Can Counselling Help Alcoholism or The Alcoholic?

Addiction to the consumption of….. alcohol. The definition of alcoholism sounds ominously benign.

Addiction to drinking lacks the shock factor of heroin, the glamour of cocaine and the glitz of crystal meth. Alcohol is legal, readily available and synonymous with everything good in life. Fridays, dinners, weddings, Christmas – Alcohol lives openly in happy events.

From the wine of Holy Communion to the can in the hand of the homeless man,alcohol is the liquid equivalent of the pet dog. It has adapted, adjusted and remained desirable to humans through the ages. At the end of a hard day, many of us look forward to coming home, walking the dog then settling with a can or a glass of the good stuff. What’s not to love?

Counseling – Pay Me to Listen

Therapy has come out of the closet. Not long ago, the therapist was a blonde woman in a pencil skirt who lived in American Soap Operas on television. Nowadays they are everywhere. Pain Control, Eating Disorders, Debt, Depression, and Addiction – There is a specialist counselor for every niche of human experience.

Talk Therapy is prescribed as often as the antibiotics of yesteryear. Overuse rendered the pills ineffective. Physical infections once cured made a treatment resistant come back. Talk Therapy seems to work for many afflictions today.I hope it continues to do so. Time will tell.

Science of Alcoholism and Addiction

People are seldom born with addictions. It is broadly agreed that addiction to alcohol is partly due to genetics and partly down to our life experiences or choices. Opinions differ around the ratio, but science cites nature and nurture as joint causes. Some born with the drinking gene become alcoholics due to their environment. Others born with the same gene never drink alcohol.

I believe that each person is a lot more than the sum of his or her gene soup and upbringing. People seldom fit into the boxes we choose for them. Personal experience of people I have known suggests that each person who has a drinking problem is unique. They have nothing in common with each other than a reduced ability to curb their alcohol intake.

Problem Drinking

If gout is the disease of kings, then problem drinking embraces democracy. Alcoholics come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, and ethnicities. If this disease hasn’t affected your life yet, then chances are that it is about to. We all have likes and inclinations. It doesn’t take much to tip these penchants into addictions.

Life is stressful. Family structures have changed. Pain is as unpleasant as it is unavoidable. When life bites, some of us look to yoga, religion or exercise to relax and feel better. Others look to the bottle to relive good times, take the edge off their pain or to lift their mood.

Falling into the bottle is far easier than climbing the glass wall back out.

Climbing the Glass Wall

Pondering why people struggle to control their drinking is interesting, but people negatively affected by uncontrolled drinking just want to regain control. They want to start climbing that glass wall.

The pathway to where they are ready to stop drinking is littered with damaged relationships, shattered dreams, broken promises and a shredded sense of self-worth. Gutters of guilt often overflow before the drinker is ready to accept help.

Excessive alcohol consumption changes behavior, personality and affects self-control. One problem drinker affects entire families. Often, others realise the seriousness of the problem before the alcoholic himself. Many suffer through the actions or non-actions of a drinker who has lost control.

When alcoholics reach out, their families are usually ready to walk away from the drama of life with an alcoholic.

Counselling First

Counseling is often helpful, initially, to friends and family.

Alcoholics are people like you and I. Their inability to control problem drinking affects their behavior and causes disruption and damage to their own and their family’s lives. The drinker remains a person and a lot more than just their drinking problem.

Sourcing drink requires creativity at best, deception or theft at worst. Drinkers are often charming, loved and the life and soul of the party. What goes up must comes down. Potentially unpredictable behaviour results in them becoming challenging to live with.

Alcoholics can become erratic and prone to behaviours ranging from irresponsible to violent. The nearest and dearest are left with the alcoholic after the party ends. They live through the hangover and the aftermath of drink related binge spending.

Counselling can help families cope with their emotions and become more confident in dealing with the alcoholic. The drinking alcoholic cannot be helped until they stop. In extreme cases where the law is broken, the state might intervene. This can provide a wake-up call if the drinking person is ready. Some drinkers are never prepared to tackle their problem drinking.

Can Counselling help With Alcoholism?

I believe it can provide a safe space to let off steam, rationalise and the opportunity to flag any safety concerns. A well-chosen counsellor working with children can lessen the chances of the cycle repeating (children turning to drink). This is brought about by dealing with emotions as they arise and helping people make sensible choices.

Can Counselling help Alcoholics?

Sometimes. People are individuals. Counselling is more likely to benefit people who have started to become problem drinkers.

Long term problem drinkers often need a few different layers of help to be available to them at the right time. Once these drinkers have made the decision to quit, then they can be helped. The approach needs to be tailored to the individual and could include any combination of drug, talk, exercise, CBT, Reiki, relaxation and spiritual therapy or guidance.

