Can Counselling Help Alcoholics and Addicts Stop Drinking?

Before I go through my story I will cut to the chase – I don’t know if counselling can a practicing alcoholic or addict.  But I believe that it can help those close to them.

Alcoholism affects the people around the alcoholic, and these people can benefit greatly from outside help – and I mean help that comes from outside their family and friends, who will often have reached despair.

When I First Asked for Help

I had never heard of counselling.  So opened the Yellow Page – yes, this was pre Internet – and I looked for a psychologist.

I had no idea if I needed a psychologist or a psychiatrist.  So, I phone a psychologist.  I had a few criteria: not located where I lived – yes privacy issues, was male – yes issue there also, looked highly capable, and was a reasonable cost.

I wasn’t looking for someone to help me stop drinking or taking drugs, rather I was wanting my life to get better.  Looking back on that time from here – the outside circumstances of my life were good – inside my head and how I perceived things was a different matter.

So, I phone the psychologist and I started off with, “I don’t know if I need a psychologist or a psychiatrist, can you tell me the difference?”

A psychologist is cheaper he responded.  A sense of humor, that was a good first impression, so I made an appointment.

I have seen many counsellors since that first psychologist and the first appointments for me are always a pain.  Think of it as your life history in an hour.  This for me is very dull, this happened, that happened, etc, etc.  Trust building also, not something I was happy with most of my life.

A few months after I started seeing him I started to speak about alcohol being a problem.  Yes, it took me a while to get there.

His response was interesting.

I don’t think I can help with alcoholism, he told me, but I have a friend who goes to Alcoholics Anonymous, they may be able to help you.  This is not the response I was wanting.  I had been to AA and did not like it much, so had stopped.  In fact, by this time I had been to AA several times.

During our conversation about my drinking, sensing my reluctance to go to AA, he suggested a psychologist that specialized in alcoholism. So I made an appointment and went along to see him.

I find it interesting while writing this and looking back how resistant I was to stopping drinking.  Today it has been more than 14 years – which in the context of my past is just amazing.

Anyway, I went to see the new psychologist about drinking.  Again, I gave a history, and then listened to his thoughts on how to proceed.  One of his ideas went like this:

“we will go to a bar.  We will have a few drinks and then leave.”

Outwardly, I had no reaction.  It might have been better if I did.  But, I knew after that was said this was not going to work.  I was imaging to myself having a few drinks, having money in my pocket, and him trying to drag me out of a bar – one or both of us would have been hurt.

What I Didn’t Talk About

Looking back, and I was aware of some of this at the time. I did not talk about what was going on at the time.  Just for example: I could have spent money needed for home on getting drunk and I was signing cheques to get through to the end of the month.

But I wouldn’t be talking about that, I would be talking about something in the far distant past.  There was enough chaos going on in my daily life, but I thought I was hiding all that.

In a way, I wanted me fixed, and then I thought I would be able to fix everything else.

The wrong way around.

That was the extent of my interaction with counseling before stopping drinking.  I did not ever go looking for help to an addiction counselor or for the likes of CBT where there is now proven data that it can help, even before someone stops drinking.

Eventually, I stopped drinking.  There were about ten or eleven years between the psychologist above and me eventually reaching a point where I would accept anything to stop drinking.  Not pretty years, for me or anyone that became close to me.

The Early Years in Alcoholics Anonymous

I was not a fan of AA.

I had gone there many, many times over the years, and here I was again.  I disliked almost everything about it: the people, the group settings, the program, the steps, the idea of a sponsor.

In addition to all that, I did not think I would stop drinking.

So, I turned up to meetings – at least one a day – and left without saying hello to anyone.  After 4 weeks I was surprised I was still sober.  And now I was also scared.  I felt like I had something to lose – 4 weeks without a drink, maybe I could build on that.

People asked me to go for coffee after the meetings, I declined.  The main motivation was: what if they bored me, how could I get away, would I have to sit there and listen to them?

Eventually, I started doing the coffee thing after meetings and learned to avoid the people I found boring – too many.

I had no intention of getting a sponsor or starting the AA steps, commonly known as the program of recovery.

But, after about six months sober I knew I needed help.  Well, I think I knew I needed help long before that, but held out as long as possible.  That state of mind is now really interesting to me.  Knowing that I needed help, knowing where it is, and refusing to ask – not how I would act now.

At the same time some of the people I had coffee with told me about a group lecture about alcoholism.  That was how I remember it being sold to me.  Essentially, it was a ten week program that led onto a group therapy program.  I went along and noticed that I was just like many others.  The path I had taken, things I did, and the feelings about myself and the world.  I don’t know why I wasn’t getting the same vision in AA – I know others have.

Therapy & Counselling After Getting Sober

I have seen several counsellors since stopping drinking.  I have lived in a couple of different countries which accounts for the number of therapists.  But the longer I stay sober the problems I deal with are of a different nature.

In the early years, I just had problems adjusting to life without drink.  My reactions were not the reactions I wanted to have – anger was one of the main problems.  I see that now as being defensive about pretty much everything with an inability to say I don’t know, I was wrong, and I am sorry.

The more solid I am internally the less these things are a problem, the more grounded I am is a good way to describe it.

Much of the counselling I attended was person-centered therapy.  I spent many hours talking about myself, my feelings, and my perception of life in general.  This helped tremendously.

A few years back though I reached a point where I started to think my progress was now very slow.  I wondered what benefit there was to continue talking about this area.

My thoughts on counseling have now changed somewhat.  I am now a firm believer that person centered was great for me, and could be of help for everyone in my situation.  But there comes a time where CBT and pushing for change no matter what the feeling are is a better place for me to be.

I now believe that AA’s 12 steps are a type of cognitive behavioral therapy.

  • 4th step – making an inventory
  • 5th step – sharing this
  • 6th & 7th step tackling personal defects
  • 9th making amends
  • 10, 11, & 12 staying on the right path by checking in

AA has forced me to face my biggest fears.  Listing what I think I have done wrong and facing these things – then going to make amends for them.  Just take a moment to think how enormous this is.

Understanding my character – what things do I react to the most negatively?  It is good to know.

By dealing with fears AA has taken away my biggest reason to drink again.

The combination of AA, the program, the people, and counseling has now enabled me to have an enjoyable life – now that was outside of my horizon.

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