About alcohol treatment

If you're struggling with your drinking, help and support are available.

Alcohol treatment is a programme of structured support for people drinking heavily, or with alcohol dependence.

Making the decision to access treatment can be very difficult. It requires recognising that you may have a serious problem, working out what treatment might work and where to find it, and actually embarking on that course of activity.

Support to change your drinking

For anyone who feels they have lost control of their drinking, it can feel as if the barriers to change are insurmountable. However, most dependent drinkers do recover. Some do so with the support of groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Some do so without any formal support (but often with the help of family and friends). Others may do so after accessing some kind of treatment.

There are many types of treatment – ranging from peer support groups to residential rehabilitation.

Where do I start?

A good way to start is by taking this drinking quiz to check your drinking. If you answer honestly, then this can help to establish what level of support you might need.

If you think you might need help, then be reassured that most people are able to change their drinking. Many people find that, with just a few weeks of support, they are able to make lasting changes.

For others, the recovery journey is longer and they may need more help.

What types of treatment are available?

Alcohol treatment is available as a free service, provided by either the NHS or charities. You don’t have to pay privately, although this option is available too.

GP

Your GP is a good place to start. They will know what support is available locally and can help you with the following:

  • A general health check-up or specific medical tests
  • Medication and other treatments for other conditions such as depression, anxiety or sleep problems
  • Medication to reduce cravings
  • Referral to your local treatment service

Local alcohol treatment services

You can also get in touch with alcohol treatment services directly to arrange a meeting. Treatment services will offer some or all of the following:

How do I find my local support agency?

Wherever you live, there will be a service in your area which supports people with alcohol problems. Check on your local authority website to see how you can access your local provider, or speak to your GP.

You can also look for services on the NHS directory.

Eight of the largest alcohol treatment organisations in the country have formed a collective called Collective Voice. Their website contains information about the treatments and services they offer and the areas that they serve. You will need to click on the website of each organisation to find out where they are located geographically. They all have support services for those affected by someone else’s drinking, too.

It is often useful to navigate your way around the websites of these organisations so that you are familiar with the services that they offer. They are also happy for you to call or email them for more information.

If you live in Wales, you can find more about local treatment services from DACW. Again, DACW is a collective made up of separate member organisations.

You can also enter ‘NHS alcohol services’ and your nearest town into a search engine to find a clinic in your location.

When you attend your local service, you will be offered an assessment. Your practitioner will want to find out a bit about you and there may be some form-filling. They will then talk to you about what changes you would like to achieve, such as reducing your drinking or stopping altogether.

What will it involve?

In most cases, treatment involves taking part in a combination of personal counselling and group sessions.

The aim is to help you understand your situation, strengthen your motivation, and realise that others share your experiences.

Usually, a programme of community-based treatment will last around three months – though this isn’t fixed.

Peer support

In addition to treatment services, attending a group run and attended by people who have experienced the same difficulties with alcohol that you are going through can be tremendously helpful. Treatment agencies often host such groups. The two most well-known independent peer support networks in the UK are:

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Lead by volunteers who share the need to maintain their sobriety. You can attend whether you are alohol-free or not. AA is sometimes also known as Twelve-step, after the twelve principles that members adhere to in order to stay sober.

SMART recovery

Also lead by volunteers who are in recovery. It is based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy and supports members to change their thinking and their behaviours around alcohol (or other drugs), with the aim of maintaining abstinence.

Do I have to give up drinking altogether?

Alcohol treatment doesn’t always lead to abstinence, though it does for some people. You can talk to a recovery practitioner about what you want to achieve, which might be:
Controlled drinking

Many people want to change their drinking but don’t want to abstain altogether. This can be achieved by controlled drinking. A recovery practitioner can help you to set drinking goals and over time, you will develop new drinking habits.

Abstinence

If you are dependent on drinking, then aiming for complete abstinence may be the best idea. This can be achieved with the help of support services and you should not suddenly stop drinking as this can be dangerous. If you are worried that you can’t or don’t really want to give up alcohol but need to make some changes, talking to your GP or an alcohol practitioner can help you decide what option will be best for you.