Is Abstinence From Addictive Substances Necessary In Recovery?

An abstinence-based approach to recovery is challenging, but it’s more effective than moderation management.

Many addiction recovery programs require complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol in recovery while others recommend moderation management instead. But what’s the difference between the two? Which one is better? And what are the benefits of complete abstinence from addictive substances? Below, we’ll take a closer look at these two approaches to addiction recovery and explore them further.

Related post: The Slippery Slope of Casual Drinking In Recovery

What is abstinence in addiction recovery?

When it comes to addiction recovery, the term “abstinence” is used to refer to the practice of avoiding using drugs or alcohol entirely. Although committing to complete abstinence in addiction recovery is difficult, it’s possible. Plus, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), it’s the safest way for people with addictions to avoid engaging in self-destructive behaviors.1 

Although no one is perfect and setbacks are normal, practicing ongoing abstinence in addiction recovery fosters resilience and is more likely to lead to successful and sustained sobriety.

What is moderation management in addiction recovery?

Comparatively, some people in recovery practice what’s known as moderation management. People who prefer to practice moderation over complete abstinence try to manage their addiction by limiting the amount and frequency of drinks they consume. Moderation management can also be used among individuals who are pursuing long-term abstinence.2 

Moderation management (which is also known as the harm reduction approach) was originally created because some people believed abstinence-based treatment was too difficult for some people to achieve. Moderation looks different from person to person, but in order for it to work, the person must maintain accountability with a treatment provider, take responsibility for their behavior, and the treatment provider must accurately keep track of the client’s behavior.

Abstinence vs. moderation: Which is better for recovery?

Abstinence-based addiction treatment is not the easiest way to achieve long-lasting sobriety, but it has been shown to be effective for people from all walks of life and varying levels of addiction.3 While moderation management may work for a small percentage of people in recovery, abstinence is highly recommended for people whose health has been affected by their drug or alcohol use because any ongoing use of alcohol or drugs could potentially become life-threatening. In general, it’s also ideal for people who may be prone to relapse or for certain phases of the recovery process. 

Regardless of how nice moderation management may sound, it can be risky and unsafe, especially for those who are unable to resist the temptation to use large amounts of alcohol or drugs. It can also give individuals a false sense of security because they may function under the false belief that they can control their substance abuse, when they cannot.

Due to the nature of addiction, it’s typically very difficult for addicted individuals to moderate their drug or alcohol use. If it was easy to moderate, they wouldn’t be addicted in the first place. Instead, maintaining complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol gives individuals the chance to “reset” and make behavioral changes that will help them sustain their sobriety.

Benefits of drug and alcohol abstinence in addiction recovery

Although maintaining abstinence in addiction recovery is the more difficult approach, it has many benefits for people in recovery.

  • People in recovery are less confused about what behavior is expected. Trying to moderate your alcohol or drug use can be difficult and confusing, especially if you’re physically and psychologically addicted. Eventually, it may even become too much trouble and become an incentive to return to your addiction. Instead, the abstinence approach to recovery creates clear and precise goals for sobriety: absolutely no alcohol or drugs. Although abstaining from addictive substances is more difficult at first, it becomes easier with time and ongoing support.
  • There’s less temptation to use drugs or drink alcohol. If you practice moderation management, you’ll likely find yourself in risky and tempting situations often. Instead of avoiding bars or alcohol-fueled events, you might end up at these places anyway and be faced with challenging decisions more often. Additionally, you might end up drinking smaller amounts of alcohol more frequently. Constantly battling temptation is exhausting so giving drugs and alcohol up completely can be easier in the long run.
  • People struggling with addiction are more likely to get help from professionals. If you practice moderation management, you might be more likely to believe that you can eventually get sober on your own. However, you’re much less likely to do so without professional ongoing support especially if you’re severely addicted. Instead, an abstinence-based treatment approach typically requires that you complete an addiction treatment program where professionals guide you through the process. As a result, you’ll gain the tools and strategies you need to sustain lasting recovery.
  • Individuals are less likely to struggle with chronic relapse. If you try to moderate your alcohol or drug usage without addressing the core issues that contribute to your addiction, you’re much more likely to relapse. You might even relapse multiple times without a short time. Instead, getting professional help can help you prevent relapse by adopting a whole-person approach to treatment that includes complete abstinence from addictive substances.

Of course, every person’s recovery experience is different. However, abstinence in addiction recovery generally provides several great benefits that can help you sustain your sobriety and establish a stable, sober life.

Related post: What Does It Mean to Live In Recovery?

Live life completely drug and alcohol-free with help from Eudaimonia Recovery Homes

At Eudaimonia Recovery Homes, our Austin sober living, Colorado Springs sober living, and Houston sober living services are all designed to accommodate individuals who have committed to abstaining from all drugs and alcohol. We encourage abstinence in addiction recovery by maintaining safe and supportive homes for men, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals in recovery.

With our sober houses, individualized programs, certified peer recovery support, and regular drug and alcohol testing, we can help empower you to take ownership of your recovery and sustain long-lasting abstinence from drugs and alcohol. Contact us online or give us a call at (512) 580-3131 today if you’re ready to get started. 


  1. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/pep12-recdef.pdf 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3675178/ 
  3. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Principles_of_Drug_Addiction_Treatment/mtMdJ3qqSnQC?hl=en&gbpv=0 

Take Action Today

We Are Ready to Assist You

Call us now and begin healing at (51) 236-35914 or you can fill out form below and we will contact you shortly.

Or text us and we will call you right back.

What Makes Us Different

  • Why Choose Eudaimonia for Your Sober Living Experience?
  • Recovery-Focused Lifestyle
  • Individualized Care
  • Homes for Everyone
  • On-Site Support Staff
  • Family Support

Call Now ButtonRooms Available – Apply Now!