Can a doctor help with alcoholism. Couples with Alcoholic Histories: Treatment and Tips for Sobriety

The Unique Struggles of Couples with Alcoholic Histories

Treatments and Tips for Sobriety and Success

There are numerous models of treatment for couples coping with alcohol abuse or alcoholic histories. Here are five approaches and a corresponding “tip” for achieving sobriety and success as a couple: Help with alcoholism.

Alcohol Behavioral Couples Therapy (ABCT) uses techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy to improve communication and positive reinforcement between couples, as behaviors on the part of one spouse are thought to contribute to an environment that can either increase or decrease drinking in the other partner (3).

Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT) approaches therapy for couples from the standpoint that a spouse can be a support to encourage the other to not drink. This model of therapy emphasizes that a healthy marriage can help maintain sobriety, and also emphasizes positive regard by praising one another and learning to negotiate in a positive way for what each partner wants (4).

Family Behavioral Therapy (FBT) is an approach to working with couples and families struggling with alcohol abuse, addiction, and/or another co-occurring mental health problem. The approach emphasizes setting concrete behavioral goals that are then tied to contingencies. In other words, after a certain behavior, you will receive a particular reward. The goal of FBT is to increase compliance with sober behaviors and abstinence from using alcohol and other substances (5). The approach also includes components to address employment and financial management, as these issues are noted to occur frequently in people with alcoholism, and these systemic issues need to be addressed to achieve success in sobriety (6).

Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT) has been used in families working through issues related to addiction, especially when the substance abuse is occurring in an adolescent. In this approach, addiction and behavior problems are improved by improving family functioning. Interpersonal communication skills, positive parenting styles, boundaries, and goal setting are all areas of focus (7).

Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) is another approach to treating couples and families with alcoholism, and primarily has been used with adolescents with substance abuse issues. There is an emphasis in this approach on treating family dysfunction as well as using individual counseling. Individual counseling emphasizes coping and problem solving skills. In addition, this approach also emphasizes the involvement of community supports, such as probation officers, extended family members, or supportive neighbors (8).

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The approaches to treating couples with alcoholism vary, and all have support for their efficacy. The tips above can help with the situation. Finding the right approach varies from couple to couple, but couples in which both partners are struggling with alcoholism have a need for intense therapy that addresses the many issues that they typically are facing.


McCrady BS, Epstein EE, Cook S, et al. "A randomized trial of individual and couple behavioural alcohol treatment for women." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2009,77:243–256.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, NSDUH Series H-42, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 11-4667. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012.

Stout, R., Noel, N., Abrams, D. &, Nelson, H.F. (1991) Effectiveness of three types of spouse ‐ involved behavioral alcoholism treatment. British Journal of Addiction, 86(11), 1415-1424.

O'Farrell, TJ and Fals-Stewart, W. Behavioral couples therapy for alcoholism and drug abuse. Retrieved from January 12, 2016

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Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). Family Behavior Therapy. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"Family Behavior Therapy: An evidence based approach for adult substance abuse and associated problems." Retrieved from: of FBT Adult/. January 12, 2016.

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US), 1999. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 34.) Chapter 5—Brief Strategic/Interactional Therapies.

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