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Psychosocial Treatments for Alcohol Use Disorder

Other Resources and General Tips

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.)

A.A. is not a psychological treatment for alcohol use disorders. Rather, it is a nonprofessional, self-supporting international fellowship program which offers group support to men and women who have had a drinking problem. A.A. meetings provide members with acceptance, understanding, forgiveness, confrontation, and a means for positive identification. New A.A. members are asked to admit to a problem, give up a sense of personal control over the disease, do a personal assessment, make amends, and help others. Telephone numbers are exchanged, and new members pick “sponsors” (more experienced members who guide them through their recovery). Although Alcoholics Anonymous does not appeal to all alcoholics, it is obvious that the A.A. approach has been extremely successful with many.

A.A. is the most-frequently utilized resource by alcoholics aiming to become sober. In addition, it has proven to be a powerful avenue of intervention for many. Reasons for its effectiveness may include cultivation of social support and member-to-member mentorship through sponsors. Components of its “12-Step” program, such as acknowledging and relinquishing control over one’s addiction, use of prayer and spiritual connectedness, and making amends to others, may also contribute to some members’ sobriety success. Given its popularity and cost-effectiveness, physicians routinely refer patients with alcohol use problems to A.A. Psychologists also generally support their patients’ attendance at A.A. as a socially-supportive adjunct to psychotherapy.


General Tips

There are a variety of ways to treat addictive problems, including alcohol use disorders.

Here are some general tips for therapists/counselors, patients, and family of patients:

  • Become knowledgeable about available options for treating alcohol addiction. Choose a form of treatment that has at least some research supporting its effects. Check for the existing list on APA’s website.
  • There is no “right” method that works for everyone. Every intervention will have its strengths and limitations. Tailor choice of treatment to the individual patient’s risk factors for drinking. For example, ABCT may be ideal if the patient’s relationships have served as a trigger in the past for their problematic use patterns.
  • Wondering whether an individual needs therapy if they have already gotten sober? Outpatient psychosocial treatments are especially essential in cases where the patient’s environment and relationships have served as a trigger in the past for their problematic use patterns.
  • Substance use disorders are among the most difficult to treat. Try a variety of strategies and alternatives when a given treatment has failed.
  • Put simply, a patient is most likely to comply with a treatment they find tolerable and attractive. Patients should gravitate towards strategies that reinforce their successes.
  • The patient should be the greatest advocate of their recovery from an alcohol use disorder. Treatments are most successful when they instill a sense of personal responsibility, capability, and motivation in the patient.
  • The patient should take advantage of social support to heighten their abstinence success. Communicate openly and frequently to those who give you encouraging support. Another way to leverage social support is by developing new connections, such as through A.A. or in other support groups among fellow individuals recovering from alcohol use disorders. Al-Anon is an organization for the spouses of alcoholics that is organized along the same lines as Alcoholic Anonymous. Alateen has been developed for the children of alcoholics so that they may better understand their parents’ alcoholism.


Johnna Medina, Ph.D.

Johnna Medina, Ph.D. is an author, researcher, and graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently completing her postdoctoral research fellowship at Stanford School of Medicine.

APA Reference
Medina, J. (2018). Psychosocial Treatments for Alcohol Use Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 14, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 24 Oct 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 24 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.