By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
The word abstinence refers to voluntary prevention of oneself from indulging in bodily activities that provide pleasure. Abstinence commonly refers to abstention from sexual intercourse, alcohol or food. Abstinence can be due to personal preferences, religious practices of practical considerations.
In medicine abstinence also refers to discontinuation of an addictive drug. This may lead to intense craving for the drug and also withdrawal syndromes. Abstinence from smoking is also recommended for those intending to undergo surgery (especially cosmetic ones).
Abstinence may be a temporary or short term goal meant for short durations of time. This includes refraining from compulsive eating or from compulsive drinking. The time and the measure is voluntary and is thus meant to enhance life. This is different from psychological mechanism of repression where the abstinence is not willingly adopted.
Abstinence from food
Abstinence from food refers to fasting. This is the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food or drink for a short or fixed period of time. Partial fasts may continue for prolonged durations. They may involve abstaining from particular foods like meat or sustaining oneself only on fruits, and vegetables or only on a vegan diet. Vegetarianism is thus a form of abstinence.
Abstinence from smoking and alcohol
Smoking cessation or abstinence from smoking includes refraining from tobacco and other smoked agents like cannabis. Abstaining from alcoholism or teetotalism is the practice and promotion of complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages. The reasons cited could be religious, health, philosophical or social. Teetotallers may abstain from drinking or consume non-alcoholic beverages when in presence of alcoholic drinks. They may choose tea, coffee, juice, and soft drinks instead.
Sexual abstinence is the practice of refraining from some or all aspects of sexual activity by self volition. Reasons for sexual abstinence adoption include religious or philosophical reasons, prevention of conception or sexually transmitted diseases, legal injunctions or due to psycho-sociological reasons like presence of mental ailments like depression, anxiety etc.
Abstinence from recreational intoxicants
Abstinence from recreational intoxicants or legal and illegal substances of abuse is another form of restraint placed on self. This is a step towards de-addiction and detoxification in many organizations that help curb drug abuse.
Reasons for abstinence
Complete or near-complete abstinence from pleasures or leisure could be a result of ambition, career or philosophical and religious considerations.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: Oct 7, 2014