Are you fond of drinking alcohol? By itself, this is not a problem. Lots of people drink occasionally, and they enjoy it as a way to connect with friends, workmates, and relatives. As long as you drink in moderation, there should be no issues.
But if your drinking becomes compulsive, it would change your behavior drastically. You may later find yourself unable to live life normally without alcohol. When this happens, you are experiencing alcohol addiction.
This condition, also known as alcoholism, affects more than 15 million adults in the United States alone. It also affects almost a million young people between the ages of 12 and 17.
Alcoholism can put you in grave danger. When you’re under the influence of alcohol, you are more prone to falling, blacking out, and getting into car accidents. Also, excess alcohol is poisonous to your body. Your liver will be severely damaged as a result. Alcoholism can lead to different types of cancer as well.
Thankfully, there are therapies available to treat alcoholism. Medications are one type of treatment, but they only address the biological issues. You need other therapies as well to manage the root causes of addiction.
One of these therapies is called cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. Much evidence from research shows that CBT is quite effective against alcohol addiction as well as any co-occurring mental health issues.
What does cognitive behavioral therapy do?
CBT was actually developed as a way to treat alcoholism. Thus, it has a long history of success in helping people suffering from this addiction.
The guiding principle in CBT is this: Addiction to substances like alcohol comes from your beliefs and coping mechanisms, not your outside environment. Mainly, negative thoughts are what trigger those urges to drink excessively.
In CBT, you will work hand-in-hand with your therapist to uncover the negative thoughts that lead to uncontrolled drinking. Once you’ve identified these, you and your therapist will develop new ways of responding to any troubling thoughts that cross your mind.
You will also need to practice those new behaviors regularly until they become habits. For that reason, your therapist will also give you ‘homework’ during the process. The more you actively participate in changing your behaviors, the more successful your recovery becomes.
Practicing these new skills will also help you apply them better in real-world situations later on. It trains your mind to know what to do. So, when you find yourself under stressful circumstances, you know exactly what to think, making it a lot easier to cope without alcohol.
How much time do I have to spend in cognitive behavioral therapy for alcoholism?
CBT is a goal-oriented therapy. In other words, you would set goals that you want to achieve at the end of the treatment. Once these goals are met, the process is done.
Compared to a full rehab program for alcoholism, CBT takes much less time to complete. Most people attend just 12 to 16 sessions before getting their desired results. But you can choose to attend more sessions, especially if you feel that there are other behaviors you need to change. Also, you may want extended support, so having extra CBT sessions would help.
How will cognitive behavioral therapy help me change my behaviors?
There are three main approaches to behavior change in CBT. The first one is called classical conditioning. Here, when two things are paired, experiencing one can trigger the craving for the other. For example, if you get invited to a party, you instantly crave for alcohol. Based on past experiences, you’ve learned to associate socializing with drinking, hence the trigger.
Your therapist will teach you about these associations and help you find ways to avoid alcohol triggers. This is one important and effective step for recovery.
The next approach is called operant conditioning. This comes after you’ve learned to identify the triggers for drinking alcohol. In this stage, you will devise strategies to intentionally avoid these triggers. Going back to the previous example – if your trigger is someone inviting you to a party. Instead of going, you can choose to do something else that brings you happiness, like staying home and watching a movie or reading a book. Doing things that make you happy releases dopamine and endorphins, which are the body’s feel-good hormones. In the end, those activities improve your mood while avoiding the urge to take alcohol. Positive reinforcement, such as rewards for staying sober, also works well. If someone commends you or gives you a reward for not drinking, you will instantly feel better. A good mood and high self-esteem will encourage you more to stay clean.
Last but not the least, there is modelling. In other words, it’s following the example of another person – usually someone who has successfully recovered from alcoholism. This person can act as your mentor, teaching you how he succeeded in his recovery process. A good example of this method is the sponsors in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Sponsors are those who have overcome their problematic drinking habits. Each member of AA then finds a sponsor, who would help them in their own journey of recovery.
What changes can I expect in my behavior?
As you go through cognitive behavioral therapy, your way of life would gradually change. Here are some things you can expect.
- Planning activities that do not put you at risk of craving for alcohol
- Learning ways to avoid relapse
- Recognizing and avoiding situations that are risky for alcohol abuse
- Coping with problems other than alcoholism
- Leaving situations that remind you of your drinking habits
- Recognizing your alcohol triggers and devising ways to deal with them
After CBT, having a drink will no longer be your default way of coping with stressful situations. Instead, you will have developed healthier ways of managing stress. You’d find that you don’t need alcohol anymore to feel good.
Also, your relationships with your family and friends will improve greatly. You can then live at peace with each other, without the influence of alcohol.