Sam has been charged with impaired driving twice. He drinks every weekend and he drinks a lot. His wife and other family members report that his personality changes when he drinks and he becomes mean. The next day he can’t remember much of what happened when he was drinking.

For a long time Sam argued that he did not have a drinking problem because he drank only beer and it was only on weekends. After his first impaired driving charge, he admitted he may be an alcoholic. He has subsequently tried to stop drinking alcohol a number of times, but the pattern continues. His family wants him to go to an alcohol rehab facility, but Sam still insists that he will handle the problem on his own. Can he do it?

The fact is that many people have overcome an addiction to alcohol on their own without ever entering an alcohol treatment center or going to group meetings. I read recently that you’re three to six times as likely to be successful doing it on your own as you would be by going to a traditional treatment program.

I didn’t know anything about AA or 12-step alcohol treatment centers when I realized I had to stop drinking. (I was consuming alcohol at a rate, according to Stats Canada, that exceeded that of the skid-row alcoholic.) I quit drinking and immediately got to work rebuilding my life. That was over 30 years ago.

Why is Sam failing and why do traditional rehab programs fail so miserably? I propose it is because both are focusing on the wrong thing. Both focus on drinking as the problem. When you focus on the drinking, you expose yourself to wild claims about alcoholism being an incurable, progressive disease, and how you will be in recovery for life. What you hear are certainly not messages of hope, but of failure. Perhaps that is what is keeping Sam stuck.

Unfortunately these notions are so pervasive in our culture that many alcoholics won’t admit their problem because they would be admitting hopelessness. The way one man put it to me was “I won’t get help because I refuse to be in recovery for the rest of my life.” My response to him was “Good for you!”

You can succeed in overcoming even severe alcohol abuse, if you place the focus on the life you want to create for yourself, that is, how you will reinvent yourself. And yes, you may have to do some work on the sources of the pain you had dulled with alcohol, and you may need some help. But if you keep your focus on moving forward, not on where you’ve been, you greatly increase your likelihood of success.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Neill Neill, psychologist, author and columnist, maintains an active practice with a focus on healthy relationships and life after addictions. He is the author of Living with a Functioning Alcoholic - A Woman’s Survival Guide. From time to time life presents us all with issues. To find out what insights and guidance Neill shares about your particular questions, go to