Can Alcohol Counseling Help?

Medically reviewed by Lauren Fawley , LPC
Updated March 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Excessive alcohol consumption is an issue that can be addressed through online counseling services. There are many different reasons a person might seek counseling sessions related to alcohol use and addiction. Contrary to popular belief, seeking help from health care providers for alcohol use does not mean someone necessarily has a substance use disorder, although those who do can benefit from counseling as well. 

There are many different ways people can relate to alcohol, and a trained therapist can help you examine your relationship with alcohol if you have concerns about it or would like professional support.

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Are you having difficulty with alcohol use?

What is therapy for substance use?

The most effective kind of mental health treatment is the kind that’s catered to the individual and their current needs and situation. That means alcohol counseling or addiction treatment may look different for different types of people. In general, however, alcohol counseling involves meeting with a therapist or other professional to discuss and work toward improving your relationship with substances. 

Substance use exists on a wide spectrum, from not drinking at all to clinical substance use disorder. If you feel concerned that your relationship with drinking may be unhealthy, you can contact an alcohol counseling service no matter where you fall on this spectrum. Some signs that you may want to consider alcohol counseling include:

  • You frequently end up drinking more than you planned to.
  • You find yourself craving alcohol.
  • You regularly give up other activities in order to drink.
  • You’ve developed a high tolerance.
  • You engage in risky behaviors when intoxicated.
  • You’re facing problems with work, relationships with family (including children), your health, or other parts of life because of drinking.
  • You want to or have tried to drink less without success.
About alcohol use disorder (AUD)

While not everyone who seeks alcohol counseling has substance use disorder, some do—and a trained mental health professional can help. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is defined as “a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences”. Risk factors include drinking from a young age, genetic predisposition within families, and a history of trauma, but anyone can develop AUD. Alcohol use disorder encompasses dependence and excessive use. The symptoms listed above may indicate that a person has AUD, but a trained mental health professional can do an evaluation, provide a clinical diagnosis, and develop an addiction treatment plan if needed. This treatment plan may include alcohol counseling involving aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Unhealthy substance use can have serious consequences for the individual as well as those around them, such as their friends and family. Some people even experience being angry drunk, which can negatively affect their relationships with their love ones. The physical and emotional issues brought on by AUD are the main reasons why getting treatment is so important. The United States Department of Health and Human Services notes that alcohol use has negative effects on human health. Some effects of heavy use or AUD may include:

  • Brain damage
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Various cancers
  • Increased risk of accidents and injuries (falls, car collisions, burns, drowning)
  • Liver problems
  • Fetal alcohol symptoms if exposed before birth
  • Violence
  • Trouble with work, money, relationships, or daily functioning
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Potential benefits of quitting alcohol

Cultivating a healthier relationship with alcohol or quitting drinking altogether has the potential to improve your life and health (both mental and physical) in a variety of ways. First, alcohol is a depressant or “downer,” meaning that it can make you feel more depressed—particularly if consumed regularly. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, alcohol use can lead to cognitive impairment in adults, including difficulty focusing and remembering information. Eliminating it can improve your mood as a result of a better chemical balance in the brain. 

Another benefit of cutting back or quitting is that you may reduce your risk of mental health disorders, like anxiety, as well as your risk of a number of health problems such as heart disease, cancer, cirrhosis, gastritis, dementia, and others. The sooner you seek treatment, the better your chances are of mitigating the risk of these health concerns. Finally, those who cut back on or quit drinking may also notice an increase in self-confidence, healthier relationships, healthier skin, improved memory, increased productivity, and better financial health. There can be many benefits to recovery from addiction.

Getting treatment for alcohol addiction

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 29.5 million people in the US experienced AUD in 2022. This low treatment rate is likely due to many factors, but treatment can be very effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control, alcohol screening and counseling can reduce the amount that someone drinks on occasion by 25%. If you’re concerned about your substance use, you deserve to seek the treatment or other support you may need during your recovery process, whether that is individual alcohol counseling with a therapist, group therapy sessions at community health centers, family therapy sessions, meetings with support groups, or additional resources like inpatient treatment. 

Common formats for substance use therapy

There are two common formats for alcohol counseling. Some may have a preference for one or the other, and some might benefit from doing both. First, there’s individual counseling. These sessions take place one-on-one between the patient and a therapist, social worker, or other psychology/mental health professional. They’ll work with you to examine the impact drinking is having on your life and come up with a plan for reducing or eliminating it from your life if needed. 

