A Brief Overview of Alcoholism

By American Psychological Association

When should someone seek help for alcoholism?

Individuals often hide their drinking or deny they have a problem. How can you tell if you or someone you know is in trouble? Signs of a possible problem include having friends or relatives express concern, being annoyed when people criticize your drinking, feeling guilty about your drinking and thinking that you should cut down but finding yourself unable to do so, and/or needing a morning drink to steady your nerves or relieve a hangover.

Some people with drinking problems work hard to resolve them, and often, with the support of family members and/or friends, these individuals are able to recover on their own. However, those with alcohol dependence usually can’t stop drinking through willpower alone. Many need outside help. They may need medically supervised detoxification to avoid potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms such as seizures. Once people are stabilized, they may need help resolving psychological issues associated with problem drinking.

There are several approaches available for treating alco-hol problems. No one approach is best for all individuals.

How can a psychologist help?

Psychologists who are trained and experienced in treating alcohol problems can be helpful in many ways. Before the drinker seeks assistance, a psychologist can guide the family or others in helping to increase the drinker’s motivation to change.

A psychologist can begin with the drinker by assessing the types and degrees of problems the drinker has experienced. The results of the assessment can offer initial guidance to the drinker about what treatment to seek and help motivate the problem drinker to get treatment. Individuals with drinking problems definitely improve their chances of recovery by seeking help early.

Using one or more of several types of psychological therapies, psychologists can help people address psychological issues involved in their problem drinking. A number of these therapies, including cognitive-behavioral coping skills treatment and motivational enhancement therapy, were developed by psychologists. Additional therapies include 12-Step facilitation approaches that assist those with drinking problems in using self-help programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). All three of these therapies–cognitive-behavioral coping skills treatment, motivational enhancement therapy, and 12-Step facilitation approaches–have demonstrated their effectiveness through well-designed, large-scale treatment trials. These therapies can help people boost their motivation to stop drinking, identify circumstances that trigger drinking, learn new methods to cope with high-risk drinking situations, and develop social support systems within their own communities.

Many individuals with alcohol problems suffer from other mental health conditions, such as severe anxiety and depression, at the same time. Psychologists can be very helpful for diagnosing and treating these “co-occurring” psychological conditions when they begin to create impairment. Further, a drinker in treatment may receive services from many health professionals, and a psychologist may play an important role in coordinating these services.

Psychologists can also provide marital, family, and group therapies, which often are helpful for repairing interpersonal relationships and for long-term success in resolving problem drinking. Family relationships influence drinking behavior, and these relationships often change during an individual’s recovery. The psychologist can help the drinker and significant others navigate these complex transitions, help families understand problem drinking and learn how to support family members in recovery, and refer family members to self-help groups such as Al-Anon and Alateen.

Because a person may experience one or more relapses and return to problem drinking, it can be crucial to have an appropriate health professional such as a trusted psychologist with whom that person can discuss and learn from these events. If the drinker is unable to resolve alcohol problems fully, a psychologist can help with reducing alcohol use and minimizing problems.

Psychologists can also provide referrals to self-help groups. Even after formal treatment ends, many people seek additional support through continued involvement in such groups.

Alcohol-related disorders severely impair functioning and health. But the prospects for successful long-term problem resolution are good for people who seek help from appropriate sources. Psychologists are applying the substantial knowledge they have to help people resolve alcohol problems, and they are working to make treatment services available wherever needed.

Article courtesy of the American Psychological Association. Copyright © American Psychological Association. Reprinted here with permission.

 

APA Reference
Association, A. (2007). A Brief Overview of Alcoholism. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/a-brief-overview-of-alcoholism/0001147
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.