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An estimated 17 million Americans suffer from alcohol use disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  Many people seeking treatment hear about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which is a common treatment approach with over 2 million members worldwide, according to Scientific American.  Although AA is a member-run self-help organization, many structured treatment programs take similar “Twelve Step” approaches to treating alcoholism.  However, the Twelve Steps include acknowledging belief in a higher power, which is problematic for many non-religious individuals.  Fortunately, many non-religious treatment options for alcohol use disorder are available, allowing you to choose the one best for your unique situation.

Non-Religious Twelve Step Programs

Recognizing a growing need within the American community, an increasing number of alcohol treatment programs are offering Twelve Step treatment without the religious overtones.  This treatment approach adapts the Twelve Steps to fit non-religious viewpoints while retaining some core characteristics of AA.  For example, members still admit their lack of power over alcohol use, acknowledge their wrong doings, attempt to make amends to those they have harmed, and pledge to maintain a life of abstinence. In general, programs based on the Twelve Step model are highly effective, with rates of abstinence nearly twice as high as individuals who do not complete the Twelve Steps, according to research from the University of California-Berkeley.

Non-religious Twelve Step programs frequently follow the “Minnesota Model,” in which treatment occurs in a professional facility and emphasizes acceptance of help from others.  This approach is acknowledged by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration as an effective way to reduce alcohol use problems.  Furthermore, most major insurance companies reimburse for this form of treatment (typically with a maximum of 28 days, although individual insurance companies may vary).

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Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is another common approach to reducing alcohol use problems.  Unlike AA, which emphasizes the existence of a higher power, CBT is agnostic regarding the existence of God.  As a result, it is appropriate for individuals who identify as agnostic, secular, atheist, spiritual but not religious, or questioning their belief in a deity.

The core idea underlying CBT is that people struggling to control their alcohol use have formed patterns of thoughts or behaviors that contribute to their continued drinking.  For example, an alcoholic might continue to accept invitations to go to happy hour at work, despite getting blackout drunk and causing repeated arguments with his wife.  A CBT therapist helps the patient understand how thoughts (e.g., “I’m a worthless father”) and actions (e.g., “I’ll just have one drink to take the edge off”) perpetuate drinking problems.

In general, CBT is a structured, time-limited therapy approach.  Patients may attend one-hour sessions that consist of discussing their thoughts, challenging beliefs, and exploring environmental triggers that cause them to drink.  Most CBT therapists also assign homework, which might consist of writing down their history of alcohol use or completing a log of situations in which they had the urge to drink.  CBT is commonly covered by insurance and has been shown to decrease problematic drinking and increase quality of life.

The first step in getting treatment is to acknowledge that you have a problem with drinking and to seek help.  Even if you can’t decide what form of treatment is right for you, we can help. Contact today to talk with a professional about your alcohol use.  We can give you advice on locating recovery centers, finding options that work with your insurance, and choosing a non-religious treatment approach that fits your needs.  We’re ready to help you overcome your drinking problem today.

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