There are various definitions of "addictions" as well as competing explanations about its causes.  What isn't debatable is that many people find their lives spin out of control from drugs and alcohol.  It can affect their relationships, work life, health, and self-esteem.  It's estimated that over ten percent of people experience drugs or alcohol controlling their lives at some point.

There is no one path to recovery.  What's indisputable is that if you want your best shot at staying sober or drug free, twelve step programs are your best bet.  For some,  the additional support of a residential treatment or out-patient facility provides a secure entry into recovery.  Some people need the aid of medication to get and stay sober.  Psychotherapy can provide significant support as well.

Frank and Leslie (their names are changed to protect their confidentiality) are two of the many people I've seen over the years who have struggled with addictions.  Here is a brief summary of our work together.

Frank was 41 when he came to see me.  He couldn't believe it, but after 15 years of sobriety, he had started drinking again.  Frank had become an out of control drinker back in high school, and his early twenties were a blur for him.  It was only in his mid-twenties when he met Steve, who became his boyfriend, that he gave up drinking and started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  Steve himself was in recovery from a cocaine addiction and had told Frank he wouldn't continue to date him unless Frank stopped drinking.  The two of them built a strong, quiet life together, but after Steve died in a car accident, Frank started drinking again. 

After six months of heavy drinking, Frank came to see me.  Having stopped going to A.A., he agreed to start attending meetings again.  Through our therapy sessions, Frank came to realize that he had originally stopped drinking to keep his relationship with Steve.  He now understood that he needed to stop drinking for himself, and this was much more difficult that he had anticipated.  He found it near impossible to mourn Steve's death without a six pack of beer to lessen his pain.  He went to meetings daily, saw me twice a week, and in addition to daily phone conversations with his sponsor and other A.A. members, he and I at times talked on the phone between sessions as well.  As Frank would say, "Recovery is shaky," and then would often let out one of his knowing laughs saying, "One day at a time."

Leslie first came to therapy because she was having problems in her work life.  Her boss, Richard, frightened her and she had difficulty standing up to him.  Each week she would come to her sessions ready to tell the latest "Richard" story.  What quickly emerged was that after work, she would hightail it to the nearest bar and spend the next few hours, as she put it, "sipping" cocktails. 

I  told Leslie that I was concerned about her daily drinking and asked if she would take an alcoholism self-test.  She smiled and agreed.  This simple test, which we did in my office, consists of 26 questions and any results exceeding more than one "yes" response indicates that the person has a problem with alcohol.  Leslie answered "yes" to 14 of the questions.  Both the questions and her answers, as well as our subsequent discussions of her drinking and its impact on her life, led her to accept that she needed to stop drinking.  She started attending A.A. meetings and gradually stopped drinking.  Leslie talks about how raw she feels and how difficult it is to manage relationships --- including with her boss --- without numbing herself through alcohol.  But she is very committed to A.A. and sobriety and struggles to manage her feelings in healthier ways.

There's nothing simple about stopping to drink or take drugs.  The fact is that many people aren't able to do it, but there are many people who do stop.  Psychotherapy can offer the support to stop an addiction, as well as help people connect more deeply with themselves and others without the haze or high of alcohol or drugs.