According to presenters at the “New Perspectives” conference on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, this past fall, at least 85% of all clients seeking help with alcohol abuse are being misdiagnosed, and mistreated at virtually all of the treatment programs across Canada, the U.S., and Australia. How is this possible?

The problem is that 97% of these “programs” are based on the discredited AA/12-Step “disease” model which doesn’t differentiate between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. This failure to accurately assess is then compounded by program staff that are, at best, poorly trained, and usually mis-trained.

The result? People with alcohol abuse problems are discouraged from getting help in the early stages when, as with any real disease, curing it is fairly easy. Additionally, those who are better advised to abstain are labeled and directed to follow a demeaning life-long regimen that isn’t just unnecessary, but counter-productive for the vast majority of those with alcohol problems.

What can you do?

Frankly, your choices are limited. You can look for programs that are “Non 12 Step” but many of these also adhere to the same disease model. Your best chance is to carefully find help that includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), anti-craving medication (Naltrexone) support, professional staff who aren’t “in recovery,” and that offer real assessment rather than just lumping you in with everyone else as an “alcoholic.”

What should assessment consist of? Good programs and counselors are more interested in strengths, abilities, and interests than in your faults and failings. They are also more interested in your current circumstances and future wishes than in your past. The best will spend very little time talking about alcohol beyond getting a picture of your particular drinking patterns.

Following assessment, which will look at aspects of your life ranging from your health to your work, education, family, social and recreational situation, you should be looking at how you want your life to be without alcohol abuse. Then you should be helped and coached to set goals, make priorities, and develop systems for achieving that life.

None of this should take all that long – certainly not more than 5 days. Do not be sucked into believing that you need 30, 60, or 90 days of residential “rehab” – less than 10% of current clients do. You do not, after all, need a vacation from reality – you need to fix whatever’s wrong and improve your real life in ways that leave no room, or reason, for abusing alcohol.

Again, do not fall into the “treatment traps” of being forever “in recovery;” maintaining an alcohol focused life centered on endless meetings with people who are never going to sober up; adopting a self-fulfilling “alcoholic” label; and giving up your ability to manage your own life.

Remember, you aren’t powerless, you don’t have a disease, and you can leave alcohol abuse behind – permanently.

You do have an understandable and learned short-term coping behavior called alcohol abuse which has helped ease loneliness, boredom, anxiety, passivity, and various other emotional and physical pains, aches, and discomforts. You can learn and adopt better long-term solutions that will make you happy to have left alcohol behind.

You can become an ex-drinker just as people become ex-smokers. Been there, done that. Alcohol abuse is no longer a topic or activity of any interest.

If you’re ready to enhance your life, rather than to diminish it even further, there are options available. Real ones based on research and experience.

Don’t sell yourself short.