About alcohol treatment

English | Cymraeg

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

Alcohol treatment is a programme of structured support for people looking to change their drinking.

Accessing alcohol treatment can feel quite scary, but treatment works. Everyday people up and down the country are walking through the doors of local alcohol services or attending AA or SMART Recovery meetings, finding a friendly welcome and discovering that they are not alone in struggling with alcohol. This guide will help you to understand more about what alcohol treatment entails and find out how to take that first step.

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.


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.

There are also a number of NHS services directories you can use to find support and treatment services near you:

Nine 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.


If you are dependent on drinking, then aiming for complete abstinence may be the best idea. This can be achieved with the help of a support service.


People who are clinically alcohol dependent can die if they suddenly, completely stop drinking.

If you experience fits, shaking hands, sweating, seeing things that are not real, depression, anxiety, or difficulty sleeping after a period of drinking and while sobering up, then you may be clinically alcohol dependent and should NOT suddenly, completely stop drinking.

But you can still take control of your drinking. Talk to a GP or your local community alcohol service who will be able to get help for you to reduce your drinking safely. Find out more here.

Find out more