“Two things will be believed about any man whatsoever, and one is that he has taken to drink.” -Booth Tarkington

It isn’t unusual for people to seek treatment for their alcohol abuse problems when divorce is looming on the horizon. Indeed, probably two thirds of our clients come to us with crumbling marriages. What is surprising is that at a few of these clients don’t really have an alcohol problem and many of the rest are abusing alcohol, but aren’t alcoholics.

How does that happen?

Simply put, the treatment industry has promoted a Catch-22 model: if you’re accused of being an alcoholic and you agree, then obviously you are. But if you don’t agree then you still are – you’re just in denial. As Mr. Tarkington observed long ago, it’s a label that can be hurled at anyone and it will stick. And divorcing spouses like to use it just for that reason, it will stick and they will be able to leverage it to get what they want or at least make your life miserable for a while longer.

What is the reality? At a recent conference in western Canada, one presenter after another pointed out what a few of us have known for a long time, most people seeking help with their alcohol problems aren’t alcohol dependent “alcoholics” – they’re alcohol abusers who can be cured. But you won’t hear that if you go looking for help, or, God help you, an honest evaluation.

Why not? Because over 95% of all alcohol treatment programs are based on the assumption that you’re a powerless and diseased alcoholic, or you’re an alcoholic who’s in denial. Regardless, the outcome of any evaluation will be to put you in one of those two categories and “treat” you accordingly. It’s not an attractive prospect for anyone who actually cares about their future.

Options? Your choices are few and far between, and you’re probably in a vulnerable state, too. Not the best circumstances for making life altering decisions. But before you allow yourself to be labeled through a process that has only one outcome and one prescription, protect yourself by doing at least a bit of research.

First, simply go to a few AA meetings. You will know almost immediately whether or not this model will work for you. If it does, then simply continue. You don’t need to waste tens of thousands of dollars on 12 Step based treatment that’s already available to you for free right in your own neighborhood.

Second, if you don’t find yourself at home at these meetings, then there’s little point in going to traditional treatment. Paying to go to meetings isn’t going to make them any more effective – just the opposite. Most treatment programs will also leave you with a permanent, and public, label. That’s something that can come back to haunt you in the future whether you decide to run for public office or buy life or health insurance.

Third, consider the options. Read through the web sites of organizations like Moderation Management (moderation.com) and the non-pathologizing Good Therapy site (goodtherapy.org). Both have listings of programs and individuals who do not ascribe to traditional – and ineffectual – treatment.

Finally, resist being labeled, demeaned, and railroaded. Regardless of whether you are being smeared, or are abusing alcohol, or are indeed alcohol dependent, you deserve to be assessed and helped with respect, care, competence, and confidentiality. Do not allow yourself to be diminished and manipulated by others’ agendas.

Remember, there are alternatives, and you aren’t powerless.