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Can A Drinking Contract Help You to Control Your Drinking? Can You Turn Alcohol Abuse Into Responsible Consumption?

Updated on January 21, 2009
Take Control of Your Drinking...And You May Not Need to Quit (A Johns Hopkins Press Health Book)
Take Control of Your Drinking...And You May Not Need to Quit (A Johns Hopkins Press Health Book)
The concept of a drinking contract was developed by the author of this book, Michael S. Levy, Harvard University. It's well worth reading.

Can writing yourself a drinking contract keep you under control? Is moderation management a feasible option for people with alcohol abuse problems? Can you really learn to control your drinking?

Well maybe - or at least, some people seem able to do it.

What's a drinking contract?

The general philosophy behind a self produced drinking contract, is that for some problem drinkers, who have shown they are unable to control their intake, either in quantity or in frequency, following the rules of a drinking contract keeps them under control, and still allows them the pleasures of a glass or wine or two at dinner (Sometimes).

It is a literal written and signed contract that you write to yourself. And in this contract you decide how much, when, and under what circumstances you allow yourself to drink.

The contract must be followed to the letter if it is to work. Any deviation from the terms of the contract renders the contract, and the idea behind it, pretty much useless. If your contract says you can only drink 3 times a week – that's all you get!

Of course, this is only a contract between you and yourself, and so, ultimately, you can do what you want. But people don’t tend to start thinking about ways to control their drinking until that drinking has become a problem. For most people, the only workable alternative to problem drinking is complete abstinence. A drinking contract offers a glimmer of hope to those people who don’t wish to give up alcohol completely, but who recognize that their current consumption is problematic.

What do you put in a drinking contract?

Your drinking contract should dictate pretty clearly the times when you are allowed to drink alcohol, and how much you are allowed to drink during those times.

One important note though, the drinking contract won’t work to manage binge drinking sessions. The contract is only effective as a document for moderate and controlled drinking. Once you are intoxicated, the likelihood that you will follow any dictates of your contract is so low as to render the contract a joke.

Quantity, Frequency and Place

So, limit the number of drinks you will allow yourself in a session to about 2 for a woman and 3 for a man – max.

And limit the frequencies when you will allow yourself a drink to 3 a week, at first.

And limit drinking in any situations where you think binge drinking is likely. For example – if you always drink to excess on nights out with the girls – don't allow yourself any drinks on those nights!

So, an example drinking contract might look like:

I, Recovering Addict, will not drink in excess of 9 drinks per week. I will not drink more often than 3 times per week. I will drink only wine with dinner, and will only drink at home, and not out with friends, or at bars. I promise to follow the terms of this contract exactly.

Any deviation from the terms of this contract effectively breaks this contract. If I cannot drink moderately under the terms of this contract, then I probably need to take more serious steps to deal with the problems alcohol causes me in my life.


Witness (Wife/husband, etc.)

It's a great idea, and it's illustrated much more fully in the book. Take Control of Your Drinking and You Might Not Need to Quit". This book is very highly recommended.


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    • Artois52 profile image


      6 years ago from England

      I don't think a drinking contract would work for me. It is frustrating though, that I know some alcoholics who have returned to normal drinking and can keep under control. So I know that it can work. For some people that is.

    • profile image

      Kim Reed 

      6 years ago

      I need help with an alcohol contract to control my drinking before I loose my family.

    • htodd profile image


      8 years ago from United States

      It might be difficult but again it is possible you can leave that...

    • profile image

      Wendi M 

      8 years ago

      Wow, I can't even believe I read through this entire hub. The moment a true alcoholic picks up his/her first drink, that contract is null and void...we drink to get drunk! It is not something we can control once we're off and running, which is why I have chosen to abstain from drinking...not control it!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I think making a commitment to yourself in writing helps you stay the path. There is an option to help with the withdrawals that is 100% all natural, the product worked amazing for me and by elminating the physical withdrawals it helped me with the cravings

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I think once you realize you have a problem, you start making all kinds of deals with yourself in order to avoid a total quit. Having a written one is no better than a mental one without accountability. Unfortunatly people are usually an addict or they are not. They can either controll it or they cant. Whatever falls inbetween is usually just denial. But hey a lot of people questioning their themselves may buy your book, lets hope it doesn't do too much harm.

    • Wingrider profile image


      11 years ago from South Carolina

      I really don't think any contract would help anyone with a real drinking problem, as stated there's no way they can enjoy drinking and stick to the contract, so as soon as the bottle hits their lips the contract is out the window. However this may be a good way for someone who is still in denial to come to the realization that they have a serious problem. That would be up to the individual. On the other side, I still refuse to believe it is a disease. "Can you make a contract for diabetes"  get real. Can one choose to not be diabetic?  You have the option of not putting the alcohol in your body. If you can't control it . Quit. Period.

    • druneric profile image

      Donna Runeric 

      11 years ago from Ohio

      Wow, a drinking contract? I'm an alcoholic and for me such a thing would be disastrous. And, in my opinion, if someone needs such a document they already have a real problem. I like Mighty Mom's analogy. I know a lot of people resent the notion that alcoholism is a disease, but why? Feels like a disease to me, especially according to the definition of the word.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      11 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hey Recovering Addict, I am not familiar with that book but I bet the authors are making money off desperate people -- much like all those diet books being sold to people who cannot control their eating.

      I agree with you -- normal drinkers have no need to have a contract like this. Only people who recognize they have a drinking problem start searching for ways to "control" their consumption. This is often a phase of alcoholism where the drinker discovers the conundrum that is alcoholism:

      It's impossible to control and enjoy his/her drinking at the same time. Yes, they may be able to control it through such a contract, but with all those "rules" there is no enjoyment. And eventually, a "real alcoholic" finds to his/her horror, that keeping this type of contract is IMPOSSIBLE. They cannot keep to their own rules.

      Why? Because they are working against biology. Their brain and body are craving alcohol to treat the disease of alcoholism.

      I have to agree with Michael Sanders on this one. This approach may work for so-called heavy or problem drinkers. But not alcoholics. Once the alcoholic puts that first drink back into his/her body, the cycle starts again.

      Here's an analogy that makes it really clear for me. Say you have food poisoning or stomach flu. Try writing a contract with yourself to "defecate" normally.

    • recovering addict profile imageAUTHOR

      recovering addict 

      11 years ago

      Hi Michael,

      A drinking contract is not going to work for me, or at least, I am not going to risk it - I am happy enough to have won some hard fought peace in my life! But I do not think that we can bottleneck people into a one-size fits all solution for addiction either. Although many people can never learn to drink responsibly - it seems as though some people can. Many problem drinkers "even alcoholics" quit drinking without assistance...

      I respect the 12 steps and AA, but I do not take the words of the Big Book as the gospel truth. If it works for you, that's great - but I think that any steps that people take when legitimately trying to control their drinking and improve their lives/health are positive steps.


    • profile image

      Michael Sanders 

      11 years ago

      How long have ypu been sober or ARE you sober? Alcoholsm is a terminal illness do have a contract for diabetes? or Cancer?


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