All addiction involves excess. Alcoholics drink too much. Drug addicts use too much. Compulsive gamblers gamble too much. Most food addicts eat too much, but anorexics starve too much. Sex addicts lust too much.

Some of these addictions have an advantage. Because alcohol is not needed for a healthy life, alcoholics do not have to moderate alcohol consumption -- they can totally stop drinking. Drug addicts can quit using illegal drugs. Gamblers -- can stop betting.

Necessary for Living

Other substances and activities require moderation instead of abstinence. Food, eating, necessary medications, spending, exercise, work, sex, love, relationships, excitement, and religion are all examples of substances or activities that may be necessary parts of your life, and recovery from addiction to them requires a moderation model instead of total abstinence.

No Twelve-Step program that we know of uses a total abstinence model without also a moderation model. Almost everyone in AA is familiar with the term “dry drunk”. It means an alcoholic who is not drinking, but also not using the Program to moderate their emotions, attitudes, and behavior.

Boundary Limits

Part of the moderation model involves boundaries and buffer zones. In any kind of addiction, you can define limits of behavior that represent unacceptable danger or damage to yourself and others. If you are a sex addict, you may decide that paid sex, extramarital affairs, or use of pornography would violate those limits. If you are a workaholic, you might set a limit on the maximum number of hours you will spend at work. If you are an anorexic, you could decide that you will not skip meals. Almost anyone using a Twelve-Step approach could find some kind of boundary behavior — some dangerous behavior that it would be better to avoid entirely.

The moderation model also gives you a way to look at Abstinence and Relapse prevention. Refer to modules for more details.


These boundaries give you at least part of the moderation model as a tool against addictive or destructive behavior. A few examples from everyday life: There may be a red line on your car’s tachometer that represents the maximum allowable RPM. There might be a certain temperature, above which you would whisk your child off to the doctor or emergency room. The smoke detector on your ceiling will squawk when the number of particles in the air exceeds a certain concentration. These boundaries give you a set do-not-exceed point to protect against catastrophic damage.

Pushing Limits

Recovery will be chaos if you push yourself right up to that red line on a daily basis. It would not be good recovery for a sex addict to make frequent contact with prostitutes, but back out at the last minute. Workaholics who have committed to working no more than ten hours a day are obsessing a lot about work if they work nine hours and fifty-eight minutes each day. An alcoholic who often orders drinks, looks at them for a while, and then gives them away is not very sober.

Buffer Zones

Buffer zones represent a range of normal behavior. They acknowledge another reality of moderation: that moderation is dynamic rather than static. Almost everything in life changes. It cycles between a normal minimum through an average to a normal maximum. Your body temperature does not stay at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit — it varies within a range that would be considered normal. Outside that range you are still not in trouble — you may just have a touch of fever or a subnormal temperature, either of which could indicate an illness. There is a buffer zone on either end of the normal range that says, “Pay attention, this is not normal,” before you go to the emergency room.

Moderette to moderose For almost any addiction or addictive process, you can look at a normal range of actions and identify those patterns of behavior that are OK and acceptable as normal recovery (moderate). Depending on the addiction, it might be helpful to call the lower end of that range “moderette” and the upper end “moderose.” Then there should be a buffer zone that would signal a problem with your recovery requiring attention (call a sponsor, talk about it in a meeting, or make closer contact with your Higher Power). Finally, there may be boundaries that would indicate a relapse, and an immediate priority to get back into recovery.

Eating Addiction

Addiction has no better example of the use of abstinence and moderation models than in Eating addiction. The ideas presented will apply very closely to sex addiction and many other addictive behaviors as well. See the modules Abstinence and Eating Plans for a detailed description.

Moderation, see also: Abstinence, Addiction, Addiction model, Allergies, Arousal, Binge history, Biochemistry, Chronic pain, Drugs, Eating plan, Excitement, Freedoms, Moodifiers, PEMS model, Recovery, Sex, Weight.

Updated 1 Sep 2015


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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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