Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is an addiction to and physical reliance on alcohol. This condition involves compulsive alcohol abuse, loss of control over how much alcohol is consumed, and withdrawal symptoms or a negative emotional state when not drinking.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that there are about 16 million people in the United States who struggle with AUD. There must be a wide range of options for these individuals to get the help they need, so they can avoid long-term health problems and early death. One of these options is individual alcohol abuse counseling, which can create a supportive environment to help you learn coping mechanisms for stress and ways to avoid relapse.
What Is Individual Therapy for Alcohol Addiction?
In general, individual therapy involves one-on-one work between a therapist and client. It is the most popular form of therapy for many mental and behavioral conditions. The therapist and client can build trust and rapport, which supports the individual’s recovery process. Psychotherapy involves exploring one’s personality, including past experiences and present behaviors, and creating new processes to address conflicts, defense mechanisms, and maladaptive behaviors.
Individual therapy for alcohol abuse focuses on ways to stop abusing the drug, build skills to manage cravings or stress, and stick to the recovery plan. Group counseling, on the other hand, works with several people who are undergoing psychotherapy and working on various stages of recovery. Behavioral treatments are the most common evidence-based approaches to addiction counseling because they provide a framework to create steps to understand when cravings are triggered and how to manage these without relapsing.
Types of therapeutic approaches to alcohol addiction, which have proven effective, include the following:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This therapy was originally developed specifically to prevent relapse among people struggling with AUD. The central focus of this form of therapy involves finding methods to anticipate problems through understanding personal patterns and then developing healthier coping strategies.
- Contingency Management: Like CBT, Contingency Management involves understanding personal patterns and developing better coping solutions, but there are tangible rewards, like vouchers, to reinforce positive behavioral changes.
- Community Reinforcement: A type of therapy that has proven effective for both alcohol and cocaine addiction treatment, Community Reinforcement focuses on helping clients improve family relationships, learn skills to reduce drug abuse relapse, get vocational counseling or training, and find new social networks. This form of therapy may or may not involve vouchers or similar types of rewards.
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy: This approach focuses on resolving ambivalence about addiction treatment through a quick, initial session with several questions, a review of personal or behavioral issues that have been caused by alcohol abuse, and subsequent therapy sessions that build a plan to stay focused on recovery after therapy ends.
What Will a Standard Therapy Session Look Like?
Once an appropriate individual therapist is found, the first session will involve assessment, including going over your records and your current addiction treatment plan. You may begin discussing what you want out of individual therapy and create a specific plan to support your alcohol recovery. You and your therapist will discuss your ongoing symptoms.
After the first session, a typical session may include reviewing discussions from the previous session, especially if it involved specific “homework.” Then, you may discuss anything that came up between sessions, especially recurring symptoms and how they were handled. Your therapist may help you work through stresses and perhaps find specific calming methods to ease cravings. Together, you may evaluate how your overall treatment plan is working and decide if there are additional steps to take. You may be assigned homework for the coming week or two, including writing in a journal, working on a mindfulness practice for a few minutes every day, joining a social group, or getting involved in a hobby to avoid alcohol or cravings for alcohol.
You should always ask questions as they arise, and be open and honest about feelings that come up. If something about the process doesn’t work, it is important to speak up about how you feel.
What Is an Overall Alcohol Addiction Treatment Plan?
For some people, individual alcohol counseling may be the only needed approach to changing behaviors; for others, individual therapy is one aspect of the overall treatment plan. Family therapy and couples counseling are also increasingly important aspects of treatment because they help to create a healthy support network for you.
Other steps in the overall treatment plan, which an individual counselor may work on, can include:
- Creating a list of short-term and long-term goals
- Listing problems and a breakdown of steps to solve or manage them
- Developing a list of objectives or specific skills you can use to achieve your goals
- Creating a list of interventions in the event of a lapse or relapse
- Making a list of safe people to call for support in the event of intense cravings, a lapse, or a relapse
An individual alcohol counselor can help you keep track of these things, both in their own notes and in your own journaling. This can help you measure the effectiveness of treatment and whether certain approaches are working for you.
Is Individual Therapy More Effective than Group?
Adding individual therapy to a rehabilitation program that usually focuses on group therapy can be an important step to enhancing the effectiveness of overall treatment. An individual therapist can also be a good short-term intervention in the event of a lapse or relapse. They can refer you to treatment services, including co-occurring disorders treatment, group therapy, mutual support groups, and complementary treatment.
Individual therapy may be more effective for you than group therapy, depending on your needs; however, in general, it is not necessarily more effective than group therapy. Using both approaches in combination is the most likely approach to bolster success, especially if you struggle with co-occurring mental health and alcohol abuse problems. Managing withdrawal symptoms and mental health with medications is also important. In addition, finding ways to stay active, stress-free, and emotionally supported will support recovery.