Problem drinkers who have not yet crossed the line into physical dependence may be able to regain control using an approach known as a brief intervention. The aim of this treatment is to teach the person how to drink safely again. It is important to be clear that this is not an option for those who are already addicted to alcohol – in this case, the only feasible solution is permanent abstinence.
What is a Brief Intervention?
A brief intervention involves a combination of counselling and therapy sessions with education seminars on the dangers of alcohol abuse. The therapy sessions usually last from 30 to 60 minutes, and the goal is to explore the reasons why the person feels the need to abuse alcohol. It may be that the individual is using drinking as a coping mechanism, so during these sessions he or she can think about alternative ways for dealing with life. The education seminars provide the knowledge that these individuals need to regain control over their drinking; it also warns of the dangers of not doing this.
Brief interventions are a relatively cheap form of treatment for those at risk of developing alcoholism. The full treatment only takes a few hours, so would not likely interfere too much with the person’s daily routine. The approach is used in many countries around the world, and there is plenty of evidence to support its effectiveness; it is impossible, though, to tell how many have been helped to avoid alcoholism by getting this type of help.
The Need for Brief Interventions in the UK
Problem drinking is a serious concern in the UK, with over half of the adult population consuming alcohol at unsafe levels at least occasionally. These individuals may not be physically addicted, but the behaviour is almost certainly having some sort of negative impact on their life, as well as the lives of those around them. Some of the dangers of problem drinking are that:
- it leads to alcoholism unless the person can adjust his or her behaviour
- it can lead to alcohol poisoning and possibly death
- it can lead to the early stages of alcoholic liver disease
- it means affected individuals are more likely to commit crimes or be the victim of crime
- it is associated with domestic abuse
- it can lead to financial problems
- it can exacerbate symptoms of depression
- it can increase the likelihood of suicide
- it increases the likelihood of making bad decisions
- it can mean doing things later regretted
- it encourages promiscuous sex and increases the risk for unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease
- it can destroy communities and is associated with high levels of crime.
The majority of those abusing alcohol do not realise how much danger they are actually in. This is due to denial and cultural pressure to celebrate life by drinking. Cognitive dissonance means that even when individuals are able to see how alcohol negatively affects others, they still fail to see how it might be harming them too; the problem drinker can enjoy a false sense of security by comparing him or herself to an alcoholic. A brief intervention allows problem drinkers to see the reality of their situation, which can be enough to encourage them to change their behaviour.
Problem Drinker or Alcoholic?
A problem drinker has not yet developed a physical dependence on alcohol. This means that they do not experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop. The problem drinker continues with their behaviour out of choice, so he or she can still stop if there is a good enough reason to. Which are you? Will you do something about it?