For many people struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD), alcohol counseling provides a much-needed source of guidance throughout the recovery process.

No matter the severity of your addiction, a licensed alcohol counselor can start you on your journey through sobriety, and help with any challenges you may encounter along the way. They’ll offer support, strategy, and real-life solutions when you need them most.

However, not all counseling is created equal. You’ll need to decide what you want to gain from your therapy sessions, and then choose a qualified mental health professional based on your goals and needs.

Let’s take a look at alcohol counseling and the role it plays in addiction recovery.

What is alcohol counseling?

An alcohol counselor is a healthcare professional trained to help people cope with their addiction and maintain their sobriety. Through regular meetings, they can offer guidance and advice to clients struggling with AUD. How often appointments are scheduled depends greatly on each unique recovery plan, but alcohol counseling is an integral part of maintaining a sober lifestyle for many people.

It takes constant discipline and strategy to break free of AUD’s grip. Alcohol counseling gives you the support and teaches you the skills you need to take back control of your life. Your counselor will steer you in the right direction through your journey, and can give you the tools to stay on the right track.

What is the role of counseling in recovery?

Regular counseling throughout your addiction recovery can serve a number of purposes, all of which are key for a healthy future.

It keeps you accountable

Accountability is a powerful motivator. Whether it’s finding a buddy for gym or working with colleagues on a group project, having a person or group that holds you accountable can help keep you in line to achieve your goals.

When you regularly see a counselor, you have someone to check in with when the cravings get to be too much. They’re up-to-date with your recovery journey, and they can help to define what you should expect of yourself at any point throughout.

Accountability is a way to stay honest with yourself in the face of your disease. Keeping in touch with reality can help you to gain control over your own life.

It teaches you coping skills

When the going gets tough, the tough whip out every coping tool in the arsenal.

There’s no shame in struggling with your addiction, but you don’t have to let it control you if you’re able to stay on top of your cravings. Your counselor can teach you tricks to keep up your sleeve, and can help you to identify the right times to pull them out.

Knowing how to handle your cravings during difficult situations can be the difference between sobriety and relapse.

Offers support if you do relapse

Substance abuse relapse rates consistently hover around 50 percent. It can feel like the world is crashing down when you find yourself slipping. If you have a regular alcohol counselor, the damage from a relapse can often be kept to a minimum.

Your counselor can assess your situation and guide you through whatever next steps will be most beneficial for you. Whether you need to increase counseling appointments or spend a few weeks in inpatient rehab, your counselor will always have your sobriety and your mental health as their top priority.

Types of counseling available

When you start alcohol counseling, you’ll have several types of counseling formats to choose from. Make some phone calls, chat with counselors, and see what sounds best for you.

  • Individual counseling

    When many people picture counseling, they think of classic one-on-one therapy. This can be an effective way for many people to battle their addictions.

    With individual counseling, you may meet with a primary therapist once or twice per week. You’ll learn usable tactics for fighting the hardest challenges of your addiction, and all of your treatment will be entirely personalized to your own recovery plan. You’ll develop a long-term strategy, and regular meetings with a therapist can help to keep you on top of your goals.

  • Group counseling

    Group therapy focuses on peer accountability, sharing of experiences, and guidance from a counselor through the journey of recovery.

    Addiction is a truly isolating disease, and group therapy can lessen the burden of feeling so incredibly alone. Your recovery community can provide perspective and compassion when you need it most. Plus, you’ll experience the rewarding feeling of helping your fellow group members combat their disease.

  • Family therapy

    In a family therapy setting, you’ll explore the role of your family situation and history in your addiction. From there, you and your loved ones can figure out how to leverage your relationships to benefit your recovery, and to work through any damage your addiction may have caused.

    These sessions can include spouses, parents, siblings, children, close friends, and more. With the help of your counselor, you’ll work towards maintaining your sobriety while establishing healthy boundaries.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

    In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), counselors focus on rewiring negative thoughts and beliefs of a person dealing with AUD, and identifying how they might be affecting the disease and the recovery process.

    Many people with addiction face struggles with feelings of failure, inadequacy and fear. Through this type of therapy, counselors will teach patients to replace these negative thoughts and feelings with healthy, positive self-think.

  • Expression therapy

    If you like to express your emotions through creativity, expression therapy might be a great fit for you.

    Though it’s not offered at every facility, expression therapy can provide a healthy creative outlet to curb destructive addictive thoughts. Specially trained counselors can guide you through a recovery plan that fully uses your creativity as an asset to your sober future.

  • Holistic therapy

    Holistic therapy uses alternative medicine and treatments to combat your addiction and symptoms.

    This may involve therapies like acupuncture, reiki, meditation, and other activities that promote spiritual healing and finding inner peace. Holistic counseling views each person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual state, and focuses on healing from within.

  • Twelve-step program

    Many people find success in battling their addiction through a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). These are support group meetings that are often attended on a daily or weekly basis, and have helped people to stay sober for years.

    Newly sober attendees may need to seek a sponsor, an AA member further in recovery who can act as an additional sobriety coach. If you find yourself with a craving, no matter the time, your sponsor will be there for you.

What does an alcohol counselor do?

The role that an alcohol counselor plays in each person’s recovery can differ according to each set of unique circumstances and needs. However, people that see substance abuse counselors generally do so to help them conquer their substance dependence so they can get back to living their best sober lives.

Creates a therapeutic relationship

A therapeutic relationship (also called a therapeutic alliance) is the bond of trust between a mental health professional and a client. It’s essential to creating the atmosphere of openness and vulnerability that allows for deep, introspective healing.

A counselor can build and foster this connection by being attentive during appointments, remembering details, and checking in when support is most needed. Patients should feel listened to, validated, and respected by their counselors.

