What is the first step towards getting treatment for alcohol addiction?

Recovering from alcohol addiction can feel like climbing a mountain. In the beginning, the idea of getting to the end goal can seem daunting – even for some people, impossible. However, alcohol addiction treatment aims to break down the larger task of recovery into smaller goals. Once you begin to view your addiction recovery journey as a set of steps, it can feel less intimidating to begin. It is possible to scale the mountain with the right preparation, tools, and support.

So, how do you start the climb? It starts with reflection, acceptance, and honesty.


Early stages of recovery: Acknowledging addiction

Addiction and ‘Denial’

Addiction is linked with a range of complicated emotions. These can include guilt, shame, anger, embarrassment, and denial. These emotions can often get in the way of our clarity, making recognising the need for recovery all the more difficult. In the heat of addiction, it can be hard to think objectively – to take a step back and reflect that perhaps our situation is not healthy and accept that it is time to access alcohol help. However, for a lot of people, this is incredibly hard.

This is because addiction has a very strong psychological hold. It can lead to a range of ‘cognitive distortions’ that affect the way that we see ourselves, our actions, and the world around us. This can lead to ‘minimisation’, a process where we have begun to convince ourselves that things aren’t as bad as they seem – that our drinking habits are not that unhealthy and, therefore, that there is no cause for concern.

But this can often cloak the difficult reality of our situation. One risk with this is it means that we can ‘sit’ in addiction for a longer period of time. This means that our thoughts and behavioural patterns can become more ingrained. They then become more ‘normal’ and, therefore, harder to challenge. The longer we leave addiction unchecked, the further it tightens its grip. The psychological and physical health consequences will be more severe as this happens. Years (or even decades) of chronic drinking can have severe impacts on our bodies, brains, and quality of life.

Acknowledging addiction

In 2023, 137,749 adults began accessing addiction treatment in England. But, if recognising the need for recovery is so difficult, then how do so many individuals access support at an alcohol detox centre?

There are a myriad of factors that lead to people acknowledging that they need alcoholism treatment. These include:

  • alcohol-related health scares
  • non-alcohol related health scares
  • the death of a loved one
  • relationship breakdowns
  • job loss
  • financial difficulty
  • a moment of ‘clarity’
  • formal intervention
  • learning about addiction

People start their addiction recovery journey from a range of paths. However, what all of these paths have in common is the recognition of the impact addiction is having. This happens to happen when we begin to learn what addiction actually looks like. It is easy to hear about addiction and think, ‘That will never happen to me.’ However, addiction does not discriminate. A key component of healing from alcoholism, then, is broadening our knowledge of addiction itself and learning to read the signs of dependency present in our own lives. This can allow us to be more honest with ourselves about our relationship to alcohol.

Educating ourselves: What does addiction look like?

One of the most powerful ways to begin our walk towards recovery is to understand what addiction looks like. This can be a jarring process, as learning the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction can often feel like an uncomfortable process – like looking in the mirror for the first time. But once we are able to see our situation for what it is, we can then begin to move forward.
The key areas to learn about addiction are the ways in which it affects:

  • the body
  • the mind
  • our relationships
  • our quality of life

Addiction and the body

Alcohol addiction can lead to a very serious mark on the body. The World Health Organisation states that alcohol is linked to around 200 different diseases and conditions.

  • 3.3 million deaths are linked to alcohol each year (5.9% of all global deaths)
  • In the US, heavy drinking shortens lives by an average of 23 years
  • Heavy alcohol use is linked to a higher risk of accidents and injuries
  • Heavy alcohol use is linked to a higher risk of unsafe sex
  • Heavy alcohol use can lead to the weakening of the immune system and an increased risk of cancer

Addiction and the mind

Alcohol is a stimulant – this means that it affects the way our brains work, even after we are no longer drunk. Heavy alcohol use is a key indicator of a range of complex mental health conditions. People dealing with alcoholism often have a dual diagnosis, meaning they have a diagnosis of a mental health problem, such as:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • borderline personality disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • psychosis
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • schizophrenia

Addiction and relationships

Addiction has a ripple effect. It starts to colour the connections we have with other people, which can lead to:

  • tension in romantic relationships
  • conflict at home
  • issues surrounding childcare
  • estrangement from loved ones
  • social isolation

Addiction and quality of life

All of these factors can lead to a serious decline in general wellbeing. These can have tangible effects on our quality of life. A high number of individuals starting treatment for alcohol addiction report having financial difficulties, including insecure housing and unemployment. This can lead to a cycle of intense distress and overwhelm, which can make addiction a self-perpetuating cycle.

Being honest: Practising reflection

Once we know how addiction manifests, we can perhaps start to identify the marks it has left on our lives. To take this even further, we can actively reflect, asking ourselves the following questions:

  • how often do I drink?
  • how much do I drink?
  • why do I drink?
  • how do I feel when I am drinking?
  • how do I feel when I am not drinking?
  • can I say no to alcohol?
  • how much control do I have over my drinking patterns?

These can be quite difficult questions to answer – however, they can offer up some very honest reflections on your relationship with alcohol, which can ultimately be the step that is needed to move forward.

Accessing addiction help

Accessing rehab may seem daunting – however, for many, attending an alcohol detox centre can offer much-needed solace during a very difficult time. Alcohol addiction treatment takes place in three key stages:

  1. detox
  2. therapy
  3. aftercare

This three-step programme aims to tackle the physiological side of things (addiction cravings), address both the psychological causes and effects of addiction and offer a form of ongoing support when formal rehab ends. Alcohol rehab looks different for everyone – but with a mix of appropriate interventions within these three key stages, you will become equipped with the tools, knowledge and support to climb towards recovery. Professional addiction support can be the best way to help you reflect and reassess your situation, to allow you to scale your mountain, one step at a time.