Do you think you have a problem with alcohol or drugs? Can Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) help?

Many people in the UK experience problems with alcohol and/or drug use. Some people are not fully aware they have developed an alcohol/drug problem or deny they have a problem. Others may be aware they are having difficulties with alcohol/ drugs yet feel reluctant to reach out for help.

Alcohol is perhaps the drug that is most widely available. Guidelines suggest that men drink less than 21 units of alcohol per week and women less than 14 units (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 1986). Alcohol intake above these levels is considered hazardous and potentially damaging to a person’s health. More than eight units of alcohol per day for men and six units for women constitutes binge drinking (Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, 2004).

Alcohol/drug issues are also considered to be problematic when after time a person eventually has to adapt their life to accommodate their alcohol/drug habit. For example, an alcohol problem could be compromising ability to function well at work or negatively impacting on personal relationships. Everyone is different, and how alcohol/drugs impact on a person’s life can differ widely.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has proven to have a high treatment success rate for addressing alcohol/drug issues (Raistrick, Heather & Godfrey, 2006). Alcohol/drug issues are believed to emerge as socially acquired habits, associated with particular people and environments. For example, alcohol use may have initially resulted from peer pressure to fit in with what others were doing (Spada, 2010). The problem can then develop from there.

Alcohol/drugs are believed to offer some short-term benefit for a person’s mood. Otherwise why use drugs or alcohol in the first place? Alcohol/drug use can provide a temporary distraction from underlying uncomfortable emotions (e.g. anxiety, boredom). Some emotions may feel difficult to bare or are even lurking slightly outside of awareness to begin with. However, it is this temporary relief from uncomfortable emotions which helps maintain the habit over time. In the long-term, the temporary effects of alcohol/drugs wears off and difficult emotions will return and remain a problem. With regular use alcohol/drug habits can develop and their impact on an individual’s physical and mental health can worsen.

CBT treatment for alcohol/drug issues aims to challenge urges to use alcohol/drugs along with the perceived positive benefits they hold. Treatment provides people with skills to successfully cope with situations where they feel they are more likely to use alcohol/drugs. Eventually an individual develops confidence and strength to live life with less need or desire for alcohol/drugs. Treatment can also help a person manage any emotional issues which may be underlying alcohol/drug use.

It is common to initially feel a bit apprehensive about seeking help for alcohol/drug issues. Hopefully, if a person is willing to take that first step to seek help and is committed to taking control over their habit then this lays the foundations for positive change to come about.

Note: Prior to beginning CBT treatment it is important to assess the extent of the alcohol/drug habit. It may be necessary to consult a medical doctor (e.g. your GP) to safely advise on how to cut down and sufficiently detox from alcohol/ drugs before committing to CBT treatment.

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