This bond is important in helping clients feel that their counselor has their best interests at heart when discussing future plans. This encourages AUD sufferers to break through the walls of their disease and confront the reality of its effects, knowing their counselor truly has their back through the difficult process of recovery.

Builds a recovery plan

For a person learning to live without alcohol, having a lifestyle plan clearly mapped out can help ease the unfamiliar territory of sobriety.

An alcohol counselor can help develop a plan that’s right for each individual. Your personal strategy will be feasible and realistic, yet challenging. Your counselor will guide you along the right path to meet your goals, and provide support when it gets difficult. This might include daily maintenance, ongoing strategies to fight triggers, and a detailed plan in case of relapse. No recovery plan is one-size-fits-all--you and your counselor will work together to create a plan that will work for your preferences and needs.

Identifies triggers and challenges

For people dealing with AUD, it’s important to self-identify potential problem areas and triggers. These situations should be avoided when possible, but in cases where confronting a trigger is necessary, you and your counselor can build a plan to handle it.

Identifying these situations ahead of time can keep you in the driver’s seat when they come up, not your addiction. You’ll be equipped with a plan to minimize the impact, and to fight cravings if and when they do arise.

How to choose an alcohol counselor

Since your alcohol counselor will be your biggest sobriety coach, you should put a great deal of consideration into choosing the person who will be supporting you through the recovery process. Here are some tips to think about when making your decision.

  • Think about what kind of counselor you want to see

    There are several types of addiction recovery professionals, and knowing who does what job can help you decide which type is right for you.


    If you see a psychiatrist, you’ll be seeing a medical doctor with the ability to prescribe medications. Psychiatrists don’t often handle the talk therapy end of treatment, and frequently focus on prescriptions, evaluations, and medication checks. They may work in collaboration with other psychologists, and possibly a patient’s primary care physician.


    Psychologists are experts in human behavior, thought, and motivation, but they don’t have the medical degree to hang on the wall. They are mental health professionals who have completed graduate school studies and are often trained to help people with substance abuse disorders. They’ll help with behavior correction, cognitive therapies, and work with you to understand the roots and underlying causes of your addiction.


    Therapists run the gamut in education and focus. Some may be more holistic in focus, and others may be psychologists or social workers with less formal education. When considering a therapist, be sure to look at licensing and credentials.

    Consider which type of alcohol counselor is most appealing to you, and ask them about the types of therapies they use. That will lead you on the right track to find a counselor that works for you.

  • Check credentials

    You don’t want to waste your time in therapy with a counselor who isn’t equipped to handle your needs and addiction.

    Check licensing and credentials before beginning sessions with any counselor. Requirements vary from state to state, so be sure to check what’s expected in your area. A degree in psychology isn’t enough to ensure proper and up-to-date alcohol treatment. Bonus points if your chosen counselor has a specialty in substance abuse or AUD.

  • Interview your potential counselor

    Your first meeting with any counselor shouldn’t necessarily get into the details of your recovery strategy quite yet. Not every counselor is going to be the right fit for you, and asking a few thoughtful questions at the start can save you time and stress down the road.

    Don’t be afraid to get real about what you want to know. If you’d prefer a counselor who has personal experience with recovery, ask. If you want to know their experience working with people suffering from AUD specifically, ask. If you want to know if they’ll be there when you get a powerful craving in the middle of the night and need to be talked off the ledge, ask. There are no wrong questions to ask a potential counselor when you’re considering the future of your sobriety.

  • Ask friends and family for recommendations

    Do you have a friend or family member who sees a counselor they really like? If so, it is worth finding out if they’d be comfortable asking for a recommendation.

    It’s not a good idea to share a therapist with a loved one, and many counselors won’t take on related patients for ethical reasons. However, they’re likely to have more connections in the mental health field than the average person, and might be able to provide your friend or family member with a list of recommended counselors upon request.

  • Trust your gut

    If you have an introductory meeting with a counselor and you just don’t feel a connection with them, it might mean that they just aren’t the right fit for you.

    This is a person that you need to feel comfortable baring your soul to. If you can’t feel completely vulnerable for a person, for any reason, you won’t be able to be as open and honest as recovery requires. Notice the way a potential counselor makes you feel. If there are any red flags at all, keep moving forward with your search.

Benefits of alcohol counseling

For someone in recovery, the benefits of attending regular alcohol counseling can be immeasurable. Here are just a few of the upsides.

  • They know what you’re going through

    It may surprise you, but nothing about your addiction or your struggle is going to shock your alcohol counselor.

    These are mental health professionals who have spent years helping people with addiction. Many substance abuse counselors are in recovery themselves. They understand the challenges that often come with maintaining long-term sobriety, and they’re prepared to help. Taking advantage of their experience and training can give you the perspective and strength you need to conquer your addiction.

  • You’ll set and meet realistic goals

    Let’s face it: success feels most incredible when you work hard for it.

    Your counselor will help you to set realistic goals for yourself and your sobriety. They’ll help you identify what you’ll need to achieve them, and you’ll work together to create a strategy and a reward system. Give yourself motivation to meet your goals, and celebrate when you do! It’ll feel amazing, and you’ll be pumped to keep going on your journey.

  • Learn how to live sober

    When you have an alcohol addiction, your whole life tends to revolve around your next drink. Hobbies and relationships tend to fall by the wayside, and you may lose sight of the people and things you love.

    An alcohol counselor will challenge you to step outside your comfort zone and figure out what the sober version of you is like. Maybe you’ll take that pottery class you’ve always wanted to try, or get up early to greet the day with sun salutations on your yoga mat. Your counselor can help to uncover the new version of yourself, and you may find yourself loving the new you.

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