Alcohol counseling, especially when used in combination with rehabilitation, medication, a strong support system, or group recovery programs, has the potential to not just change your drinking habits, but also your relationship with alcohol. Qualified mental health professionals are trained to provide the support you need to get and stay sober. The road to recovery may be a long one, but it isn’t a path that anyone should have to travel alone.
At what point does drinking too much become alcoholism?
It is estimated that at least 38 million US adults drink too much. However, despite alcoholism, or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), being characterized by the over-consumption of alcohol, simply drinking more than you know you should is not enough to earn you the diagnosis. A patient may only be diagnosed with AUD if excessive, uncontrolled drinking is causing harm, disruption in the patient’s life or relationships, or is causing other distress.
Your drinking problem may be alcoholism if you experience two or more of the following.
- You feel that you are not in control of your alcohol consumption
- You have found it difficult to stop drinking even when you know you have had too much
- You have been unable to cut back on your drinking even when you have wanted to or tried to
- You experience strong cravings or a deep desire for alcohol
- Your drinking, or its after-effects, is causing problems with your family, work, or academics
- You often choose to drink rather than engage in activities that you enjoy or are important to you
- You find yourself in dangerous situations during or after drinking
- You no longer experience the same effects as you once did with your usual number of drinks, or you have to drink more than you used to in order to experience the same effects
- You experience negative symptoms when the alcohol’s effects begin to wear off, such as shaking, sweating, nausea, irritability, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, restlessness, or depression.
Whether or not your issues with alcohol rise to the level of an AUD diagnosis can only be determined by a mental health professional. Still, anyone who feels like their drinking has become a problem may benefit from speaking to a counselor about their alcohol usage. Even brief counseling may help to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume.
What is alcohol counseling?
One treatment method for alcohol addiction or alcohol misuse is alcohol counseling. Often used in combination with other treatments such as medication, rehabilitation, or addiction support groups, alcohol counseling aims to uncover and address the underlying causes of an individual’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol through regular meetings with a qualified mental health professional.
A counselor may use any of several therapeutic strategies to help their client identify triggers for their drinking, reduce the stress that may lead to drinking, and follow through with their plan of treatment.
The first session with an alcohol counselor will likely consist of conversations about your drinking history, the frequency and volume of your alcohol consumption, your personal history, and other topics related to your background and current problem. After that, you will meet regularly with your counselor for treatment and support. While everyone’s needs are different, your alcohol counseling will likely work to address:
- new skills needed to follow through with treatment and reduce drinking
- how to build and maintain relationships and social supports for long-term recovery
- setting and achieving reasonable goals
- identifying and managing emotional triggers that have previously led to drinking
- support and encouragement as you work toward recovery
What counseling strategies are used to treat alcoholism?
As with all conditions, there are several different ways a counselor or psychotherapist may approach the treatment of alcoholism. Alcohol counseling generally uses traditional talk therapy. Qualified counselors most typically follow one of the following therapeutic strategies when treating alcohol-related problems.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is the most commonly used and effective therapeutic strategy for a large number of mental health conditions, including addiction. This counseling method focuses on unearthing and healing the underlying mental and emotional processes causing your addiction.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for alcoholism works from the understanding that thought patterns and internalized stories about our history, identity, worth, relationships, etc., motivate our current behaviors. The ultimate goal of all CBT counseling is to understand and amend these thought patterns and internal stories so that individuals can respond to formerly triggering situations and emotions in healthier ways.
CBT for alcoholism often focuses on:
- discovering unhelpful and distorted patterns of thinking
- developing an awareness of what situations, thoughts, and emotions, typically lead to drinking
- practicing new ways to cope with triggering situations (without alcohol)
- working to determine the best path to recovery
- learning to deal with difficult emotions rather than burying or avoiding them
- building self-confidence
- cultivating healthy self-advocacy and communication skills
Motivational Enhancement Therapy
This therapeutic strategy may be briefly used at the beginning of treatment to help cultivate a stronger desire and determination to work toward recovery.
Using motivational enhancement therapy, a counselor may work with their client to identify the pros and cons of treatment and recovery, create a manageable plan of treatment, bolster self-esteem, and practice any skills needed to achieve treatment goals. Strong motivation for change is an essential part of any successful recovery.
This therapeutic strategy is employed when the individual struggling with alcohol abuse issues also has other mental health conditions. It is common for people suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns to self-medicate with alcohol or other substances. Dual-diagnosis therapy for alcoholism treats both alcohol addiction and the co-occurring mental health condition.
Marital or Family Counseling
This method of counseling can take any number of forms but always has the goal of repairing and strengthening family connections so that the counselee can have a healthier support system to aid their recovery. With marital or family counseling, your counselor will work with you and your loved ones to heal broken relationships. The counselor will also be able to help your family find tangible, helpful ways to support you in your treatment plan.
These approaches all focus on cultivating a balanced, healthy lifestyle to support an individual’s mental and emotional health. This can include anything from reflexology to mindfulness, yoga, and more. The ultimate goal of all these approaches is to promote overall health through balanced living. Used in combination with other, more data-driven treatments, holistic therapy may help support an alcoholic’s recovery.
Does alcohol counseling work?
In short, yes. According to an alcoholism treatment guide produced by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “Research shows that about one-third of people who are treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms 1 year later. Many others substantially reduce their drinking and report fewer alcohol-related problems.” Getting help is the first step to getting better.
Speaking with a qualified counselor may be just the push you need to start moving toward recovery. If your relationship with alcohol has begun to affect your life, relationship, job, or academic performance, don’t wait to speak with someone about it.
Whatever the reasons behind your drinking, alcohol counseling can help you better understand and cope with the internal and external situations driving you to misuse alcohol. Don’t wait until the problem gets worse. Schedule an appointment with your local counselor today.
References:Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, January 31). “Alcohol Screening and Counseling.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved June 16, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/alcohol-screening-counseling/index.html
American Addition Centers. (2022, June 6). “Counseling for alcohol addiction: Alcohol Counseling.” Alcohol.org. Retrieved June 16, 2022, from https://www.alcohol.org/treatment-types/counseling-programs/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, August). “Treatment for alcohol problems: Finding and getting help. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.” Retrieved June 16, 2022, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help
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