Moderation: the Alcoholism Argument

When I talk about moderation, very frequently I get the argument ‘would you tell an alcoholic to just drink in moderation?’.

Here’s the thing about that argument. Alcoholism is a medical condition. As I said in my blog post yesterday, we are so accustomed to giving and receiving medical advice on the internet that we don’t even recognize it when we see it. No, I wouldn’t tell an alcoholic to ‘just drink in moderation’. Because that would be telling them how to treat their medical condition. I would refer them to a professional. People seem to think that telling an alcoholic how to treat their alcoholism is normal – it isn’t. No one should be telling an alcoholic how to treat their condition but THAT PERSON’S DOCTOR OR THERAPIST.

Likewise, if a person isn’t capable of eating in moderation, it indicates they have some disordered eating going on. Disordered eating has been so normalized in our diet culture that we think binging is normal, but it is not. It is a sign of disordered eating. If a person can’t eat in moderation, if they are eating in excess of their body’s calorie requirement on a regular basis, if eating one thing triggers eating ALL THE THINGS, there is a problem. And it needs to be addressed by the proper professional – an eating disorder therapist, a dietician, their physician.

No, one hopefully wouldn’t tell an alcoholic to just drink in moderation, one hopefully would be responsible and refer them to a professional for treatment. And one wouldn’t tell someone with disordered eating to just eat in moderation, one would refer them to a professional for treatment.

Moderation isn’t a switch you turn on and off. It is a skill. It is a goal. It can take some work to get there. For some people, it will take more work than they can do on their own, and they will need the help of an eating disorder professional. The answer isn’t to tell those people to ‘just eat in moderation’, NOR is the answer to tell them to ‘NEVER EAT THE THING’. The answer is to refer them to the proper professional for evaluation and treatment. That is the ONLY responsible answer there is. Just as referring an alcoholic to a professional is the ONLY responsible answer.

The ‘would you tell an alcoholic to just drink in moderation’ argument is flawed, because telling an alcoholic how to treat their alcoholism is unethical and irresponsible. Yet we don’t recognize it as such, because we’ve normalized getting and giving medical advice over the internet.

Here are some eating disorder and alcoholism resources if you feel you are dealing with an unhealthy relationship with alcohol or food (or both):


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