It is important to think about how your drinking is affecting the things that are important to you, where are you in your life, your overall health, and your age when determining the answer to this question. There are many circumstances where quitting completely is your best approach. It’s definitely the best choice if you feel you have lost the ability to control your use or if you have tried unsuccessfully to cut down. Have you ever gone to a bar intending to only have three drinks and end up blacking out by the end of the night? You might find that you are clearer about your goals while sober but after drinking, you inhibitions become looser and it is hard to follow through, despite having good intentions to begin with. In this situation you might want to start exploring how quitting altogether could benefit you. Quitting is also the best choice if you suffer from a more severe mental illness that plays into your addiction.

If you’re a teen, waiting a little longer before you consider using substances legally and in moderation can have many positive benefits. Some of these might be making sure that alcohol or drugs don’t get in the way of doing well at school, slowing brain development, causing sleep problems, or causing you to make decisions that you wouldn’t normally make while sober. Alcohol and drug use is also shown to lead to more physical injuries and could get in the way if you are an athlete or on team sports.

I know that abstinence can feel like an impossible goal. Alcohol, for instance, is everywhere and is seen as very social. When you are frequently put in situations where you have to make hard choices, abstinence may not work for you. Some concerns that many people have when thinking about quitting is that your friends might not be supportive or even be a trigger for you. You may find that people who knew you when you used alcohol or drugs aren’t sure how to treat you if you are abstinent. This can cause you to feel very isolated. Keep in mind that although it may feel like everyone drinks or uses, in actuality, more people do not. It could just be that since you are around people who do, it can feel like everyone does.

There are new professional opinions that also believe in a treatment approach that teaches moderation. You might be comforted to know that it isn’t a black and white where “you are an addict or you aren’t.” It’s kind of like a speed limit – you may drive safely at 85 miles and hour or you may notice that it makes you reckless and puts other in danger. It’s important for you to consider the variables unique to you so you can make a more reasoned response to drugs or alcohol.

There are some instances where moderation isn’t realistic. Those would include having a mental illness or a physical addiction, or if you are going through a life crisis or use your substance daily.

Moderation is also not a solution for children. I have had experience treating children who started using alcohol or drugs as early as 10 or 11 years old. Starting that young can stop the development process. You can be dealing with a 45-year-old who acts like a teenager because that’s when he started using. If you’re a parent who suspects your child is using, getting help is a great option to help your child learn healthy ways to cope with their life stressors without substances and to prevent developmental delays as a result of ongoing use. Adolescents really benefit from having someone who respects and values what they have to say. It’s important for them to have a forum to express themselves and having a counselor can provide that for them.

The good news on moderation is that you don’t have to cut yourself off from social situations or lose your old friends. Chances are good if you are successful with moderation you’re likely to be able to stay that way.

In either case – abstinence or moderation – if you are part of a “mixed” couple your choices are more complicated. You and your partner would need to negotiate rules that can work for both of you. For example, there may be no alcohol in the house, but the person who uses in moderation could go out to consume alcohol, provided they agree to find a safe way home. Talking about what you need to maintain your goals can help you both work out an agreement that is supportive.

If you are a marijuana user, there are unique considerations. Although marijuana legality is growing in a number of states for medicinal and even recreational use, it doesn’t negate the fact that there are several harmful effects. Although marijuana has been clinically proven to help some medical issues and it might be a natural alternative to big pharma, you might want to ask yourself if you are seeing a positive benefit from using or if it is getting in the way of fulfilling obligations, being social, or negatively affecting your mood. It can also stall emotional development and prevent people from learning healthy ways to cope with life stressors. Many people find it gets in the way of really connecting in relationships.

Try to be realistic in deciding which approach is best for you. One of the hardest things is to admit a weakness or problem, or objectively see where alcohol or marijuana is not helpful, especially since it might also feel like you get a positive effect too. Counseling can give you an opportunity to explore whether or not your use is working for you or getting in the way of achieving the goals and life you envisioned for yourself. Even if you aren’t ready to make a decision on how to approach your substance use, it’s never too early to make an honest assessment of how your use affects you and those around you and to begin considering your options.