In the context of addiction, abstinence and being abstinent is the state of refraining from using drugs or alcohol or from engaging in any addictive activity or behavior. It’s usually used to refer to people who have recovered from chemical dependencies, especially alcoholism. Abstinence is also used to refer to refraining from sex.
The philosophy of most 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous is that once an addict goes through withdrawal and stops using, he or she must remain abstinent for the rest of their life. Using again will “trigger” a new round of dependency and require the addict to repeat the process of recovery. A newer recovery philosophy, however, holds that relapsing, or returning to use a substance/behavior, is a normal part of the recovery process and should be expected before someone finally achieves abstinence.
Some people are able to recover from addiction and drink in moderation and there are support groups for these former alcoholics and addicts. The conventional wisdom, though, is that people who are prone to addiction cannot drink or use drugs even in moderation without starting a downward trend back into addiction.