Why Experts Recommend Therapy To Stop Drinking

By Mike Russell & Laura Diamond LMHC, EdM, MA

Hi, I’m Mike, and I’m the CEO & Co-Founder of Monument, an online treatment platform for those looking to change their relationship with alcohol. I built Monument based on the tools I wish I knew about when I first decided I wanted to change my drinking habits. (You can read more about my personal experience here.)

The most challenging part of my journey thus far wasn’t actually getting sober— once I found a prescription medication that worked for me, I felt much more in control of my drinking habits. What’s been harder for me to manage are the emotions and behavioral changes that have surfaced in my sobriety.

We need to learn to sit with our emotions, whether they are negative, positive, neither or both.

No one told me about the anxiety, anger, and impulses that might come with getting sober, and now I work through that with therapy. And no one told me how common this is … research has shown that approximately 50% of people receiving treatment for problematic drinking also had one or more anxiety-related condition.You are not alone.

Counseling has helped me develop coping mechanisms and better understand those negative emotions. I wish I had been told that I might feel this way and why when I first decided to change my drinking, and am hoping to save at least one other person from those feelings of isolation and confusion.

So, I asked Monument advisor Laura Diamond to help explain why therapy can be so important in the treatment journey. Laura is the Counseling Supervisor of the dual-diagnosis inpatient detox and rehabilitation unit at The Addiction Institute of Mount Sinai West Hospital. She is also a licensed psychotherapist in New York. Here’s what she had to say:

Alcohol use disorder is complex and is often accompanied by co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety or depression, and is intensified by trauma, stressors and societal impact. Each of these aspects cannot be treated solely by one treatment method, but the right combination of treatment tailored to your specific needs can alleviate and resolve multiple issues simultaneously.

The psychotherapeutic aspect of the treatment (therapy) is essential, with a combination of therapeutic methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing and contingency management yielding promising results for alcohol use disorder. These evidence-based interventions provide safe spaces to assess an individual’s readiness for change, foster emotion regulation, process experiences and restructure negative thought patterns.

Therapy also provides a platform to work on modifying self-destructive behaviors, obtaining healthier coping responses, building relapse prevention skills, establishing boundaries, improving communication skills, and increasing self-efficacy.

It also helps individuals gain the skills to be mindful and to focus on the here and now. It is hard enough to be present and to identify what we are feeling in any particular moment. This is impacted even further by substance use, as habits are formed by using a substance any time an individual does not feel like they can tolerate feeling “uncomfortable.”

Distress tolerance, a perception of someone’s capacity to manage negative or uncomfortable emotions, is one of the fundamental components of recovery. We need to learn to sit with our emotions, whether they are negative, positive, neither or both. Many times, the only way to do this is by implementing some form of mindfulness and learning to self-regulate.

One of the most useful steps to take during your recovery process is committing to a therapy program that is specifically tailored to you and your needs.

For me, medication was a great entry point into changing my drinking. Now, I continue to put in the work with therapy to build healthier habits in all aspects of my life.

At Monument, with the expert insights of Laura and our other medical advisors, we’ve put together holistic treatment plans that provide options for therapy, medication, and peer support, entirely online. We connect you to licensed therapists specialized in helping people change their drinking. You can meet every week or every two weeks depending on your preferences. If you’re interested in therapy to change your drinking, you can learn more about your options here.

Regardless of your path forward, I hope you know that you are not alone in this journey, and that it is rarely linear. Your emotions are justified, and most likely, are pretty common. I am rooting for you, and am honored to be on this journey together.

About the Author

Mike Russell is the co-founder & CEO of Monument, an online treatment platform for those looking to change their relationship with alcohol. Mike is a member of the founding teams of Paintzen (Acquired by PPG Industries), Bombas, Zipdrug, and MyClean, four successful New York City technology startups still operating today. Mike is also a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor and has dedicated much of his time towards raising money to help children with cancer.
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