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Alcohol and Mental Health

Types of Therapy for Alcohol Misuse

July 31, 2023
10 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 31, 2023
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
July 31, 2023
10 min read

When you think of getting help for alcohol addiction, what comes to mind? Chances are either Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or a residential rehabilitation center come to mind. While these are certainly two effective options, there are many more choices than we might realize when it comes to treating alcohol misuse. In fact, there are various types of alcohol addiction therapy options that we can turn to for help, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy for alcoholism, talk-based alcoholism therapies, and many others. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Talk-Based Alcohol Therapy

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Talk therapy, otherwise referred to as psychotherapy, is the most common form of therapy, and it can help us build coping strategies and skills to stop or reduce drinking. While a talk-based alcohol therapy session can take place in a group or family setting, it’s most often done in a one-on-one setting with a licensed therapist or psychologist. 

During sessions, our therapist might help us get to the root cause of our drinking and develop a roadmap for healing. They might also help us better understand and manage cravings and stay motivated to achieve sobriety goals. Talk therapy often takes time; it can last for several weeks or span several months. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Alcoholism

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has proven particularly effective in treating alcohol misuse. It was first developed as a clinical approach to managing mood disorders, but was later adapted to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD) and other forms of addiction. 

The idea behind CBT is that certain patterns of thoughts can lead to maladaptive, or harmful, behaviors, such as continued substance use. The theory suggests that we can start to change our behavior by identifying and changing any negative thoughts and emotions that might lead us to engage in drinking. 

While we can technically practice CBT on our own, it’s often more effective to see a licensed counselor or therapist who can help guide us through this process. They can help us explore the positive and negative consequences of continued alcohol use, challenge harmful beliefs, and equip us with strategies for coping with cravings and avoiding high-risk situations. 

Another important component of CBT is building or strengthening various skills, such as family or other social relationships, emotional regulation, and problem-solving skills.

Research indicates that cognitive-behavioral therapy for alcoholism is beneficial even after treatment has concluded, since we can carry the skills we’ve learned with us into our new life. Some studies have noted that CBT can be effective with as few as five sessions, though we’re likely to see greater results by sticking with it for longer. 

Interestingly, current research is focusing on how to produce even more powerful effects by combining CBT with medications for alcohol misuse and other behavioral therapies. A computer-based CBT system has shown to be effective in helping reduce alcohol use following other treatments. 

Types of Therapy for Alcohol Misuse

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is another type of talk therapy that was initially developed to treat people with long-term suicidal behaviors, and it has since been effectively applied to treating alcohol misuse. 

The main goals of DBT are to teach us to live in the moment, develop healthy ways to cope, regulate our emotions, and improve our relationships with others. As it relates to alcohol misuse, DBT treatment usually focuses on reducing substance use, managing cravings, eliminating behaviors associated with alcohol use, increasing social support, and encouraging positive and healthy activities. Similar to CBT, a therapist guides us through this process. 

There are four main strategies and techniques used in DBT:

  • Core Mindfulness: This is about staying in the present moment and paying attention to what’s happening inside us (thoughts, feelings, sensations, impulses) as well as what’s happening around us (what we see, hear, smell, and touch) in nonjudgmental ways. 
  • Distress Tolerance: This is about helping us accept ourselves and our current situation. DBT teaches several techniques for handling a crisis (such as a craving for alcohol), including distraction and self-soothing.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: This is aimed toward helping us develop relationship skills, such as learning to listen and communicate more effectively, dealing with challenging people, and respecting ourselves and others. 
  • Emotional Regulation: This involves learning to more effectively navigate powerful or negative feelings to prevent us from acting on impulse.

Research has shown that DBT is effective for people who struggle with alcohol addiction and other substance abuse disorders. 

Motivational Interviewing as a Form of Alcohol Addiction Therapy

Motivational interviewing (MI) is designed to help us resolve ambivalent feelings, set direct goals for self-improvement, and stay motivated to achieve them. 

A therapist can help encourage us to examine the negative consequences of alcohol use and explore any discrepancies that arise between where we are and where we want to be. They can also help us address any resistance to change that might be holding us back and increase our acceptance of change. 

Motivational interviewing can be a particularly powerful technique for treating alcohol misuse since many people feel powerless against addiction and can benefit from increased motivation to take action against it. 

Motivational interviewing incorporates four basic principles in therapy, including expressing empathy, rolling with resistance, developing self-efficacy, and developing discrepancy. This technique is often used in conjunction with other forms of therapy. 

Expressive Arts Therapy

Play therapy, art therapy, music therapy, drama therapy, sand therapy, and other expressive arts can provide an alternative medium to express, process, and integrate our thoughts and feelings surrounding the recovery process. In fact, many rehab centers offer art and music therapy to their patients. 

The purpose of expressive arts therapy is to help us relax, express how we feel, and stay occupied with a positive activity. Art and music therapy have also been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental health problems which afflict people with alcohol use disorder. 

Creative artistic expression helps us tap into emotions and needs that might be difficult to express through more traditional forms of communication. These mediums are a tangible way to help us build new insight and reconcile emotional conflicts.

The Bottom Line About Alcohol Therapy

While this list is by no means exhaustive, these are some of the more common forms of therapy for alcohol misuse. They have all proven effective in helping us manage cravings, reduce consumption, and prevent relapse. Keep in mind, however, that recovering from alcohol misuse takes time. We can’t expect to see results from trying one form of therapy only once — or even twice. The more patient and consistent we are, the greater our chance of seeing results. And if you try one type of therapy and don’t find it effective, don’t give up! There are many other options out there. 

Reframe is another alternative. We’ve helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and enhance their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

Change Your Drinking Habits With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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