Counselling could help a problem drinker work out what strategy is more likely to work for him or her personally. Drinking is a strong addiction that requires a personalised fighting campaign. Counselling by itself might be some help, but I believe the best chance of success would be more likely from a multi-pronged approach that centres on the individual.

It is simplistic to apply one solution for all, and the answer to any question that asks whether X can help alcoholics or alcoholism will always be …. Sometimes.

Insight Matters is a counselling service based in the centre of Dublin.  They offer services that include: individual therapy, relationship counselling, group therapy, and low cost counselling.

The Psychology of Alcoholism

The definition of alcoholism can vary depending on if you are viewing it from a medical or treatment viewpoint. The general definition for alcoholism is when an individual has a compulsion to consume alcohol without regard for any consequences. In medical terminology, alcoholism is a chronic disease that is characterized by a person’s preoccupation with alcohol and their inability to control their alcohol consumption. In medical terms, an alcoholic will experience a change in their cognitive thinking and disregard any possible consequences for their behavior.

Alcoholism is a serious problem with no clear cut single explanation as to why some people become alcoholics. There are genetic factors, psychological factors and social factors that can contribute to a person’s alcoholism. It is important to remember that not all alcohol consumption necessarily equals alcoholism. In order to suffer from alcoholism, one must consume alcohol however the frequency, degree, quantity, and regularity are what can change alcohol consumption into alcoholism.

Genetic Factors:

An individual’s family history can play a big part in their alcohol consumption. If the family has a history of alcoholism, then an individual may have a predisposition towards chronic alcohol consumption. There is a risk factor for those who are genetically related to alcoholics.

It is possible for an individual to have a genetic test done to determine their predisposition towards alcoholism. This test can isolate an allele that is related to alcoholism. While this allele cannot predict who will become an alcoholic, those individuals who posses this allele may have a more genetic tendency towards addiction in general, including an addiction to alcohol.

Psychological Factors:

Most behavior is learned, including addictive behavior. Understanding how an individual learned a negative behavior can help figure out how to get that individual to unlearn the unhealthy behavior. An individual may have also learned in their lifetime that their consumption of alcohol is a rewarded behavior which would explain their continued use of the substance. The feeling they receive from the alcohol itself may even be the reward for the individual. Through either an internal or external environment, an individual may find that they crave alcohol especially when experiencing the symptoms of withdraw.

In addition to learned behavior, personality traits as well as emotional and cognitive factors can influence an individual’s decision to consume alcohol. Research has shown that individuals with certain personality traits could be predisposed to becoming alcoholics in their lifetime. Those who are anti-social or have a neurological issue could be at-risk for alcoholism. Some of the neurological issues at-risk are:

  • impulsiveness
  • aggressiveness
  • psychopathic tendencies
  • childhood hyperactivity
  • lack of inhibition
  • emotional instability

Social Factors:

In many social settings, it is normal behavior for people to gather together to consume alcohol. Alcohol consumption is related to an elevated mood and feelings of stress reduction. Consuming alcohol with others in a social situation could lead to social rewards, while avoiding it can lead to social rejection. Many individuals want to comply with the normal social standards in their culture to avoid any rejection of their peers.

In younger individuals, many have preconceived expectations as to what will happen when they drink alcohol. These expectations can lead to their decision to consume alcohol. A study has found that many teens find that it is easier to socialize with their peers when alcohol is involved. Studies have found that these same teens who believe it easier to socialize with alcohol have an increased rate of alcohol consumption compared to their peers without that same belief.

Psychological Treatment for Alcoholism:

Alcoholism is a serious substance abuse problem that one can seek treatment for however the individual must be willing to accept the help in order to be successful during treatment. If an individual goes into treatment thinking that their recovery is impossible, then it is more likely that they will not put forth the effort into their recovery. In many treatment centers, it is required for an addict to work with a psychologist. In working with a psychologist, they may be able to change the negative thoughts they have and their behavior will change by default.

Some individuals turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism which can ultimately lead to their alcoholism. Seeking out a psychotherapist to help in treatment of alcoholism can lead to the individual learning better coping skills and how to deal with their stress in a healthier way.


The brain is the most complex organ in your body and is heavily affected by the use of alcohol. Proper function of the brain is needed for survival however alcohol will affect the brain’s chemistry. However, it is possible to receive help for alcoholism. Cognitive or psychological therapy and detoxification programs are the most widely used forms of treatment for alcoholism. Risk factors such as family genetics, psychological influences, and social factors can contribute to an individual’s alcoholism. Researchers are working to isolate those risk factors in order to recognize a person who is at-risk for alcoholism. By recognizing these factors before hand, preventive measures may be able to be developed to target and treat the risk factors before the individual has a chance to become an alcoholic.