The decision to stop drinking is a big one. It’s undoubtedly life-changing, in fact. It can also be extremely challenging, especially since drinking is often used as a coping mechanism, a stress reliever, and a social lubricant. A lot of feelings usually arise in the process of choosing an alcohol-free lifestyle. These feelings can run the gamut, too, from extreme gratitude to grief, moodiness to real confusion. Perhaps you’re considering getting a therapist as a result, but don’t know whether it’s a good idea for you.
Experts Jonathon Baillie, LPC NCC MAC, a licensed professional counselor and Dr. Moreen Rubin, a licensed clinical therapist weigh in on when and why it might be a good idea to seek therapy to support your alcohol-free journey.
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Evaluating Your Relationship with Alcohol and Support System
Baillie says that, in part, the need for therapy can depend on how long someone drank and whether or not that person’s relationship with alcohol was unhealthy. If someone is dependent on alcohol to get through social situations, deal with getting through a typical day, or numb strong emotions, there might be underlying issues that therapy can help resolve.
Other factors to consider are the protective and support systems—a stable home, income, family, close friends, and habitual healthy activities—that one has in place. The less support or stability, the greater the need might be to get some mental and emotional help through therapy.
Dealing with Co-Occurring Disorders and Alcohol Use
Another reason to seek therapy is if there are underlying or co-occurring mental health issues, as Rubin shares. Co-occurring disorders can be anything from anxiety and depression to bipolar disorder or phobias.
“Alcohol is a numbing agent and it is usually used to numb emotional pain,” Rubin says. “If one stops using alcohol, the emotional pain from childhood issues, mental health issues like depression and anxiety, or trauma will likely start to surface.”
The day-to-day symptoms and signs that you might need extra support through therapy are feeling isolated, hopeless, unhappy, anxious, or experiencing strong urges to drink.
Baillie says something similar. If someone is struggling to maintain abstinence from alcohol, this is one of the very clear signs that they need support/help in doing so. In addition, he points out that there are many potential causes of alcohol use disorder that surface more potently when drinking is no longer an option. Some of these include depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness/isolation, adjustment issues, stress, or relationship struggles.
”Alcohol becomes an effective escape or means of coping with these issues because it's reliable, fast, and easy to do,” Baillie says.
Learning healthier and more effective ways to deal with these issues through therapeutic tools can relieve some of the burden of these issues, as well as offer new alternatives for coping.
Things to Think About When Choosing a Therapist
Rubin says in the case of quitting alcohol, it’s important to consider a therapist’s specialty when choosing someone to help you through this particular time.
“Therapy is extremely helpful in recovery, [but] not all therapists are trained in addiction recovery. It is a unique specialty with specialized training,” Rubin says.
Finding someone who has training and a deep understanding of addiction is very helpful.
“If you look up the definition of recovery in the dictionary, it says recovery means taking back something that was lost or stolen from you,” Rubin says, on a poetic note. “For most with addiction, what they are recovering is their authentic self.”
Therapy can help you in self-discovery, Rubin adds. It will help you figure out who you are without alcohol and guide you in accessing more of your authentic self. A good mental health and addiction professional can guide you through this in a safe, emotionally healing way.
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So if therapy sounds like something that might be right for you as you begin or continue on your alcohol-free journey, do some research and ask others about their experiences with therapy. Try therapy out for a while and see if it is for you. If cost is an issue, you might find a therapist who takes sliding scale payments. And remember, always, that you do not have to do this alone!
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About the Author: Annakeara Stinson is a writer based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Bust, Brooklyn Magazine, The Inquisitive Eater, IndieWire, Pitchfork, Marie Claire, and Elite Daily. She is currently getting her MFA in Fiction at The New School. Follow her on Twitter @annakeara for more.