Alcohol & Health
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Updated on December 2, 2022
6 min read

Types of Therapy for Alcohol Abuse

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a pattern of alcohol use that involves issues including:1

  • Inability to control your drinking
  • Being preoccupied with alcohol
  • Continuing to drink alcohol even when it causes problems

People suffering from alcoholism often:1

  • Have to consume more and more alcohol to reach the effects they desire
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms when they quickly decrease or stop drinking

Alcoholism is also commonly referred to as an alcohol use disorder. Unhealthy alcohol use includes drinking that puts your health or safety at risk. Or it contributes to other alcohol-related problems. 

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Types of Therapy for Alcoholism

There are various types of alcohol therapy available:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT can take place one-on-one with a therapist or within small groups. 

This alcohol therapy focuses on identifying the feelings and situations contributing to heavy drinking. It also involves managing stress that can lead to relapse.2

The goal of CBT is to change the thought processes that result in alcohol misuse. It also aims to help develop skills to cope with everyday situations that might trigger problem drinking.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a type of CBT. It focuses on helping people build a life worth living using two tools: change and acceptance.

This therapy looks at addiction. It finds solutions by considering the person’s social and environmental interactions and experiences.3

DBT’s goals include:3

  • Reducing alcohol misuse
  • Decreasing the physical discomfort of abstinence
  • Reducing cravings and triggers for use
  • Avoiding opportunities and triggers linked with alcohol use
  • Reducing behaviors that lead to alcohol use
  • Increasing reinforcement of healthy behaviors, friends, and activities

DBT helps people move away from harmful coping behaviors. It helps them create healthier coping patterns when they experience emotionally stressful situations.

People with alcoholism are more likely to have mental health disorders. DBT can also be an effective therapy for people with co-existing conditions.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is a type of counseling used to treat mental disorders, including alcohol use.

This therapy usually involves regular sessions. One or more therapists work with several people being treated for the same health issue(s).

These types of alcohol therapy sessions can help people in several ways:

  • Interacting with others and learning how to overcome alcohol addiction can be helpful for people. This is especially during the recovery process.
  • Members often realize that they’re not alone. The setting motivates them to share information and experiences. This can help boost confidence and self-esteem.
  • Sharing experiences and feelings can reduce group therapy members' stress, guilt, and pain. Group therapy becomes a place where members can learn to avoid engaging in destructive behaviors such as drinking too much alcohol. Instead, they can begin to practice new, healthy behaviors.

A 12-step program is a supportive group therapy community. In the program, people can openly discuss their struggles with substance use. 

The most famous is Alcoholics Anonymous. However, there are programs for addictions, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and gambling.

The 12-step approach is renowned for helping people to achieve long-term sobriety. These programs provide mutual help to everyone in the group. This support helps them feel important, connected, and accountable to others for remaining sober.

Therapists sometimes encourage people to join a 12-step program and include 12-step material in their sessions.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

MI is a popular method for treating alcoholism. This is because many people feel powerless against addiction. MI can help them benefit from a new sense of willpower to tackle addiction.

In counseling, MI encourages people to:

  • Overcome uncertainty
  • Set direct goals for self-improvement
  • Stay motivated

In a motivational interview, therapists help people commit to change, such as quitting alcohol. MI concentrates on improving and strengthening a person’s motivations for change.

MI is helpful for people less motivated or ready for change. The therapy involves a supportive and empathetic counseling style.

During MI, the counselor and person meet for around one to four sessions. It incorporates four basic principles: 

  • Expressing empathy
  • Rolling with resistance
  • Developing self-efficacy
  • Developing discrepancy 

Contingency Management (CM)

CM uses rewards to reinforce behavioral changes. Small prizes or vouchers are offered in return for positive behavior. For example, receiving negative breathalyzer results.

Reward values may remain the same or increase with ongoing abstinence from alcohol. The rewards stop if negative behavior occurs, such as relapse.

This type of alcohol therapy can be effective in encouraging abstinence. However, abstinence isn’t the only behavior that can be targeted. 

CM can also encourage people to stay in counseling or use medications that help with abstinence.

Benefits of Therapy for Alcoholism

Most alcohol therapies recognize the importance of relapse prevention. 

Relapse prevention aims to identify and address high-risk situations for people. It helps them develop coping mechanisms to remain sober.

Therapy for alcoholism helps people anticipate challenges to sobriety. It allows them to respond in empowering ways. 

CBT and DBT

CBT addresses the thought patterns behind addiction. DBT looks at the psychosocial dynamics surrounding it. 

Both approaches help people prepare for when life gets challenging, and the temptation to drink grows.

Aftercare Therapies

Aftercare support groups like 12-step programs help people remain connected with what they learned in therapies like CBT and DBT.

For some people in recovery, the principles learned in therapy can appear distant, irrelevant, or unnecessary. 

Sometimes, people can feel so empowered by therapy that they assume they don’t need it anymore. They may even think they can drink because they know themselves and their boundaries. Cases like these show why aftercare is essential to recovery and relapse prevention. 

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Alternative Treatments for Alcoholism

Therapy for alcoholism often occurs alongside some traditional or alternative treatments.

Alternative treatments for alcoholism include:

  • Inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation at a treatment center
  • Medical detox
  • Medication, including Naltrexone, Acamprosate, and Disulfiram 
  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Meditation
  • Light therapy
  • Nutritional counseling

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What is the Most Effective Treatment for Alcoholism?

The Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program is regarded as the most effective way to treat alcoholism.4

Researchers said those who complete the AA program succeed better at remaining sober and maintaining healthy ties with family and friends.4

Another benefit of AA is that the free program doesn’t require making appointments or completing insurance forms.

A study assessed 35 reports involving the results of more than 10,000 participants. Long-term outcomes were better across the board when AA was involved in treatment.4

However, be aware that every person is different. What works for one person might not work for another. Alcoholism treatment should always differ by case.

Summary

  • There are various types of therapy to help treat alcoholism, including cognitive behavioral therapy and group therapy.
  • These therapies recognize the importance of relapse prevention to help people develop coping strategies to remain sober.
  • Alternative treatments for alcoholism include rehab, detox, and medication.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous's 12-step program has proven to be the most effective way to treat alcoholism. 
  • However, alcoholism treatment should always differ by case.
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Updated on December 2, 2022
6 sources cited
Updated on December 2, 2022
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol use disorder, Mayo Clinic, 2022.
  2. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2022.
  3. Dimeff, Linda A, and Marsha M Linehan. “Dialectical behavior therapy for substance abusers.” Addiction science & clinical practice, 2008.
  4. Kelly, John F et al. “Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs for alcohol use disorder.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2020.
  5. McHugh, R Kathryn et al. “Cognitive behavioral therapy for substance use disorders.” The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 2010.
  6. Carroll, Kathleen M, and Brian D Kiluk. “Cognitive behavioral interventions for alcohol and drug use disorders: Through the stage model and back again.” Psychology of addictive behaviors : journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, 2017.

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