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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as a treatment for alcohol dependence

by Sarah Graham
Wednesday 01 April 2015
4301 0

Alcohol dependence, also known as alcohol addiction or alcoholism, refers to people becoming over-reliant on alcohol and feeling that they are unable to function properly without having a drink. This kind of dependency is estimated to affect 9% of men and 4% of women in the UK, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the most effective psychological treatment for those affected. We asked RSCPP therapists to explain what CBT is, and how it can be used to treat alcohol dependence.

What is CBT and how can it be applied to treating alcohol dependence?

For harmful drinkers and people with mild alcohol dependence, psychological interventions can be effective in helping you to develop controlled drinking strategies or to remain alcohol free. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one such psychological treatment, where you work with a therapist to identify how your problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviour fit together and maintain your alcohol problem. CBT can help you to challenge your negative thoughts and beliefs, and put in place changed and healthier behaviours.

Accredited Counsellor Karole Thomas


How long does CBT for alcohol dependence typically last?

Some people seek support for alcohol dependency at a relatively early stage, whilst others may experience severe problems before accessing help. Interventions for alcohol dependency will vary according to the severity and nature of the problem. 

Accredited Counsellor Karole Thomas

As a guide, NICE recommends 12 sessions of CBT for mild, moderate and severe alcohol dependence.

RSCPP Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Richard Snowdon  


Who is CBT for alcohol dependence suitable for?

Individuals with moderate or severe alcohol dependence may initially need medical support. If you are drinking heavily and often, stopping all alcohol consumption at once can lead to serious physical withdrawal symptoms, including seizures. It is important that you seek medical advice to consider whether a detoxification programme is required to manage withdrawal safely in a planned way. Once withdrawal has been successfully managed, you can then benefit from CBT. 

Accredited Counsellor Karole Thomas


What outcome can you expect from CBT for alcohol dependence?

CBT looks at how thoughts influence mood and behaviour so, whether you want to cut back on your alcohol intake or get sober, it can be beneficial with either. For a client wishing to get sober it can help at the pre-contemplation stage, and afterwards it can help to maintain sobriety. With cutting back it can work in a similar way. With CBT you can become more aware of the role that thoughts play in behaviour, so it can help with the process of changing those behaviours that are self destructive.

Accredited Counsellor Maureen Cahill


How can I tell if a therapist is qualified to offer CBT for alcohol dependence?

All therapists on are accredited, registered or chartered by a UK professional body. Therapists who offer Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will in addition have completed a course in cognitive behavioural practice.

RSCPP Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Richard Snowdon

Finding support

If you are concerned about Alcohol Dependence then you may like to read about finding the right therapist for you. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

Find a Therapist working with Alcohol Dependence

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Updated 02 April 2015