Options For Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Alcohol use is legal, socially acceptable, and extremely common. Most people who drink do so safely and moderately. However, it's not uncommon for alcohol use to cross the line and become a problem. Alcohol use disorder occurs when a person loses control over the amount and/or frequency of alcohol use, or when physical or mental distress occurs in the absence of drinking. It's a significant health problem in the U.S., as well as in other countries. You may have a problem with alcohol use if you feel that you must drink, you drink more than you want to, or if there are disruptions in your family and professional relationships secondary to alcohol use.


This might seem like an insurmountable problem, but many people have successfully overcome their drinking issues with treatment. When it comes to alcohol abuse, most people think of a 12-step program or a short-term inpatient rehab, but there are actually several other options. It's not uncommon to find that a combination of therapies works better than one alone.


For people who have a severe drinking problem, the first important step in treatment is detoxification. If a person has been a heavy user of alcohol, withdrawal may include tremors, hallucinations, or even seizures. In a professionally supervised detox, doctors can observe the person and administer medications to help with symptoms if necessary. This process usually takes two to seven days.


Behavioral therapy is aimed at changing drinking behavior through counseling which can help a person develop new skills and strategies that can be used every day. With the help of a counselor, a person struggling with alcohol abuse can learn to deal with stress and other triggers for drinking, develop a support system, and set and reach reasonable goals.  


There are different types of behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can take place one-on-one or in small groups, depending on the needs of the person. The goal is to change the thought processes that may lead to excessive drinking and to develop strategies to deal with common situations that may trigger the problematic drinking.


Motivational enhancement therapy is intended to build and strengthen the motivation to change drinking patterns. It can help a person identify the pros and cons of seeking treatment, formulate a plan, and develop strategies to stick to the plan.


Family and marital counseling involves a spouse and other family members in the treatment course. Studies have indicated that strong family support through counseling plays an important role in alleviating problem drinking and maintaining sobriety and is more successful than patients receiving individual counseling.


There are currently three drugs approved for treatment of alcohol abuse:


  • Naltrexone (Revia), which blocks the "high" you get from drinking

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse) which will cause nausea and vomiting if you drink

  • Acamprosate (Campral), which helps with cravings


These drugs are all non-addictive and should be considered treatment for a chronic disease. There is also ongoing research into drugs currently used for other purposes.


Although not a substitute for conventional medical treatment or psychotherapy, alternative treatment modalities should be considered as an adjunctive therapy. This includes such things as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture. These activities can help reduce stress and anxiety. People in recovery from alcohol addiction are often helped by involvement in some type of spiritual practice. For many, gaining insight into their spirituality is an important part of recovery.


Recovery from problem drinking is an ongoing process and support is important to success. Group therapy led by a counselor gives a person the benefit of professional counseling and group support. For many people, group support such as 12-step programs which are not under the guidance of a professional counselor offer understanding, guidance, and accountability.


Recovery can take a long time and some people in recovery do relapse and drink again. That's not a sign of failure, but is a stage in the process. On the bright side, most people who have been sober for a year, remain sober and as time passes, that number improves even more. Time and persistence are key.