Social skills training (SST) is a type of behavioral therapy used by therapists to help persons struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. It works from the position that people with drug and alcohol abuse problems may lack some basic skills needed to manage their emotions, maintain interpersonal relationships and function in the workplace.
Social skills are not innate. Rather, they are learned from family members, teachers and community members from an early age. A person with sound social skills will be able to achieve social reinforcement from those around them. This encourages a healthier lifestyle and cuts down on the impulse to turn to alcohol as a social coping tool.
Any social environment is riddled with verbal and nonverbal cues. For anyone who has not been taught how to interpret these cues appropriately, navigating a complex social scene can be extremely difficult. Those fortunate enough to have learned a strong social skills set in their childhood are liable to take these abilities for granted. For others, the complexities of maintaining eye contact, making small talk or knowing when someone wants to change the subject can be overwhelming.
The scope narrows down for alcoholics. Some may turn to alcohol in order to ease the anxiety felt in social situations, and SST can certainly help boost their social confidence and reduce the need to drink. However, most alcohol addiction counselors that use SST focus on teaching their clients how to turn down drinks in social situations like a party, wedding reception or gala.
For a recovering alcoholic who has completed alcohol rehabilitation and earnestly wants to stay sober, the threat of relapse is grave. Most alcohol addiction counselors advise their clients that relapse can be used as a learning tool and does not have to mean the end of sobriety. Even so, any training that can help a client avoid backsliding is much preferred to the hard-knocks approach of learning through failure.
One of the most effective ways to avoid relapse is to avoid situations where others are drinking. Avoiding bars is one thing, but there are certain social events that a person may have obligations to attend. Suppose a friend or loved one is getting married, but the reception is going to have an open bar. For an alcoholic, deciding whether to attend the wedding but pass on the reception – or to skip out on the wedding altogether – can generate undue stress. Social skills training can take the anxiety out of this dilemma.
The trick is to learn how to function in a setting that includes alcohol without caving in. Attendees unaware of the person’s history with alcohol may offer them a drink or wish to make a toast. The goal for the recovering alcoholic is to pass on the drink without embarrassing themselves or the person offering the drink. This is a deceptively complex task that becomes much simpler through proper social skills training.
This is just one way that social skills training can be used to improve the recovering alcoholic’s chances of avoiding relapse, but there are many others. Clients of drug and alcohol rehab centers can also use SST to achieve better interpersonal relationships or to navigate the workplace. In both cases, success translates into lower anxiety levels and higher overall satisfaction – key motivators for staying sober.
A therapist who uses social skills training to help clients stay sober starts by breaking down complex social situations and behaviors. For example, when helping a client who is feeling anxious about attending a wedding reception, the therapist and client may put together a list of behaviors that can be used to avoid drinking. Getting these down ahead of time and gives the client a chance to prepare for the upcoming event. Again, the self-confidence that grows out of this practice is an effective relapse-prevention tool.
Here are some social skills training methods used to help recovering alcoholics.
* Focused instruction: is probably the most effective form of SST; it involves offering detailed explanations of the sort of complex social behaviors that can be used to refuse drinks in social scenarios.
* Modeling: is a type of training in which the client observes and replicates behaviors executed by others; modeling is useful for helping a person decide which social response to choose but may not help in acquiring new skills.
* Role playing: gives the client a chance to put their newly acquired social skills into practice in a safe, low-stress environment.
* Feedback: may be provided by the counselor after role playing to help the client refine their social skills before putting them into practice in the real world.
Social skills training has been used for decades to help alcoholics stay sober after completing rehab. Its effectiveness is well chartered, with studies showing that SST’s solid reputation in treating drug and alcohol addiction is well-deserved.
One study tracked the progress of clients who completed SST with those in a control group over the course of a year. Those with SST enjoyed twice as many sober days as their counterparts. They also accomplished much longer periods of complete abstinence and managed to spend roughly twice as many days at work. In short, their lives were drier and more productive than those of the control group.
Social skills training is not sufficient for overcoming alcoholism, but its effectiveness in encouraging ongoing sobriety is well-established. Coupled with a comprehensive alcohol rehabilitation program, SST is a powerful means of avoiding relapse.