In recovery circles, you might hear the term “abstinence model.” The abstinence model implies that a person stops using any and all substances. Some treatment centers might require abstinence. Even prior to getting treatment. Some people might be able to swing that. But what about the rest of us?
In this article, you will learn:
- How to define the abstinence model
- Advantages of the abstinence model
- Disadvantages of the abstinence model
- Alternatives to the abstinence model
- How to determine if the abstinence model is right for you
How To Define The Abstinence Model
Merriam-Webster defines abstinence as, “the practice of abstaining from something: the practice of not doing or having something that is wanted or enjoyable.” To abstain means, ”to choose not to do or have something: to refrain deliberately and often with an effort of self-denial from an action or practice.”
You decide to quit. You quit. You pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Dig your way out. You make a plan. You stick to the plan. You succeed. All you need is some willpower. Seems easy, right?
For some people, the abstinence model might work. Let’s explore a few advantages of the abstinence model.
Advantages Of The Abstinence Model
Perhaps you can muster the strength. Perhaps abstinence lies within your grasp. If you can abstain alone.
Let us explore a few advantages of the abstinence model. Advantages include:
- Unrestricted personal autonomy
- Maintenance of personal rhythms
- Faster recovery journey
Unrestricted Personal Autonomy
Let’s face it. Most forms of treatment demand a lot. You have to surrender. Your time. Your schedule. Maybe even your money. Who wants to give all that?
The abstinence model has no restrictions. Or rather, it only places those restrictions which you set for yourself. You’ve decided that it’s time to quit. And so, you quit. You’re an adult. As such, you make your own choices about your life.
Maintenance Of Personal Rhythms
Your life has a rhythm to it. Likely several rhythms. You have patterns and routines in place. And you’ve set them exactly as you want them. Treatment plans interrupt those rhythms. Providers ask you to put new rhythms in place. Rhythms that you must agree to in order to participate in recovery.
But adhering to the abstinence model lets you have the final say-so. You elect where and when your life’s obligations are.
Faster Recovery Journey
You don’t have weeks and months to spend trying to recover. You know best. If you can wake up tomorrow and quit, do it. Today was the last day. This time was the last. Tomorrow, you’re done. It’ll be a new day. Your recovery will see completion.
Disadvantages Of The Abstinence Model
Like any recovery tool, the abstinence model has advantages. But it also comes with some distinct disadvantages. Disadvantages include:
- High likelihood of relapse
- The abstinence violation effect (AVE)
- Not addressing root causes or underlying problems
High Likelihood Of Relapse
Success will vary from person to person. For some people, quitting cold turkey has potential. But relapse remains common. Even among those who seek treatment. In an abstinence-only model, you bear all responsibility. You provide all the resources. But perhaps we shouldn’t trust in willpower alone. Recent research suggests that willpower might not be all we thought. How willpower works seems to vary on our motivations for using it. Abstinence might make for a noble endgame goal. But the journey to abstinence involves more than one single decision.
The Abstinence Violation Effect (AVE)
Most recovery journeys don’t turn on a dime. Treatment providers expect those enrolled to struggle. If everyone could simply choose to quit, why would we need treatment centers? The abstinence violation effect occurs when a person attributes their relapse to a personal moral failure. Typically, shame and guilt result. In binge-eaters, AVE remained the most stable predictor of future relapse. In other words, people who felt the most responsible felt the worst. As a result, they tended to relapse faster.
Not Addressing Root Causes Or Underlying Problems
Substance use disorder (SUD) doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Granted, not everyone who uses drugs develops SUD. But often, SUD develops alongside a mental illness. Researchers refer to this as comorbidity. If you stop consuming a substance, you’ve done well. But abstinence isn’t the goal. In recovery, wholeness is the goal. Abstinence doesn’t make you whole. It doesn’t heal you by itself.
Alternatives To The Abstinence Model
For most people, the strengths of the abstinence model also comprise inherent weaknesses. Treatment models demand a lot of you. They set their standards quite high. But you’ll find that abstinence sets impossibly high standards. Therefore, familiarize yourself with alternatives to the abstinence model. Alternatives include:
- 12-step programs
- Outpatient therapy
- Harm reduction treatment
If you choose abstinence, at least don’t abstain alone. Seek the support of 12-step programs. 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous have been helping people for a long time. In these settings, you’ll at least have the company of others on a similar journey. Though AA and NA advocate for abstinence, they don’t require it.
Seek out a therapist or counselor. Make scheduled visits. If for nothing else, just to check-in. Even quarterly visits will help you continue your abstinence.
Harm Reduction Treatment
For many people, complete and total abstinence presents an impossibility. Harm reduction treatment works in degrees. Let’s say that last month, you consumed once a day. Every day. For thirty days. You enroll in harm reduction treatment. Thirty days after you begin treatment, you’ve only consumed twenty-five times. We call that progress. That’s how harm reduction treatment works.
How To Determine If The Abstinence Model Is Right For You
Abstinence may indeed work for some people. The severity of dependence seems a strong predictor of future relapse. Harmony Treatment And Wellness supports evidence-based treatment models. We’re here to help you recover. We offer treatment plans customized to fit your unique situation. No single treatment model works the same for everyone. But recovery is possible and hope is real.
Call Harmony today at 772-247-6180 for more information!