In our Treatment Guide Spotlight series, we highlight resources that can help solve specific problems and answer questions associated with alcohol and alcohol use disorder (AUD), using the PGDF Treatment Guide as a tool.
There are many approaches to treating alcohol use disorder, including the use of medication, mutual help groups, and counseling. Counseling conducted with a licensed therapist can be beneficial for a person looking for help with AUD, from the first step of acknowledging the problem, to identifying triggers and making strategies to cope, to addressing trauma and co-occurring conditions that can complicate addiction treatment.
Some counselors specialize in addiction and use particular techniques that are known to help with addiction recovery. The goal of addiction counseling is to help the client change behaviors and attitudes about substance use, and to teach life skills that will help maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Therapy may consist of one-on-one, group, or family sessions, depending on the needs of the individual. It may be intensive at the beginning of treatment, but as symptoms and coping skills improve, the number of sessions may decrease.
The PGDF Treatment Guide section on Counseling describes some of the treatment techniques and issues in addiction treatment that counseling can address.
Click the headings to visit the Treatment Guide and learn more about each topic.
Individual counseling is one-on-one talk therapy between a therapist and client. Psychotherapy allows a person to explore family history, personality traits, and past and present behaviors that contribute to addictive behavior. Once identified, new ways of managing conflict, triggers, and stress are cultivated in order to build healthier coping skills, manage cravings, and stick to a recovery plan.
Group counseling is a form of therapy that involves one or more therapists working with several people who are undergoing psychotherapy and working on various stages of recovery at the same time. Group counseling meetings are moderated by a trained professional (as opposed to a peer leader as in most mutual help group meetings). Group therapy provides an opportunity to share feelings, information, and experiences with people who are going through similar things, to instill hope, and to increase coping skills and positive behaviors to help maintain sobriety.
Alcohol use disorder is a disease that affects the entire family system. Addiction shakes the foundation of a family and can create guilt, mistrust, and anger, even once the person with AUD is in recovery. Family therapy can include spouses and other family members. Guided by a family therapist, it helps repair and rebalance family relationships by improving communication, and giving family members a safe place to express fear, anger and other concerns. Studies show that family therapy can help families build support that can help the person with AUD to stay sober. It may also be useful in preventing the children of people with addiction from becoming addicted themselves.
When someone has both a substance use disorder and a mental health condition such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, or a personality disorder, it is called a co-occurring disorder (formerly called “dual diagnosis”). According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), more than one-third of people who struggle with alcohol use are also coping with a behavioral health condition. Most addiction specialists and many counselors have training in co-occurring disorders, and some mutual help groups are specifically for people with co-occurring issues.
Motivational interviewing (MI) helps motivate people to change their drinking behavior. Through exploring the client’s ambivalence about change and the discrepancy between one’s behavior and desired goals, a therapist encourages change in an empathetic, collaborative, and non-judgmental way. Once client-defined goals have been established, therapy sessions are focused on forming a plan to change drinking patterns and developing the necessary skills to do so.
CBT is an evidence-based form of therapy that focuses on solutions, rather than the causes of underlying problems. It helps people identify feelings and situations that can lead to alcohol misuse. Changing the way one thinks about an issue leads to changes in behavior. CBT teaches coping skills and stress management, and challenges the maladaptive thoughts and belief systems that can lead to harmful behavioral choices.
While not stand-alone treatments for addiction, art and music therapy can be helpful in supporting the recovery process. Both serve to reduce stress, increase relaxation, and create outlets for thoughts and feelings that cannot be verbally expressed.
An addiction psychiatrist or psychologist can be found by searching online, getting a referral from a doctor or insurance plan, or by word of mouth from a trusted source. This section of our guide shares links for finding a qualified professional, and advice for your first appointment. There are many resources for finding a therapist. The key is to find a skilled therapist who can match the type and intensity of therapy with your needs.