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Health Column: An alternative to AA for heavy drinkers

09/20/2015 10:00 AM |

Self-identified “problem drinker” Romola Hodas used to attend abstinence-based Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but she stopped after deciding she didn’t want to give up alcohol altogether. 

“I love to drink,” the part-time Wading River resident said. “But I wanted to learn how to do it responsibly.”

Enter Moderation Management, a peer-based national support program for non-dependent drinkers founded in 1993. According to its website, moderation.org, the nonprofit “promotes early self-recognition of risky drinking behavior, when moderate drinking is a more easily achievable goal.”

For the past eight years, Ms. Hodas has attended MM meetings in Manhattan, where she’s learned through behavior modification how to go from drinking “seven days a week” to two. Later this month, she’ll launch a North Fork version of the group with the help of Mattituck social worker Moira Mastro, who will provide meeting space for the weekly program at her Main Road office.

“With AA, you can [abstain from alcohol] for 300 days, and then if you have anything to drink, boom, you’re back at square one,” said Ms. Hodas, who will lead the meetings. “It’s defeating. It’s hard. It’s a terrible feeling.”

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report finding that nine out of 10 people who drink excessively are not addicted to alcohol. The report concluded that while alcohol dependence is an important health problem, “excessive drinkers are unlikely to need addiction treatment.”

MM asks participants to abstain from alcohol the same way AA does, but not for life — just 30 days. Once this is achieved, the “moderation” part of the program begins, according to the organization’s website, with participants reintroducing alcohol into their lives and imposing limits they set themselves.

During a typical hour-long MM meeting, participants “get to talk about whatever they want,” Ms. Hodas said, and others are permitted to interject and offer advice. Topics of discussion include ways to pace alcohol consumption, like counting drinks and taking sips of water between sips of wine.

In addition, “We talk a lot about harm reduction — cutting down on the days you drink,” she said. Participants are also encouraged to get each other’s phone numbers so that they can be informal accountability partners. There is no fee to attend MM meetings, but Ms. Hodas said a $5 donation is appreciated.

MM, of course, isn’t for everyone. The group’s own founder, the late Audrey Kishline, had reportedly switched to AA when she was convicted of vehicular homicide after a 2000 drunken-driving incident. And in the 2014 New York Times opinion piece “Cold Turkey Isn’t the Only Route,” author Gabrielle Glaser wrote that Moderation Management “isn’t for severely dependent drinkers, for whom abstinence might be best.”

However, she wrote, “It’s been empirically shown to work for those on the more moderate end of the spectrum who outnumber dependent drinkers by about four to one.”

The North Fork’s first Moderation Management meeting will take place Monday, Sept. 28, from 7 to 8 p.m. at 13105 Main Road in Mattituck. Walk-ins are welcome. For more information, email Romola Hodas at [email protected] or visit moderation.org.

Have a health column idea for Rachel Young? Email her at [email protected].

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