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

Synonyms & Antonyms for abstinence


continence, self-denial, sobriety, temperance



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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

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 Cannon herself grew up in a Catholic family that preached abstinence or bust. Eliza Berman, Time, "Blockers Sets the Record Straight on Teenage Girls and Sex," 5 Apr. 2018 Researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center have learned that babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome are more likely to have torticollis, an abnormal neck condition. Anne Saker, Cincinnati.com, "How Cradle Cincinnati renews its war on Hamilton County’s infant mortality," 28 June 2018 After her appointment, Huber wrote an article decrying the lack of federal funding for abstinence education and questioned the effectiveness of teen pregnancy prevention grants. NBC News, "Planned Parenthood lawsuits challenge efforts to push abstinence-only on teens," 23 June 2018 In the first study to directly compare two of the most common treatment methods — methadone and morphine — researchers hope to establish a uniform strategy for treating neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. Alice Park, Time, "Many Doctors Give Morphine to Babies Born With Opioid Addiction. A New Study Suggests There's a Better Way," 18 June 2018 But the study, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, further complicates the question of how to safely and effectively treat babies going through withdrawal, called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Marie Mccullough, Philly.com, "Newborns in opioid withdrawal may do better on methadone than morphine, major study finds," 18 June 2018 In 2016, 1,257 babies in Kentucky were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome — symptoms associated with withdrawal from exposure to drugs — according to a Kentucky Department for Public Health report. Allison Ross, The Courier-Journal, "As drug epidemic sweeps Louisville, pregnant moms get help they need," 14 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

23 Sep 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

What made you want to look up abstinence? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


not any or not one

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