Therapist Isn’t Taking My Drinking Habit Seriously

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

I’ve told my therapist that I’m concerned about my drinking habits and she feels that because I’m not a maintenance drinker, that I should be able to easily cut back or stop. Of course my attempts at stopping have been nothing but failure after failure and yet she isn’t helping me figure out what to do or how to go about doing cutting back other than, telling me to just stop. I feel like I need some sort of plan, but I have no idea how to even go about doing that.

Background: I’ve suffered with anxiety and depression (which I’ve attributed to simply being an over sensitive person) for what seems like my entire life. I can’t remember time when I wasn’t afraid of my world collapsing around me or of monsters in my closet or being attacked or hurt in some capacity–especially if I was alone. I was fearful of strangers, of screwing up at school. My father used to drink though I am not sure when he stopped. My mother terrified me on daily basis to the point where I couldn’t bare to be around her and found every opportunity to not be. And I frequently thought about killing myself.

When I started drinking at 18, the moment the alcohol hit my bloodstream and I got my first “buzz”, I felt like I’d found what I’d been looking for my entire life. A sense of calmness in my body and mind. It was the best discovery since sliced bread to me. I started drinking mainly on the weekends when I partied, but it slowly began working it’s way into the week.

Fast Forward to the present and my anxiety and depression haven’t dissipated in the least–i’m still afraid of my world collapsing around me; the second I turn my lights off and head to bed, thoughts of being attacked in my apartment start to creep in; I’m terrified of screwing up at work. You name it, it’s probably on my endless list of fears. I am finding myself drinking almost daily. Thankfully I haven’t reached a point where I need to drink to function, but through out the day I am constantly battling with myself as to whether or not I want to or should stop at the store and grab a bottle of wine (that I drink in it’s in entirety that night) or a few beers on my way home from work. It’s a true battle going on in my head…almost like two kids bickering until one of them wins. It drives me crazy because I feel like I’m witnessing the bickering, but can’t stop it. I am modest about my drinking around people, especially my boyfriend because I don’t want them to notice or say something about my drinking. My sister came over last weekend and noticed all of the empty bottles around and I told her they were all from several months ago, when in fact they were all purchased and consumed within the last month. I know that normal people don’t deal with this on a daily basis, which is what recently triggered my growing concern.

Everything I’ve described above, I’ve told my therapist and I feel like she isn’t hearing me because she is stuck on the thought that because I’m not a maintenance drinker I should be able to just stop. I am growing more and more concerned about my drinking and yet this concern isn’t stopping me and she just doesn’t seem as concerned as I am about it.

Should I bring up these concerns with her again? Should I move on to another therapist? Maybe quit therapy and figure out a plan on my own? I’m confused and scared. I am terrible at making decisions and plans of action. I really don’t know what to do.

I’m at a point where I feel like I need to just quit therapy and find another approach (on my own) to cutting back on my drinking–at this point I feel I don’t need to elminate it all together and I can’t even begin to imagine what my life would be like without it. If I could just cut back I think I’d feel better.

Thanks for reading.

A:You are very brave for both acknowledging and challenging yourself. I am very glad that you have taken the opportunity to ask this question.

The very simple answer is that you do have a drinking problem. In many ways it is classic in that your thinking revolves around it, you use it as a release from the anxiety, others have noticed the volume, and it disturbs you that those who should take an interest haven’t. The truth is that the training for most therapists is extremely poor when it comes to an accurate assessment of alcohol use and abuse. Very few have had any specialized training and their experience is limited to what they may or may not have had in their internships and classes. It is not a required part of the training for licensure as a therapist. Those who have had that training or certification have typically pursued it as post-graduate education.

This doesn’t mean that the therapist you are seeing isn’t competent or lax. What it does indicate is that his or her strength may not be in substance abuse, just like you might go to a general practitioner of medicine who may come across something that isn’t part of his or her expertise.

In this case the solution is simple. I would encourage you to attend at least six Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in your area. If your therapist had responded to your drinking issue this is likely to have been the recommendation, and it is the recommendation that others who have struggled with it would give you. The above link will direct you to a list of meetings. Find the open ones and go the six times before making a decision.

Let your therapist know that the issue has evolved to the point where you have decided to get some support through AA. Further I would tell your therapist about your disappointment in her not seeing your need. My guess is this is where the real work in your therapy is, and your therapist will likely pick up on that and help you through it.

Finally I would not simply move on to a new therapist. This is a real opportunity for you to work through an important dynamic about not being seen adequately, and leaving for another therapist won’t allow you to seize this opportunity.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Dec 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Therapist Isn’t Taking My Drinking Habit Seriously. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/12/02/therapist-isnt-taking-my-drinking-habit-seriously/