcohol addictions, for example, is that people have an average of two and a half relapses in their ultimate turn to permanent sobriety. Many never have a relapse and that can be you. A commitment to sobriety means that you are committed to a course of action, understanding that it is not an easy task and one that takes a great deal of patience, persistence and practice. You may be tempted and many succumb to the urges. We are not perfect beings, we are fallible and breaking a commitment is not the same as giving up on one. A permanent commitment means we are committed to a course of action for the future and we will do every thing in our power to fulfill and maintain that commitment.

Learn from it and don’t beat yourself up. Ask what events led up to the lapse/relapse. Ask yourself what were the excuses you gave yourself to use and dispute them. Your commitment isn’t broken and you can renew your resolve. If you do slip, the outcome does not have to be an experience without worth, it can be a powerful learning experience. It does not mean that you will repeat this behavior in the future. Forgive yourself, learn from it and remember that a commitment applies to what we plan for the future.

When you are ready, say to yourself, “I am not going to use again!” Reinforce that commitment in any way possible and rational. One of the best ways is to remember why you are making the commitment. The consequences of using should be remembered, not with a guilty conscience, but in a realistic portrayal of why you have chosen sobriety. The addictive behavior just is not worth it anymore! Also to be remembered are the experiences and feelings that come from abstinence. A balance of both experiences has proven to be a powerful tool.

If you continue to use, your past may dictate your outcome. A permanent commitment to abstinence means we no longer have to fight a battle with moderation; but rather devote ourselves to sobriety permanently. Ours is a “no excuses” program, we are responsible for our decisions and behaviors; we have a choice. There is a feeling of freedom that results from this commitment where one does not feel hopeless or without choices. You know what our commitment is. Combined with a consistent and aggressive disputing of urges to use, most find their messages to use either decrease to nothing or become infrequent and easily handled. It may not be easy to see now, but your life can be restored to where you are in control, your addiction and the urges will recede to an unpleasant memory. You don’t have to live in a constant battle with these painful, nagging urges.

Possibly, but one will benefit from being on guard for them, as they can reappear years later. Be ever vigilant, but ever hopeful and know that you can control your outcome; the choice is yours.

Originally authored by Michael Werner
Edited by a SMART Recovery Volunteer

Sobriety is Much More than Not Drinking / Drugging

If you have an addiction, putting down a drink or drug is one of the most difficult things you will ever do in your life. The power of these brain (and hence mood) altering substances is so strong that it leads one to compromise every value that is important to them and ultimately march them towards death.


Yet to be sober, not drinking or drugging is not enough. Let me be clear here; abstinence (not drinking or drugging) is a phenomenal first step. Being abstinent will oftentimes lead to symptom relief. That is, there will be a physical and cognitive improvement. However, what abstinence alone fails to address is the spiritual component that one finds in sobriety and which truly represents a life of recovery.




For many of you, the term “spiritual” can take on a pejorative meaning. Let me describe what active addiction looks like using spiritual language and see if some of these words and concepts resonate: selfish, distrustful, dishonest, impatient, intolerant, angry, entitled, grandiose, hurtful, dismissive, fear-based, and controlling. Now let’s look at what sobriety looks like in spiritual terms: selfless, trustworthy, honest, patient, tolerant, gracious, loving, vulnerable, humble, grateful, helpful, inclusive, accepting, and surrendered. What a huge difference!


The reality is that active addiction slowly erodes the very spiritual essence of an individual until they are spiritually bankrupt. It is a horrific place to be; to act in ways that are counter to the very principles that you espouse. Sobriety is the answer to this, however, to rebuild yourself spiritually takes time and hard work. It is built not over days and a few weeks but in weeks, months, and ultimately years. And here is the best part of all, sobriety is there for everyone who wants it.

The Value of Peer Support in Long-Term Treatment is Finally Being Recognized

What ASCENT Recovery Residences executive director Teddy Steen has known for years about peer support in the treatment of addiction issues is now being supported by evidence.

Both ASCENT and 12-step programs use peers to help addicts in their long-term recovery. Now, the treatment world is starting to see the value and incorporate peer support in its programs.

“Peer support and treatment contribute to long-term sobriety,” Steen said. “Clinically-focused treatment educates about the disease and provides the tools for people to build a recovery foundation. Peer support is about talking to someone about the process of maintaining long-term sobriety. Peers are like a mentor. They develop relationships with people, help find the resources needed after treatment and walk with the person.through their journey.”

The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) definition of peer support is:

Peer support encompasses a range of activities and interactions between people who share similar experiences of being diagnosed with mental health conditions, substance use disorders or both. This mutuality-often called peerness-between a peer support worker and person in or seeking recovery promotes connection and inspires hope. Peer support offers a level of acceptance, understanding, and validation not found in many other professional relationships. By sharing their own lived experience and practical guidance, peer support workers help people to develop their own goals, create strategies for self-empowerment and take concrete steps towards building fulfilling, self-determined lives for themselves.

Peer support is part of the recovery-oriented system of care which supports the idea that many pathways to recovery exist. Treatment is not confined to one method.

“It’s a whole system,” Steen said. “One thing is not the end-all, be-all treatment. Drug court helps a person to stay sober. Connecting to a peer or group can help a person to not get off-base.”

The advantages of peer support are becoming so important that this year the Missouri Department of Mental Health put a line item in its budget for recovery support. Developing research is showing that peer support is successful in supporting recovery. Peer support workers complement the roles of therapists, case managers and other members of a treatment team. What peer support workers do is share their personal knowledge of what it is like to have lived with a disorder and subsequently how to thrive.

Below is a list from SAMHSA what peer support can do for those in recovery:

  • Increases self-esteem and confidence
  • Increases sense of control and ability to bring about changes in their lives
  • Increases sense treatment is responsive and inclusive of needs
  • Increases sense of hope and inspiration
  • Increases empathy and acceptance
  • Decreases psychotic symptoms
  • Increases engagement in self-care and wellness
  • Increases social support and social functioning
  • Decreases substance use and depression
  • Reduces hospital admission rates and longer community tenure

“AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and 12-step programs have been doing grassroots (peer support) all along,” Steen said.  The Certified Peer Specialist are equipped with the knowledge and tools to take it to the next level and they are bound by a code of ethics, it is extremely valuable.