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Therapy and Treatment

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Treating Alcoholism

This article I’ll be looking at treating alcoholism. Most people will be familiar with the AA – Alcoholics Anonymous. This is mainly group therapy where recovering alcoholics support newer members. They are also given leaflets, quotes, and are they can never drink again because once an alcoholic always an alcoholic. AA are known to take a heavily religious view, it was originally founded in 1935 when our country was still heavily leaned towards Christianity. Members are advised to follow a 12 step programme where some of the steps (not in order) include: admitting they are completely powerless to alcohol, they must allow God to remove their defects of character, humbly ask Him to remove all their shortcomings, make a decision to turn their will and their lives over to the care of God as they understand Him, and make a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves. Saying all of that though, newcomers are not asked to accept or follow these Twelve Steps in their entirety if they feel unwilling or unable to do so. 

In a therapeutic setting, I look at various different types of therapy to help the client so I take a completely different approach. In fact my approach could not be more different because the first thing I would look at is the type of alcoholism the client is suffering from, whether they need medical assistance, and then I would move on to the treatment. I absolutely do not believe that every single alcoholic is beyond help and will be unable to drink ever again. I do absolutely believe that alcoholism is a symptom of a much deeper problem, there is a reason that person is drinking, we need to find that reason and deal with it. Not every alcoholic is physically and mentally addicted to the extreme, for those that are yes I would absolutely suggest that they stop drinking completely. It really depends on the client and why they drink.

Firstly, we have to understand that there is a difference between an alcoholic and an addict. Yes, you can be addicted to alcohol, but for some alcoholics they are simply in a habit, or the alcohol is replacing something in their lives, or they’re drinking for another reason. Addiction is a different beast and is something I will tackle at a later date.

My favourite therapeutic method for treating alcoholism is Transactional Analysis. TA states that the alcoholic is playing what we refer to as a “mind game” – a repeated cycle with many players that supplement the game. Hence the cycle can continue uninterrupted. If you’re interested in finding out more, I suggest you read the book “Games People Play” by Eric Berne MD – he is an absolute legend in the field of TA and his work is absolutely fascinating as it gives a completely different view of such self defeating behaviours as alcoholism (yes I’m a fan – can you tell?). Once I have ascertained the nature of the alcoholism and why the person is drinking, and of course covered any medical issues, should I decide that this person would suit TA (which in many cases they do, not everyone is doomed to a life on the streets drinking from a bottle in a paper bag) I then look at the game specifically. When treating an alcoholic I would find out all of the players in his game, how do they fit in, how do they supplement his habit etc. I would then bring this to the person’s attention, the first step is to accept the reality of what’s going on and then we can use some CBT to manage the behaviour. Breaking a cycle is extremely difficult so the client will need stress management, anxiety coping mechanisms and a good support network to help them make changes. All of this happens whilst I explore with the client the root of his alcoholism.

So, in summary, the way that I personally would treat an alcoholic is firstly to ascertain their type of alcoholism, assess any medical needs and refer them to a doctor should I need to, use TA to bring their cycle to light, CBT and PCC to help manage the fall out of breaking the cycle and Psycodynamic therapy to get to the source of the problem and help the client overcome it.

Next time I’ll talk about Addiction, giving a general overview, and my personal thoughts on the worst kind of addiction… 

If anyone would like to speak to a therapist about alcoholism you can go to our website and contact one of the advertising therapists.

by Jenny