Types of Therapy for Alcoholism

by | Apr 4, 2023 | Addiction, Advices, Therapy

For most adults, moderate alcohol use — no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women and elder individuals— is relatively harmless. However, people with alcohol use disorders drink to excess, endangering both themselves and others.
Although severe alcohol problems get the most attention, even mild to moderate problems cause substantial damage to individuals, their families, and the community. Listed below is 5 types of therapy for treating alcoholism.

What is alcoholism?

People with alcoholism — technically known as alcohol dependence — have lost reliable control of their alcohol use. The American Psychological Association1 says that it doesn’t matter what kind of alcohol someone drinks or even how much: Alcohol-dependent people are often unable to stop drinking once they start. Alcohol dependence is characterized by tolerance (the need to drink more to achieve the same “high”) and withdrawal symptoms if drinking is suddenly stopped. Withdrawal symptoms may include nausea, sweating, restlessness, irritability, tremors, hallucinations and convulsions.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 6.2 percent of adults in the United States aged 18 and older had alcohol use disorder.2 For example, a government survey revealed that about one in five individuals aged 12 to 20 were current alcohol users and about two in five young adults, aged 18 to 25, were binge alcohol users and about one in 10 were heavy alcohol users.3

5 Types of Therapy for Alcoholism

There are several approaches available for treating alcohol problems. No one approach is best for all individuals. Ideally, one seeks professional advice on which one would work best for them, so that they do not waste time and resources on something which may not be tailormade for them. In this article, we will focus on 5 different types of therapy that can be useful for treating alcoholism.

  1. Hypnosis
  2. Family Therapy
  3. Non-12 step alcohol treatment programs
  4. Group Therapy near me
  5. Motivational Interviewing (MI) Therapy
  6. CBT Therapy (if MI therapy is hard to research in terms of treating alcoholism)
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1) Hypnosis

Hypnosis may not make a person stop drinking alcohol overnight, but it may be helpful. It works on the premise that if you believe you can stop drinking, you have a higher chance of success. Visualization helps your brain to imagine yourself drinking less, and this makes it easier to believe you’ve already done it.
Hypnosis does not involve any type of control; it involves putting you in a very relaxed state of consciousness, where all your attention will be focussed internally. Being in a very relaxed state, can make you more receptive to suggestions put forward by a trained professional.

Hypnotherapy, or the use of hypnosis in therapy, can also help bring about behavioral change for some people. Scientific research looking at hypnotherapy for alcohol use disorder is still limited, but it may be worth a try.

study4 looking at hypnotherapy for alcohol use disorder compared this treatment to motivational interviewing, a widely accepted treatment for substance use disorder.

This study involved 31 adults in an inpatient treatment program for alcohol use disorder. They were randomly assigned to two different groups. All attended group counseling and activities, but they also received 1 hour of individual therapy each week.

One group received motivational interview therapy, or treatment as usual. The other group received hypnotherapy instead.

Hypnotherapy, as used in this study, involved asking each participant to visualize themselves mastering urges to drink alcohol in various ways, such as:

  • Remaining calm in a situation when stress might trigger an urge to drink
  • Passing up a drink at a social event
  • Choosing not to enter a liquor store.

When following up on the study a year later, researchers found evidence to suggest the following:

  • All participants who responded to the follow-up reported a significant decrease in alcohol use.
  • Participants in the hypnotherapy group reported slightly less emotional distress.
  • Nine participants in the hypnotherapy group reported complete abstinence, as opposed to seven participants in the motivational interview group.

How does hypnotherapy work?

Here’s what you can expect when trying hypnotherapy for alcohol use:

You’ll discuss goals with your hypnotherapist. Do you want to drink less overall? Avoid binge drinking? Stop drinking entirely? They’ll also ask about your typical habits around alcohol use.
Your hypnotherapist will talk you through the process and make sure you feel comfortable.
When you’re ready, your therapist helps you enter a relaxed state, generally by helping you visualize soothing, peaceful images.
Your hypnotherapist may ask you to close your eyes or focus on something visually, such as a candle flame.

Once you feel fully relaxed, they help you visualize specific scenarios involving alcohol, like a time when you chose not to drink and felt good about it. Then, you imagine a situation, such as a stressful fight with your partner, and suggest potential coping methods that don’t involve alcohol.

Your therapist may also ask you to imagine and describe yourself in the future once you’ve successfully addressed your alcohol use. Once your hypnotherapist guides you through these suggestions and visualization exercises, they will speak calmly to help bring you out of the hypnotic state.
When you leave the hypnotic state, you’ll likely feel calm and peaceful. You’ll also remember what happened, including those visualizations of yourself achieving goals related to alcohol use.

