Controlled Drinking: Strategies & Treatment

Instructor: Emily Cummins

Emily Cummins received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and French Literature and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology. She has instructor experience at Northeastern University and New Mexico State University, teaching courses on Sociology, Anthropology, Social Research Methods, Social Inequality, and Statistics for Social Research.

This lesson covers controlled drinking, which is an approach to moderating alcohol intake. We'll talk about some of the treatment strategies that drinkers might use to do this.

Controlled Drinking

If you think you have a problem with something like drinking, can you modify your own behavior? Can something like excessive drinking be controlled by an individual? Some believe that it can be. Have you ever heard the phrase 'everything in moderation?'

Controlled drinking is an approach to alcohol consumption that focuses on moderation, or setting limits on consumption, as opposed to abstinence, or refraining from consuming alcohol altogether.

The point of controlled drinking is to help those who believe they have a problem with alcohol, whether it's minor or severe, cut down and reduce their risk without giving up drinking entirely.

Treatment Strategies for Controlled Drinking

So, how might a person who drinks excessively change his or her behavior? One approach is through Behavior Self-Control Training, or BSCT. This is an approach to behavior modification that seeks to train individuals to set and follow goals for themselves.

BSCT employs a number of different strategies for controlling drinking. Let's look at what they are:

  • Self-monitoring of drinking or the urge to drink
  • Goal setting
  • Controlling the number of drinks consumed
  • Using rewards and consequences for goal setting
  • Managing triggers that lead to excessive alcohol consumption
  • Analyzing one's drinking behavior
  • Relapse training

Let's take an example. Say that a person has a problem with drinking too much. According to BSCT, one approach would be to set a goal. So, this person might decide that he will have a maximum of 3 drinks one night. He will count his drinks and refuse drinks after he has finished 3.

If he finds himself in a stressful situation, wanting to drink more, he will try and manage those triggers. Afterwards, he will go back and look at his drinking behavior. Did he stick to his goals? If not, why? If so, perhaps he will use a reward, such as indulging in a nice meal, to reinforce his moderation approach.

Another strategy to control alcohol intake is known as Moderation-Oriented Cue Exposure, or MOCE. Basically, this approach argues that there are certain cues that trigger a person to want to have a drink.

When a person encounters this cue, a response is triggered, and the person wants a drink. In other words, we can become conditioned to crave our favorite drink after a certain cue. If your favorite drink is red wine, you might be triggered to want a drink if you see a bottle on the shelf in a grocery store.

MOCE treatment works by helping patients identify the cues that make them want to drink. Therapists attempt to help these patients by exposing them to the smell or sight of their favorite drink, say a glass of red wine, but not allowing them to consume it. This is known as cue exposure, and it has been shown to have some effectiveness in terms of reducing one's desire to drink.

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