Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Alcoholism: What To Expect

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Australia is one of the top 30 countries in the world for alcohol consumption. A 2005 report suggested that one in nine Australians drink at a risky level, which accounts for roughly 13 percent of the population. An increasingly popular treatment option for Australian alcoholics is cognitive behavioural therapy. If you're considering this type of treatment, find out what to expect, and learn more about the steps you can take to improve the outcome.

The problems that alcohol addiction can cause

Alcohol addiction can lead to a variety of health problems. Studies show that, over the long-term, excessive alcohol consumption can cause breast cancer, stroke, obesity, infertility and high blood pressure. Experts also warn that alcoholism can lead to memory loss, mood swings, depression, dementia and serious mental health problems.

What's more, alcoholics don't just suffer with health issues. Alcoholism leads to many social problems. Antisocial behaviour, binge drinking and alcohol-fuelled violence all drain precious resources and create serious issues for their victims. Worryingly, one study suggests that children become the victims of alcohol-related harm in more than 20 percent of Australian homes. Unsurprisingly, the Australian government invests significant resources to try to deal with these problems.

The principles of cognitive behavioural therapy

Alcoholics generally find it difficult to admit they have a problem. Many addicts convince themselves that they drink responsibly or that they are able to deal with the issue, but this is rarely true. Many alcoholics develop surprisingly complex coping strategies to remain convinced they are problem-free. For example, an alcoholic may decide that he or she doesn't have a problem because his or her drinking sessions never start before 4 p.m.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) attempts to tackle this type of behaviour. A counsellor will try to find out how and why you think or act a certain way, so he or she can help you change the way you do things. In the earlier example, your therapist would help you understand that the time you start drinking doesn't generally have any bearing on the measure of the problem you face. He or she would also set out to find out why the time of day became so important to you.

At its core, CBT aims to help people understand that feelings and behaviours influence actions. Many alcoholics blame external events on their drinking. CBT helps them understand why this isn't reasonable and aims to teach them skills that can help them break the cycle.

CBT components

CBT generally includes two stages.

Functional analysis. A therapist will work with you to find out what you do and why you do it. This stage is often the hardest. Honesty is crucial, and it may take some time for your therapist to really understand your issues. In some cases, patients find these early sessions uncomfortable. It's often easy to quit at this stage, but you need to invest the time in the full process.

Skills training. Once your therapist understands why you do something, he or she can help you develop new habits that change your behaviours. For example, certain triggers can lead to alcohol consumption. CBT can help you cope with them in a different way. A therapist can even help you completely avoid these triggers.

Duration of the process

CBT is normally a short-term process. A therapist will help you focus on specific goals within a defined period, so the process is more intensive than other types of treatment. In many cases, you can expect to complete a course of CBT over three to four months. It's important to note that regular sessions (and homework) could take up a lot of your time during this period.

The skills you learn during CBT can help you cope with everyday life long after you finish your treatment. Indeed, this is the main aim of therapy. Awareness of the triggers that lead to drinking can help you make permanent changes that influence the rest of your life.

CBT won't work for everyone. The structured nature of CBT means that the treatment isn't necessarily suitable for somebody with a complex mental health problem. This form of therapy cannot always address the underlying problem, either. For example, long-standing, underlying mental health issues (such as bullying) may need more intensive types of treatment.

Nonetheless, CBT has a high success rate. Several studies show that CBT is a successful way to treat alcohol and drug abuse problems. Doctors also agree that CBT can work effectively alongside other treatments, including medication.

When you consult counselling services about your alcohol problem, he or she may recommend CBT. CBT helps many alcoholics develop skills and techniques to cope with the problem and can make a lifelong difference, but the process needs your full commitment and determination.