Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
RESPONSIBLE DRINKING - the moderate approach for problem drinkers
by Frederick Rotgers, PSY.D., Marc F. Kern, PH.D. & Rudy Hoeltzel
Responsible Drinking is a workbook produced by the leading voices of the Moderation Management self-help group.It is based on extensive scientific literature supporting moderation as a resolution for drinking problems and offers research-based techniques that will help non-dependent drinkers to overcome their drinking problems. Most importantly, Responsible Drinking makes a compelling objective argument that moderation is a realistic, achievable, clinically responsible, and preferred goal for many problem drinkers.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 3 out of 4 people who drink heavily would not be diagnosed as alcohol dependent or alcoholic. The authors argue that moderation programs for problem drinkers are rare - two factors have limited the availability of moderation approach, firstly the belief that all alcohol problems are progressive and irreversible and secondly the concern that such services will be misused (that is severely dependent individuals will use moderation goals to rationalize continued heavy drinking) or will interfere with abstinence-orientated treatments for those who are unable to moderate their drinking.

Validated reports of moderation services being misused are lacking and evidence has accumulated over the years contradicting the progressivity assumption.

The authors of the book have a wide experience of alcohol problems and they believe the book will help to bridge the gap between alcohol research and practice. Frederick Rotgers, PSY.D is chairman of the Board of Directors and has been at the forefront of using Moderation Management techniques as a component of comprehensive alcohol treatment since the mid-1990s. Dr Rotgers is an Associate Professor of Psychology with the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Other Directors include Dr Kern , a licensed clinical psychologist and Certified Addictions Specialist, Ce, whilst Rudy Hoeltzel resolved a drinking problem in the Moderation Management program and has led a local Moderation Management self-help group meeting.

The aim of the book is to offer a wide menu of practical and specific ideas, whilst recognising that there are major differences in people’s problems and circumstances and how they deal with them. As a result the book provides a great deal of leeway for adoption to different ways of looking at things and to particular situations, aiming to build a healthy and risk free relationship with alcohol, be that drinking in moderation or abstinence.

A central concept of the book is that moderation is a reasonable and attainable goal for many less severe drinking problems and that the choice of moderation or abstinence for each person should be a considered one, based on looking at the pros and cons of each and also taking responsibility for one’s own actions. Personal choice and empowerment are critical for success and success in moderation will further build self-efficacy.

The key phases of the process to moderate drinking are as follows:

  • A period of abstinence - 30 days or more in the early period as this period breaks old habits, gives space to practise moderation as well as other benefits.
  • Guidelines for moderation - these should be learnt and internalised early on and include, not drinking for 3-4 days per week,for women an upper limit of 3 drinks per occasion and men 4 drinks, and not more than 9 drinks per week for women and 14 for men, alcohol should be consumed slowly in order to keep blood alcohol concentration under .055%. A key aspect of a moderator is that alcohol becomes a much smaller, though enjoyable part of life.
  • Getting clearly in the mind the problems overdrinking has caused and the benefits of moderation (if used moderately it can actually protect your health), including new activities (can be targeted to counter specific triggers for example exercise) , and interests ( such as services to others), which will provide motivation and interest.
  • Techniques for dealing with urges to drink ( for example by keeping the pacing and amounts within guidelines) and techniques for controlling drinking ( such as count drinks, eat something whilst drinking, drink other liquids for thirst,dilute drinks and think before each drink).
  • Identify triggers for over drinking ( i.e stressful or emotional situations, social situations, low self -esteem and anger) and develop strategies to manage these triggers more effectively.
  • When starting a moderation programme, keep a diary (one reason a diary is effective is that the diary focuses a little more of your time each day to the subject).
  • Use any slips as a valuable learning experience ( Don’t get discouraged, figure out what went wrong, rehearse the new behaviour mentally).

If moderation doesn’t work the book also gives information on how to achieve abstinence. There are many routes to abstinence,ranging from the purely self-directed efforts to support groups, to professional counselling, impatient treatment and a combination of all of these.

The book contains Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Tables, Psychological Symptom Inventory (PSI - 32), recommended reading and inspirational words of more than 50 individuals who have faced and overcome the same problems.

G. Alan Marlett, Ph.D., Professor and Director, Addictive Behaviours Research Centre, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington., comments on the book "I strongly recommend Responsible Drinking for those who wish to pursue ‘the path of moderation’. Readers will gain new knowledge and skills about alcohol and moderate drinking, including an enhanced sense of persona; habit mastery and greater freedom of choice".

Responsible drinking ISBN 1-57224-294-9 costs $18.95 from bookshops or the publisher tel; 1 800 748 6273 or visit
All text and images © 2003 Alcohol In Moderation.