Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?

Here are a few time-tested ways with which people have moderated their drinking. As with almost everything else in life, there are no guarantees that these will help. But if you’re concerned about your drinking and don’t want to quit, here are a few things that might work for you. Emphasis on might. (The AA dogma that you’re powerless is simply wrong — there’s a good chance that if you work at it you can learn to control your drinking, or at least moderate the harm it causes. You are not powerless.)

For now, we’ll address only the day-to-day techniques. And please note that this is not a comprehensive list of moderate-drinking techniques. These are only a few things that I know of that have helped people who want to keep drinking but want to moderate, and who don’t want to give up their drinking friends and usual haunts:

  • Alternate alcoholic drinks and nonalcoholic drinks. For example, if you’re drinking beer, have a glass of water between every beer. The water will help you avoid getting drunk, and you’ll have the reward of a beer after every glass of water.
  • Keep track of how much you’re drinking — write it down. Keep a “drink diary.” In years past, this was done with a pen and  pad. Nowadays, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t an app for it.
  • If you’re out drinking, keep track of how much you’re drinking and over how much time. If you do this and have any doubts at all as to whether you’re close to or over the legal limit, look up your estimated blood alcohol content (BAC). Moderation Management has BAC charts on line. Here’s the BAC chart for men, and here’s the BAC chart for women.
  • To take things a step further, carry a breathalyzer with you. Key fob, battery-powered breathalyzers are available on eBay for under two dollars, shipping included, and presumably better ones are available for about ten bucks. Before relying on one of these cheap Chinese products, though, it’d probably be a good idea to have a couple of drinks at home and check the breathalyzer reading against the BAC chart.
  • Allow yourself a certain number of days per week to drink. Keep track of them. Even taking one day off per week is better than drinking every day (though three or four days off per week is better than that). After having a no-alcohol day or two, you can look forward to your next drinking day.
  • Avoid hard booze, wine, and medium- to high-octane beer, and stick religiously to low alcohol beer. Stick to beer with 3.5% alcohol by volume or under. Some of these beers actually taste pretty good, and will get you buzzed but (probably) not drunk. (You’d have to work at it to get drunk on 3.3% beer.)  Sticking only with the ones commonly available nationally, the best are probably Kirin Light (3.3%), Heineken Light (3.3%), and Amstel Light (3.5%); the Miller (MGD 64) and Budweiser (Bud Select 55) low-alcohol brews are considerably worse than their full-alcohol (5%) counterparts. (Bud Light, at 4.2%, is not a low alcohol beer.) If you’re drinking craft beers, stick to the blondes, which tend to be under 4.0%. And even when drinking low-alcohol beers, do alternate them with nonalcoholic drinks.

There are no guarantees that these techniques will help you moderate your drinking. But they might.

If they don’t work, you can always try an abstinence program such as AA or SMART Recovery, and more likely succeed at it because you’ve given moderation a shot.

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