ADHD Zoning Out, Therapy for Alcoholism

2) Family Therapy

Family therapy for addiction can be beneficial during the alcohol treatment process. A potentially effective approach for treating alcoholism involves healing family relationships. Spouses, children, siblings, parents, and other family members can all be negatively impacted by a person struggling with addiction; at the same time, the person with alcoholism may be triggered by existing problems in family relationships, which need to be tackled. Strong family support through addiction therapy helps those in recovery stay away from intoxicating substances. Family therapy can rebuild the family’s support structure, so everyone stays psychologically, emotionally, and behaviorally healthy.

How family therapy works?

Family therapy is a collection of interventions that use family strengths to enact change.

Adolescents whose therapy for alcoholism includes family therapy5 as part of their overall alcohol or drug treatment plan maintain abstinence longer than those who do not receive family therapy. In one study, 54.6 percent in family therapy maintained abstinence after treatment compared to 37.5 percent. Adolescents who participated in family therapy were also found to have greater overall improvement.

Family therapy is important for adults, too. Clients whose parents struggled with alcoholism themselves, can heal these co-occurring family issues by attending family therapy with their spouses and/or children. With adults, engaging a caring adult who has a close relationship with the client within a family therapy approach can strengthen the entire family system and support the person overcoming alcoholism.

Work on supporting the family system also helps prevent substance use disorders and mental illnesses from harming children’s lives as they grow. A family history of alcohol abuse increases the risk of future substance abuse and mental health struggles for children.

How do I find family therapy near me?

It might be hard to find a certified family therapist physically close by, but luckily a professional providing the same service through an online platform can be equally right for you. The therapist providing online therapy balances out the difficulties of distance, availability and affordability that may come with trying to find a therapist near you. Online professional therapy also offers the possibility to be matched to a therapist that is experienced, professional, empathetic and kind. Online therapy also provides a lot of flexibility. You can simply meet with the therapist online from the comfort of your own home or while commuting to or from work.

Therapy for Alcoholism

3)Non-12 step alcohol treatment programs

When an individual is struggling with heavy drinking or alcohol addiction and has found the 12-step program of alcoholics anonymous to be ineffective for them, they must explore the other options that are out there. Seeking the proper treatment that works for them is the key to a happier, addiction-free life. Fortunately, several alternatives to AA programs exist and can often yield high success rates to help the patient overcome addiction.

The standard AA program may lead the person to feel powerless against alcoholism and that there is a higher power that will provide support for them. Some people need a different approach that separates the addiction from them and shows them that they can leave that life behind. They need help to stop drinking without AA.

The main difference between a 12-step approach and AA alternatives is that most of the non 12-step programs do not use a “higher power” to assist the patient through the recovery process.

Instead, alternatives to 12-step programs will usually focus on education, self-reliance and empowering individuals with alcoholism to recover to total health. Non-12 step alcohol treatment programs are based on discoveries made through scientific research and clinical trials and clients can rest assured that their treatment has been tested and proven to work effectively.

Below is an overview of some common alternatives to 12-step programs and recovery programs that individuals with a substance abuse disorder may opt for.

SMART Recovery

The “SMART” stands for “Self-Management for Addiction Recovery.” The program uses a four-point system to help empower individuals, equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to overcome addiction effectively.
The Smart Recovery program uses four steps instead of 12. These four steps are realistic and research-based and are meant to help individuals understand how to get over their addiction and stay away from it. Then, it becomes easier for them to say no to their addiction.

Women For Sobriety

Women for sobriety is a non-profit organization that is one of the most popular alternatives to alcoholics anonymous and focuses specifically on female patients who have become a victim of alcohol or drug addiction. These non 12-step recovery programs work with a very specific 13-statement system to assist in the recovery from addiction and back to good health. Growth and positivity are generally the two major focus points of programs offered by Women for Sobriety.

Moderation Management

The program encourages self-help and helps the individuals find a balance on their own, where they can still drink but do so within a safe limit. It gives them more control over their drinking problem and teaches them to keep it from becoming an addiction.

HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol

HAMS is an all-inclusive platform that welcomes people who want to drink more safely, reduce the amount they drink, or quit cold turkey. This is an online program that’s peer-led and free of charge. Individuals that use it have access to live chats, forums, live group meetings, Facebook groups, and email groups to keep them on track with their own goals.


