American alcohol consumption spikes every December as the holidays descend, which may help explain why reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption is a common New Year's resolution. If you have resolved to seek treatment for a drinking problem, there is good news and bad news.

On the one hand, federal laws such as the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 and the Affordable Care Act of 2010 make it more likely than ever that your health insurance includes an alcohol treatment benefit. But on the other hand, because of years of underfunding, stigma and segregation from the rest of the health-care system, many alcohol treatment programs are of poor quality. Fortunately, the federal government has a new tool that can help you find a quality treatment program that works for you.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has launched an Alcohol Treatment Navigator that walks treatment-seekers through important questions to ask and quality indicators to look for when choosing which treatment program is right for you. NIAAA's Lori Ducharme, who led the development of the Navigator, says she hopes "it helps people to feel more comfortable and confident reaching out to find alcohol treatment."

The Navigator flags important signs that a treatment program is high-quality, including that the staff are licensed by legitimate professional bodies and that the program conducts a careful assessment of your situation and develops a responsive treatment plan. Quality programs also provide access to Food and Drug Administration-approved medications for alcohol-use disorder such as acamprosate and naltrexone.

In low-quality treatment programs, individual and group counseling is composed largely of unstructured, unproductive, chat or aggressive confrontations designed to shame patients. Fortunately, there are structured, evidenced-based psychotherapies with higher levels of effectiveness. According to NIAAA-supported research, they include cognitive-behavioral coping skills therapy that teaches new ways of thinking and acting in relation to addictive substances and 12-step facilitation therapy, which introduces patients to the concepts of Alcoholics Anonymous and supports participation in that mutual help fellowship.

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Finally, it's worth remembering what is not a guarantee of quality: slick advertising, posh surroundings and sky-high prices. Alcohol treatment programs don't need to resemble day spas or oceanside resorts to be effective, so don't be tempted by fancy trappings that are more likely to relieve you of your life savings than your drinking problem. NIAAA's Navigator can help you find reasonably priced, ethical and effective treatment as you start on your journey to recovery.




Story by Keith Humphreys. Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and is an affiliated faculty member at Stanford Law School and the Stanford Neurosciences Institute.