Group therapy is another common format for this type of counseling. This method of therapy revolves around the idea that talking to and being with other adults who are experiencing the same or similar challenges as you may help you to cope and overcome your own. It can also provide you with plenty of new information that can contextualize your experience and help you move forward.

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Are you having difficulty with alcohol use?

What counseling may include

Drug and alcohol counseling is usually centered around the goal of behavior modification, or helping you learn new skills and coping mechanisms for certain emotional triggers or thought patterns. Consuming liquor tends to start as a social activity or a mechanism for dealing with problems, but therapy might help you achieve sobriety and learn new ways of living your life without it. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which research suggests is an effective treatment for substance use disorders, is a particularly common approach that helps people to recognize and overcome unhelpful thought patterns. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also be used to treat many other mental health disorders.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a modality that psychiatrists, psychologists, and other health professionals can utilize to identify underlying issues that are leading to substance use problems. For example, a therapist may help a participant recognize that negative thoughts about their self-worth often prompt them to start drinking. By reframing this thought pattern, the individual may be able to avoid exacerbating a drinking problem, take another step toward recovery, and live a happier, healthier life. 

The type of professional help an individual receives may depend on the specific concerns they’re experiencing. Many therapists use holistic therapy—which typically focuses on an individual’s mental and physical well-being—when treating addiction. Other modalities include dialectical behavior therapy, rational emotive behavior therapy, and motivational interviewing. A therapist may utilize brief counseling or longer formats, depending on the client’s treatment and recovery goals. For example, someone with a dependence may want to become and stay sober, which may require more intensive treatment and frequent check-ins. 

Detoxification (“detox”) may also be necessary in situations where the body has developed a physical dependence. In this circumstance, the guidance of a medical professional (in addition to an alcohol counselor) is generally recommended since detox can be difficult and even dangerous to do alone. A detox may require medication or inpatient treatment at a rehab facility in more serious cases, as side effects can include shaking, insomnia, confusion, and even hallucinations and convulsions in the most severe situations. Withdrawal symptoms can last for about a week and can be treated with medication, which is another reason it is encouraged to have the support and guidance of a medical doctor during this process to ensure safety and the prevention of more serious consequences. 

Your alcohol counselor will likely be able to refer you to a safe detox facility that accepts your health insurance, or a facility that takes uninsured patients. 

Finding substance us screening and a counselor

For an individual who is beginning the process of evaluating and potentially adjusting their relationship with alcohol, connecting with the right trained professional can be a major help. Alcohol counselors can treat alcoholism and help therapy participants take an honest look at how alcohol may be affecting their lives. A counselor can provide an alcohol screening to determine whether further testing, a diagnosis, and treatment are necessary. These mental health professionals can then come up with an action plan and provide support during the recovery journey. 

You can find treatment providers in your local area—whether they’re therapists, psychiatrists, social workers, or other types of mental health professionals—usually with a quick internet search. Family members and friends may also be able to make recommendations.

If there are limited options in your area or you prefer to seek treatment from the comfort of your own home, online therapy is another option. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, for example, you can be matched with a licensed therapist whom you can meet via phone, video, and/or chat. A growing body of research supports the efficacy of online therapy in general, and one study found that online therapy was just as effective as in-person therapy for alcohol use specifically. The rate of attrition was also similar to that of in-person therapy, and 82% of participants said they would recommend online therapy to friends and family members.

Therapist reviews

Below, you’ll find reviews of BetterHelp counselors from individuals who have sought their help in improving how they relate to alcohol.

“Rebecca is a phenomenal counselor, her background and experience in a few areas like the judicial system and drug and alcohol treatment offers great insight for those who may have loved ones working through those issues. They are highly available, always willing to open up additional appointments if you can’t find a time that works for you, respond quickly through chat. I would highly recommend anyone who is interested in working with cognitive behavioral therapy to reach out and see if they are available for a chat.”

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“Samantha Toney has been a very positive influence in my life since I began counseling with BetterHelp. She helped me navigate my way through the end of my relationship and coping with my partner’s addiction as well as becoming a single mother. I highly recommend her to anyone going through struggles in life no matter what they may be.”

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“She checks in with me if I have not gotten back to her. Which is wonderful. I do not feel judged and feel better and see there are healthy solutions to my stress anxiety and substance abuse.”

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Takeaway

If you’ve started to notice that alcohol is having a negative impact on your life, you may benefit from some form of alcohol counseling. A trained professional who has experience helping people explore their drinking habits can provide support as you navigate this situation. Treatment for alcohol use disorder and other alcohol-related challenges can lead to successful recovery. Resources like alcohol counseling—through online therapy or other means—can help those with concerns about alcohol live happy, fulfilling lives. 

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