Alcohol use disorder is one of the most common health conditions in the US, with 6% of American adults suffering from it. It is a complex disorder that impacts both physical and mental wellbeing. As such, it requires specialized treatment. For this reason, it is strange that many people believe that there is only one route to recovery from alcoholism.
While Alcoholics Anonymous – or the 12 Step Program – has helped many people over the decades, it is not the right approach for everyone. Some people struggling with alcoholism have a difficult time accepting the precepts of the 12 Step Program, especially if they are not religious. Many others simply do not find success with the 12 Step Program.
Often, the solution given is to try harder or to try again. However, this is a problematic approach to take with an illness that can be so destructive. As with any other illness, if one treatment is not working, it is necessary to explore other options.
Fortunately, a number of excellent treatments have been developed for alcoholism. They may not be as well-known as AA, but they are used by many rehab centers and many people have recovered using these approaches.
Here are the most effective programs for alcoholism available in the US.
Let’s start with the most commonly used program in the US. Alcoholics Anonymous is an extensive approach to treating alcoholism. AA is based on the ‘12 Steps’, which provide a guideline for recovery. These steps require that participants accept their helplessness in fighting the disease and recognize the presence of a Higher Power (however they understand it).
The 12 Step Program is used in rehabs, as well as in group meetings across the US. Wherever you go, you can find an AA chapter, where you can get free support from like-minded individuals. This community is one of the biggest draws of AA and a major reason for the program’s success. A person who leaves rehab is not alone in their recovery, as they can always find a meeting.
For some people, however, the 12 Step Program does not work. Many struggle to accept the idea of a higher power and find the program to be too religious. There is also some resistance in the addiction recovery field to the response AA gives when people don’t recover – the onus is put on the alcoholic for not having worked the program, rather than the program not having worked.
So, while the 12 Step Program is the most-widely used approach, there are other effective approaches embraced by rehabs in the US.
Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) is a recovery program that takes a secular approach. Rather than focusing on a higher power or the idea that alcoholism cannot be cured, SMART Recovery provides tools and techniques that are based in science and can be used by anyone. Many rehabs around the US use SMART Recovery either as their primary program or as part of a holistic treatment.
Importantly, SMART Recovery is building a network throughout the US that provides community in a way that is similar to AA. It is in the community found in meetings that many people maintain their recovery, and it is thus necessary that there are options for people who have received treatment based on SMART.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT):
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is becoming an increasingly popular program used at rehabs in the US. While not designed specifically to treat alcoholism, DBT has been shown to be effective as part of a treatment regimen for people suffering from alcohol use disorders. It is in both the principles and techniques of DBT that alcoholics find relief.
DBT was originally designed to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD). People suffering from BPD experience intense mood swings. DBT trains participants to regulate their emotions rather than reacting to them. This is an especially important skill for people who respond to emotional triggers by using alcohol.
DBT draws on methodology developed in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), but it is based on Eastern mindfulness principles. The mindfulness approach is that all emotions are fleeting and it is how we respond to them that is important.
A major facet of mindfulness is the recognition that pain is inevitable but suffering is not. Every alcoholic will feel emotional and physical pain in their recovery. However, by riding the wave, they learn to let the temporary feeling come and go. Instead of trying to get rid of the feeling and inadvertently hanging onto it, they experience the pain in its fullness without it leading to long-term suffering.
Modern alcohol rehab centers use an amalgamation of successful approaches to treat alcoholism. They recognize that some methods work for some people and not others. They therefore draw on the above treatments, while incorporating other methods as well.
Rehabs that take a holistic approach to treatment also use alternative therapies like meditation, yoga, music and art therapy, among others. Different people respond to different treatments, and the process is customized according to the person.
The important step that the addiction treatment community has taken is towards recognizing that there are multiple routes to recovery. In the past, people focused on one or another program being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. However, this is akin to saying that because one antibiotic works, another cannot.
Alcoholism is a complex illness and it is also extremely common. It is crucial that anyone suffering from alcoholism gets treatment as soon as possible. The type of treatment that they get should cater to their specific circumstances.