Take Control of Your Drinking

I am a clinical psychologist who has worked with individuals who struggle with alcohol for over 35 years.  Over the years, I discovered that how I was originally trained to work with people who suffer from alcohol use, while valid and useful for many, was not true and helpful for everyone.  I also found that how I was first taught to work with people who suffered from their use of alcohol even turned some away from getting the help they needed.  And to this day, there are many people who work in the field who still adhere to principles of care that in my opinion, are not useful for everyone who struggles with their use of alcohol.

As I learned more about the nature of alcohol problems and looked closely at the most current research, I began to shift my approach.  By doing so, I found that I was able to engage more people into looking at and addressing their use of alcohol, and that I was able to aid more people.  As I gained confidence, I decided to write a book, Take Control of Your Drinking, with the goal of helping people to address their problematic drinking.  I also wanted to share what I have learned with people who may not suffer from alcohol use, but who have an interest in learning more about this disorder, and offer insight to providers who want to learn how to best help individuals who drink too much.  While there are many books that focus on this topic, my book offers a different approach than many of the others that have been written on this subject matter.  Admittedly, some of my ideas are controversial, but nonetheless, they are valid.  In this second edition, I added additional information and knowledge which I have gained since 2007 when the original book was published.  Again, some of this may be provocative, but what I say is supported by research.  Some key topics are the following:

To begin, an alcohol problem is generally understood as a disease, and abstinence from alcohol is typically seen as the only viable form of recovery.  I believe that the disease concept can be very helpful for some people, but the idea of having a disease does not fit for everyone.  I maintain that people should be free to understand their alcohol problem in a way that fits with their own philosophy and that there are other ways to understand the nature of an alcohol use disorder other than it being a disease.  While many people who struggle with alcohol consumption must achieve abstinence for a recovery to occur, this is not true for everyone.  An alcohol use disorder runs along a continuum and some people can learn how to successfully moderate their consumption of alcohol.  I have found that often, a person wants to first see if drinking less is possible before abstinence will be considered, and they should absolutely be given this option.


Many people also think that individuals who drink too much are “self-medicating” their psychological problems and that these problems need to be understood and addressed if the person is going to get better.  I do not think that this is always necessary or even relevant.  It is more important to understand how to stop drinking or to cut back than it is to understand why the problem developed in the first place, which may no longer even be important.  Once people have control over their use of alcohol and if they continue to experience some emotional distress which potentially could contribute to a relapse or may have contributed to the problem in the first place, those issues could then be addressed.

It is also commonly believed that people who struggle with alcohol must receive professional treatment to successfully resolve their drinking problem.  I maintain an alcohol use disorder varies along a continuum from mild, to moderate, and to severe.  While some people clearly need professional treatment to successfully resolve their drinking problem (in fact, for some, it can be dangerous not to seek treatment due to the possibility of experiencing a serious alcohol withdrawal syndrome), others can successfully address their drinking on their own.  

In Take Control of Your Drinking, I also outline the range of treatment options that are available if people find that they need some outside support.  What treatment is needed based upon the severity of the person’s problem is reviewed, as well as things to be mindful of when seeking treatment to ensure that the person obtains the best treatment experience. 

My overall goal is to help people to resolve their alcohol problem, whether they do this on their own or with the right additional support, and whether they abstain from alcohol completely or they learn how to moderate their drinking.

Order the second edition of Take Control of Your Drinking: A Practical Guide to Alcohol Moderation, Sobriety, and When to Get Professional Help at the following link: https://jhupbooks.press.jhu.edu/title/take-control-your-drinking

Michael S. Levy, PhD, is a clinical success manager at DynamiCare Health and maintains a private practice in psychotherapy. He is the author of Take Control of Your Drinking: A Practical Guide to Alcohol Moderation, Sobriety, and When to Get Professional Help and Celebrity and Entertainment Obsession: Understanding Our Addiction.

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