The Decision to Get Help

Overcoming an addiction to alcohol can be a decidedly difficult process that often requires the professional supervision of a health care provider or addiction specialist. Accepting that one is incapable of dealing with this disorder on one’s own may not be easy, but the sooner a person admits that he needs help, the greater the likelihood is that his recovery experience will be a successful one.

Barriers to Treatment

Many individuals are hesitant about receiving treatment for alcohol-related issues because they have been exposed to common misconceptions about the nature of the treatment itself. For example, some people mistakenly believe that alcoholism is a personal or moral failure, and that asking for help is an admission of weakness. In reality, alcoholism is a disease just like diabetes or asthma – and just as no amount of wishful thinking will help a person with those two conditions, neither will attempts to “try harder” release a person from the bonds of alcoholism.

people may believe that because previous attempts (or multiple attempts) to get and stay sober were unsuccessful, that they are somehow beyond help. Again, this is simply not true. Alcoholism is a complex condition that is predicated upon and exacerbated by myriad internal and external factors – and, as such, can be difficult to treat. But previous “failures” in no way mean that one is condemned to a life of alcohol dependence. Getting help today – regardless of previous treatment experiences – is the smartest decision an alcoholic individual can make.

Fundamentals of Treatment

Treatment for alcohol dependence can take a variety of forms, including individual counseling, group therapy, medical intervention (including hospitalization if necessary), residential treatment, outpatient therapy, participation in a support group, and continued aftercare. The nature of the treatment plan that is developed for each person depends upon a variety of factors, including age, gender, personal history, and the severity of the person’s addiction.

When a person first discusses concerns about alcohol abuse or dependence with his health care provider, he will most likely be asked several questions designed to determine whether or not a diagnosis of alcohol dependence is appropriate. By answering these questions as completely and accurately as possible – and by agreeing to whatever additional diagnostic procedures the health care provider recommends – the patient can put himself is the best possible position to address his challenges and get the help he needs.

Though the health care provider, counselor, or therapist will likely have far more expertise in addiction treatment than the patient does, it is essential for the patient to play an active role in planning for her treatment, recovery, and rehabilitation. She should be prepared to ask whatever questions she has about the process, should request clarification whenever necessary, and should be involved in all decisions related to her care. 

Because the support of family and friends (or the lack thereof) can be an essential component in achieving lifelong sobriety, many treatment facilities and programs incorporate family therapy, marital therapy, and other options into their recovery plans. Depending upon the person being treated and the resources available, additional options may include legal assistance, job training, parenting classes, childcare, and a variety of other support services.

The 12 Steps

The vast majority of alcoholism recovery and rehabilitation programs incorporate the 12-step model that is central to the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) philosophy. These steps, which were first published in the 1939 book Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism, are often expressed as follows:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Not every recovering alcoholic responds to the AA approach, of course, and other techniques  and principles have also proved themselves over the years. What is most important is matching each patient with a recovery philosophy that puts him in the optimum position for pursuing lifelong sobriety.

The Cure for Alcoholism

Though millions of individuals have received treatment that has allowed them to regain control over their lives and end the devastation previously caused by their alcoholism, the word “cure” is rarely if ever applied to this condition. The truth is that even alcoholic individuals who have been sober for decades remain at risk for relapse.

The good news is that alcoholism can be controlled, and does not preclude the pursuit of a healthy, substance-free lifestyle. But for many people, this requires a continued avoidance of alcohol, and a continuous commitment to the principles of healthy recovery.

How to Get Help

Primary care physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, local alcohol-awareness organizations, the local library, and the Internet are all excellent sources of information for individuals who are looking for help to overcome dependence upon alcohol.