LifeRing meetings are another popular alternative to 12-step programs where addicts are encouraged to share their experiences with the group, along with the techniques that seem to be working most effectively to keep their health in mind while battling the addiction.
Each person is encouraged to continue strengthening the existing recovery system that they are using while also providing others with critical tips that could be helpful in their recovery from drug or alcoholism.
Studies show that some people respond better to treatment when they’re the ones that chose the said treatment.

SOS (Secular Organization for Sobriety)

SOS is a non 12-step recovery program with some things in common with the SMART recovery method. The SOS program does not hold on to just a single theory to explaining addiction and substance abuse recovery. Instead, the program uses the latest scientific research to develop recovery systems that work effectively. This program has been shown to be easy to follow and people can follow through with it in a fast way.

IGNTD Recovery

Group members have access to a recovery coach that can help them set goals and reach them. There is no pressure to hit a particular target in a certain amount of time, and slip-ups aren’t treated as an end-all type of situation. Instead, every kind of situation is dealt with compassion and for the overall improvement of the member.

4)Group Therapy

Support groups provide a safe space for individuals to be open and honest about their alcohol use disorder and any challenges they face. Alcohol support groups are places where individuals can receive advice and support for their addiction recovery. These groups can help people form coping skills and strategies that may prevent them from relapsing. Healthcare professionals may recommend group therapy as part of a treatment plan for addiction recovery.

Research6 suggests that support groups are more likely than other interventions to lead to complete abstinence from alcohol use.
Researchers showed that support groups form a social network that can help support abstinence from substance use. However, outside factors, such as a person’s motivation to abstain, can also determine how effective alcohol support groups are.

How do I find group therapy near me?

It might be hard to find group therapy physically close by, but luckily a professional providing the same service through an online platform can be equally right for you. Online therapy balances out the difficulites of distance, availability and affordability that may come with trying to find group therapy near you. Online professional therapy also offers the possibility to be matched to a therapist that is experienced, professional, empathetic and kind. Online therapy also provides a lot of flexibility. You can simply attend group therapy from the comfort of your own home or while commuting to or from work.

Therapy for Alcoholism

5)CBT Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that can help with treating alcoholism. A person learns to change their perceptions in a way that has a helpful effect on their behavior and mood. A therapist works with the client to identify goals and expected outcomes. CBT can help people find new ways to behave by changing their thought patterns.

The American Psychological Association7 explains that CBT relies on several beliefs, such as that:

  • Unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving can lead to psychological distress.
  • People can learn more beneficial ways of thinking and behaving.
  • New habits can relieve symptoms of mental and physical conditions and allow people to act in more beneficial ways.
The central theory is that problems arise from events and the meanings that people assign to them. Unhelpful thoughts can make it difficult for a person to function confidently in various situations. CBT can help a person make positive changes to how they feel and act. It can also equip people with coping strategies that help them deal with challenges. CBT aims to transform any ways of thinking and behaving that stand in the way of how a person would like to live their life. This involves identifying negative perceptions or distortions that are affecting behavior.
During a course of CBT, a person can learn to:

  • Develop an awareness of automatic, unhelpful thoughts
  • Challenge underlying assumptions that may be unhelpful
  • Distinguish between facts and unhelpful thoughts
  • Develop a more helpful way of thinking and seeing situations
During a typical course, a person:

  • Has regular one-on-one or group sessions, or a combination of both
  • Gets frequent feedback
  • Does role-playing activities
  • Learns ways to calm the mind and body
  • Has gradually increased exposure to the things they fear
  • Does homework assignments
  • Keeps a cognitive behavioral diary
  • Practices skills to promote positive behavioral change and growth
The above is an overview of the various approaches available for treating alcohol problems. No one approach is best for all individuals and as such one must seek professional advice on which approach would work best for them to maximize the benefits of treating alcoholism towards enjoying a healthier life.


1 Understanding alcohol use disorders and their treatment

2 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2018). “Alcohol Use Disorder.”

3 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 17-5044, NSDUH Series H-52). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from SAMHSA Data.

4 Effect of Hypnotherapy in Alcohol Use Disorder Compared to Motivational Interviewing: A Randomised Controlled Trial; Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy – Effect of Hypnotherapy in Alcohol Use Disorder Compared to Motivational Interviewing: A Randomised Controlled Trial (omicsonline.org)

5 Evidence-Based Treatments for Alcohol Use Disorders in Adolescents;

6 Alcoholics Anonymous and 12-Step Facilitation Treatments for Alcohol Use Disorder: A Distillation of a 2020 Cochrane Review for Clinicians and Policy Makers;

7 What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?; www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral

Therapy for Alcoholism


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