Abstinence involves the total elimination of a particular substance, such as alcohol, opiates, or nicotine. As it relates to stage of change theory, someone needs to be in an action stage of change or beyond for an abstinence-based approach to work. If someone does not yet believe he has a problem with drugs or alcohol, he is unlikely to embrace abstinence as a goal.
Examples of abstinence-based programs include Alcoholics, Narcotics, and Cocaine Anonymous (AA, NA, and CA), as well as the cognitively based Rational Recovery (RR) and SMART Recovery. Also, many rehabilitation centers insist on total abstinence in order for a person to be enrolled and to continue in programs. For many people, this is the best way to go.
There are limitations to abstinence-based programs, especially when you take into account that many people with substance abuse and dependence issues will have multiple relapses and may not be at a point where abstinence is their goal, even if they acknowledge there is a problem with drugs and/or alcohol.