Our use of and attachments with alcohol provide most complex relationships. With the exception of those addicted to nicotine and caffeine, more people are addicted to alcohol than any other substance. As many as 90% of adults in the United States have had some experience with alcohol, and 60% of men and 30% of women have had one or more alcohol-related adverse life events. While not all drinking is problem drinking, there is an unfortunate group of persons (about 7% of the population) for whom the use of and attachment to alcohol is part of a tragic story. We are unable to determine those for whom drinking will be a problem and those for whom it will not, but through a progressive pattern it can reek a pattern of destruction to parts or all of life-to the organism, to intimate relations, to the family, to the community, and to one’s vocation. Estimates of persons, in the United States alone, at some stage of alcoholism exceed ten million.

Our current understanding is that alcoholism is a disease-a compulsive and addictive illness in which there is continuing excessive use of alcoholic beverages that result in damage-and frequently outside the awareness of the alcoholic. Alcohol dependence, alcohol abuse, alcohol intoxication, alcohol withdrawal, and alcohol-induced disorders have special meanings in mental health understandings, but all describe presentations of a drinking problem. A clinician can help you understand these experiences within yourself or with someone you love. There are infinite presentations of how alcohol becomes a problem in a person’s life. All stereotypes of the alcoholic give way to the imaginative ways that a person can shape his or her life around the need to drink and experience the effects of alcohol. Other mental health disorders can appear with alcoholism, but, generally, it is best to face one’s problems with alcohol, before tackling other mental health problems.

Therapy with alcoholics generally involves detoxification, searching for what motivates them to accept the need for help, interrupting the addictive cycle, and helping the alcoholic rebuild a life without alcohol. Joining Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or entering an inpatient treatment program is often a needed part of a therapeutic intervention.

Treatment of the spouse and family is important in the treatment of the alcoholic. Typically, alcohol is a problem to other people before it is a problem to the alcoholic. A good lay definition of an alcohol problem is that if someone in your life has a problem with your drinking, you have a drinking problem. Spouse and family care is almost always needed in intervening and helping the alcoholic. Al-Anon and Alateen are very important resources for persons who live with alcoholics.