When we began designing a specific intensive outpatient program for women over 12 years ago, we took a number of factors into consideration. The first thing we looked at was the research that for a half century has shown that AA/12 Step based programs don’t work for most people, and especially not for women.
You are already feeling out of control and you don’t need to be told you are also powerless – especially since that is a myth. You do need to know that you can leave alcohol problems behind by addressing the underlying issues you are currently self-medicating. Remember, alcohol abuse is a symptom, not a disease.
We also looked at the effectiveness of traditional individual therapy and traditional residential rehab programs. Again, their effectiveness wasn’t any better than doing nothing, with the usual 5% “spontaneous remission” rate that may occur naturally.
The problem is that individual once-a-week sessions simply aren’t enough to sort out and address ingrained habit patterns. On the other hand, residential treatment is mostly just AA meetings and “filler,” neither of which address your real issues nor do they offer effective options to drinking.
After looking at what doesn’t work, we went through the research on what does, studies done by Drs. Mark and Linda Sobell, at Vanderbilt University; the work of the late Dr. Alan Marlatt at the University of Washington; Dr. Reed Hester ongoing work at the University of New Mexico; and our own Dr. Ed Wilson’s research at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.
For a recent outside perspective on women and alcohol abuse, along with an independent assessment of the work we do, please see Gabrielle Glaser’s Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink and How they Can Regain Control.
All of these sources noted that alcohol abuse is not a disease, is rarely progressive, is a choice, and that intensive short term treatment provides the basis for effective elimination of the problem.
The shape effective treatment needs to take, and the mode and means of providing these services, was apparent almost immediately: individual, intensive, private, confidential, focused, and affordable. But in order for you to benefit from this half century of research and experience, you will need to put aside the myths that pervade the treatment industry in the U.S. and Canada.
First, it’s necessary to remember that alcohol abuse is a symptom, not a disease, and that it’s a choice you are making and can un-make. No, you aren’t powerless, nor are you dumb, depraved, or doomed. You are simply someone who fell into abusing alcohol because it worked, as it does, to provide temporary relief to any number of stressful conditions and circumstances. It’s not a mystery as to why over-drinking is associated with divorce, unbalanced marriages or family relationships, retirement, menopause, empty nest syndrome, and other life changing events.
Second, and more specifically, remember that the misuse of alcohol is a logical consequence of its effectiveness as a short term antidote to anxiety, loneliness, boredom, hyper-activity, menopause, passivity, and a myriad of other conditions. Again, you slipped into alcohol abuse because it worked.
Until it didn’t.
And now that it’s become a problem itself, rather than a short term solution, it’s time to identify and correct whatever you’ve been needing to fix, but haven’t.
Third, the conditions you are self-medicating differs from everyone else’s, as will the combination of coping skills and activities you will need to adopt in order to leave the alcohol abuse behind. “Groups” will be worse than useless in formulating your response to alcohol abuse and will impede your progress and sabotage your success.
Traditional treatment, with its one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter 12 Step “solution,” virtually always fails, especially women.
Fourth, traditional “once-a-week-therapy” is too little help and, frequently, for women, amounts to little more than talking about doing something about your alcohol problem rather than actually doing something about it.
The behavior patterns around the use of alcohol are well established even before reaching “problem” proportions. Eliminating the problem means replacing drinking habits with other behaviors which also address whatever is being drowned in drink. This is a complicated undertaking which requires a concentrated and concerted effort as well as genuine support while you make rewarding changes in your day-to-day life.
Fifth, typical residential treatment – “rehab” – is ineffective and usually amounts to little more than paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend AA meetings. Remember, AA is an effective option for fewer than 3% of the women who try it and, in any case, is readily available and free. If that’s going to work for you, you don’t need to pay for it.