ab·​sti·​nence | \ˈab-stə-nən(t)s \

Definition of abstinence 

1 : the practice of abstaining from something : the practice of not doing or having something that is wanted or enjoyable … ate with a haste and an apparent relish, that seemed to betoken long abstinence from food.— Walter Scott

2a : habitual abstaining from intoxicating beverages

b : abstention from sexual intercourse

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Other Words from abstinence

abstinent \-​nənt \ adjective
abstinently adverb

Examples of abstinence in a Sentence

The program promoted sexual abstinence for young people. a cleric vainly preaching abstinence in a world where self-indulgence is regarded as almost a virtue

Recent Examples on the Web

Teyonah Parris plays Lysistrata, who coaxes her friends to unite with her in abstinence until their lovers put down their guns. Noel Murray, The Verge, "The BlacKkKlansman team previously made the daring Chi-Raq, now streaming on Amazon," 10 Aug. 2018 Nearly 2,000 of them were born with what's called newborn abstinence syndrome. Fox News, "Mom's prenatal opioids may stunt kids' learning, study finds," 30 Aug. 2018 For example, Dillon said Sen. Bob Nonini, a Republican from Coeur d’Alene, waved a rosary while talking to students about abstinence but did not shout or demean the students. Kimberlee Kruesi And Statesman Staff, idahostatesman, "Idaho lawmaker tells students to leave or he’ll call police | Idaho Statesman," 19 Feb. 2018 Some people report that marijuana relieves aches and anxiety, possibly contributing to opioid abstinence. Rita Giordano, Philly.com, "Could marijuana help treat opioid addiction? Pennsylvania may soon find out," 6 July 2018 Some schools do not offer any program, some offer abstinence-only programs and some offer other types of programs. Lauren Castle, azcentral, "Arizona groups offer health, housing help to LGBT youth," 14 July 2018 There’s a difference between abstinence and sobriety. Katrine Jo Andersen, The New Republic, "Rejected by A.A.," 27 June 2018 Our program approaches recovery from addiction through abstinence, cautioning against the substitution of one drug for another. Katrine Jo Andersen, The New Republic, "Rejected by A.A.," 27 June 2018 Experts say that more research is needed on the dangers of using drugs after a stint in rehab or a period of abstinence. Aubrey Whelan, Philly.com, "She was just out of rehab. She was excited about the future. Three hours later, she was dead.," 25 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'abstinence.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of abstinence

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for abstinence

Middle English, borrowed from Anglo-French, borrowed from Latin abstinentia, noun derivative of abstinent-, abstinens, present participle of abstinēre "to abstain"

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Last Updated

2 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for abstinence

The first known use of abstinence was in the 13th century

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More Definitions for abstinence


ab·​sti·​nence | \ˈab-stə-nəns \

Kids Definition of abstinence

: an avoidance by choice especially of certain foods or of liquor


ab·​sti·​nence | \ˈab-stə-nən(t)s \

Medical Definition of abstinence 

: the act or practice of abstaining especially from engagement in sexual intercourse or consumption of intoxicating beverages

Other Words from abstinence

abstinent \-​nənt \ adjective

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Comments on abstinence

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