How Do I Get Help With Drinking Too Much?
By Peg Rosen
You don’t have to say—or believe—you are an alcoholic to get help. Experts don’t even use that term anymore, because it was stigmatizing and made it all about the person rather than the medical condition they were experiencing. It also made it seem like people either had a severe problem with alcohol or they were just fine with drinking, and there was nothing in between.
The reality is that lots of people have challenges with their alcohol use, your relationship to alcohol can be problematic without being as severe as what you see in the movies, and there are different ways to get help. And, no, you don’t have to hit “rock bottom” to need or get it.
No matter where you are in your journey with alcohol, reaching for help is a sign of strength and the first step to making changes that will help you feel better about your relationship with alcohol and your physical and mental health.
No matter where you are, there is support that can meet you there.
Find an Ally
Allies can be any adult in your life who creates a safe space for you to be honest and share your concerns about your drinking. It may be your parents, guardian, or caregiver. If that’s a no-go right now, another relative, a close friend’s parent, a teacher, a school or campus counselor, or a coach you really like may also be a good first stop in your search to get help. Ultimately, being honest about your concerns with drinking and building a support system for yourself will give you the best tools to make a change.
Try to See a Doctor
It doesn’t matter whether it’s your pediatrician, a gynecologist, or someone at a local clinic. It’s their job to help you find treatment, confidentially and without judgment. If you’re underage and aren’t ready to confide in your parents, it’s OK to be vague about why you want to see the doctor. Bad headaches, stomach problems, or feeling super stressed could work. (You may be dealing with those anyway!)
If your caregiver comes with you, ask your doctor if you can have some time to speak alone. They will generally keep things confidential unless they think you are in immediate danger of hurting yourself. Your doctor may, however, encourage you to tell your parents, and can help get them on board with your recovery.
Check Out Options at School
College counseling centers are plugged in to the local recovery community, and they can connect you with therapists, support groups, and rehab programs. If you’re underage and in high school, the school nurse or counseling office can be helpful. If you don’t want your parents to know, ask first if they can keep things private. Depending on the state you live in, they could be required to tell your caregivers (which may not be a bad thing).
Join a Peer-Led Support Group
“Peer-led” means members help each other overcome their addiction issues. Alcoholics Anonymous is the best-known of these. Its free meetings happen both virtually and in person. AA also has groups specifically for young adults, women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.
Another great option is SMART Recovery. SMART stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. SMART Recovery focuses on helping people learn how to notice and manage triggers and urges to drink. It helps you understand the relationship among your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors around drinking, and encourages you to notice if there are certain thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that make it more or less likely that you’ll drink.
If you aren’t ready to quit alcohol entirely, Moderation Management is a group that can help you reduce how much you drink and the negative impact drinking has on your life.
Reach Out to a Therapist, Professionally Run Support Group, or Treatment Program
Know this before you Google: Just about anyone can call themselves an addiction expert, coach, or counselor. Although rare, there are some treatment programs that may not have your best interests in mind. The best place to find referrals to legit counselors and programs is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) treatment locator. The National Institute on Alcohol Use and Alcoholism site also offers tips for finding a reputable provider. our best bet? Work with one of the resources above. You’re on the road to finding help, and you don’t have to travel it alone.
When You Need Help Now
You should go to a hospital emergency room if you are having advanced symptoms of withdrawal, which can happen as quickly as a couple hours after you stop drinking. These symptoms include a very fast heart rate, tremors or shakes, excessive sweating, nausea or vomiting, extreme anxiety, seeing or hearing things that others can’t see or hear, an intense headache, or severe confusion.
Call 911 or have someone drive you to the ER. Once you get there, the providers can prescribe meds that prevent you from going through further withdrawal. They can tell what stage of withdrawal you’re in, and they can help you detox, either in the emergency room or by sending you to an outside detox facility.
You’re taking a huge step just by thinking about finding help. The road ahead may not be easy or without setbacks. But know that you, like so many others, can do it, and that you don’t have to get there alone.