Alcohol Addiction Treatment
What is Alcohol Addiction?
In the United States and much of the world, drinking alcohol is considered normal. In fact, it holds an important place in the cultural landscape, serving prevalent roles in casual social occasions, dating, business, festivities, and even religious ceremonies. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 90% of American adults have consumed alcohol and approximately 70% have consumed alcohol in the last year. More concerningly, 26% have engaged in binge drinking in the last month — and that’s not counting adolescents under 18, who also have a high rate of binge drinking. The vast majority of these would not consider themselves problematic drinkers. Because alcohol use is so ubiquitous, it can be difficult for people to recognize when they have a problem drinking.
In fact, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States. Approximately 15 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol addiction, which is referred to in the medical community as alcohol use disorder (AUD). People with alcohol use disorder drink compulsively, experience negative emotions when they’re not drinking, and struggle to control their use. One of the surest signs of alcohol use disorder is struggling to stop drinking and repeatedly failing. Being unable to quit or control ones substance abuse can be a deeply demoralizing experience. Unfortunately stigma and erroneous media-fueled perceptions that an alcoholic is a specific kind of person who’s lost everything prevent many people from seeking help before it is too late.
Not only does alcohol addiction damage self-esteem, it can destroy relationships with friends and family. It can also make it difficult to obtain or maintain a job and ultimately destroy a career. People with alcohol use disorder find it difficult to manage their finances and many people end up in debt. Because alcohol causes aggressive and often violent behavior, addicts can sometimes face legal consequences for criminal behavior. Binge drinking and regular alcohol use over time also does enormous damage to both physical and mental health. Alcohol abuse can in some cases be fatal.
Alcohol use disorder means that an individual finds it nearly impossible to stop drinking on their own. Thus, by definition, alcohol use disorder requires outside help. Fortunately, treatment for alcohol use disorder is widely available. Treating alcoholism is usually done in several stages that reflect the unique needs of the individual as they recover. A variety of treatment options and modalities are used simultaneously to ensure recovery, including support groups and counseling. Doing so provides patients not only with long term recovery and relief from the compulsion to drink, but a means for living a healthier and more prosperous life in sobriety.
The first step in treating an alcohol use disorder is enrolling in an alcohol detox program. This first stage of treatment involves physically quitting and withdrawing from alcohol. As the substance leaves the body, individuals experience an assortment of physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms. It is crucial to go through alcohol withdrawal under the medical supervision that a detox program offers. Unsupervised withdrawal can be dangerous and have disastrous effects on ones health. Sometimes medical interventions are necessary. It is also a painful and arduous time during which the majority of people benefit from counseling and the strong support system of a detox program. Depending on how severely addicted the patient is, an alcohol detox program can last from a few days to a few weeks.
It should be understood, however, that alcohol addiction is not cured as soon as one has detoxed and become physically abstinent. In fact, alcohol use disorder, like many diseases, can be treated but never cured. After detox, patients are advised to continue treatment in a residential treatment center or an outpatient program. Doing so will allow individuals to continue to learn coping strategies, understand the underlying issues behind their addictions, work on their mental health, and develop skills to enable them to build a new life afterwards in sobriety.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, the book used by members of the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose mental health disorders, lists eleven symptoms of alcohol use disorder. If a patient reports suffering from two or more symptoms, then they can safely be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. These signs and symptoms are as follows:
Risks of Alcohol Addiction
Beyond the obvious physical consequences of severe addiction, alcohol abuse and alcoholism also change how people live their lives. Because drinking alcohol takes precedence over other activities, many people suffer personal disasters such as loss of work, divorce, loss of child custody, financial difficulties, incarceration, and even homelessness. Individuals with substance use disorder are also at a higher risk of developing substance abuse problems with other drugs. Prolonged heavy drinking can lead to mental health issues or exacerbate extant mental health disorders. After years of heavy drinking, many people find their lives absolutely unrecognizable — and definitively miserable.
The Dangers of Quitting Alcohol By Yourself
Anyone who suffers from alcohol use disorder knows that it is extremely difficult to quit drinking on ones own. Because alcohol hijacks the reward centers of the brain that control motivation, willpower is rarely sufficient to stop drinking. Over the short term, it is sometimes possible for people to refrain from drinking. Inevitably, however, alcohol addiction rears its ugly head again and a return to drinking is inevitable. For any heavy drinker, outside help via support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous is essential for long term recovery.
Further, an individual dependent on alcohol is bound to experience a variety of complications and difficulties during withdrawal that call for supervision under trained medical and addiction professionals. These dangerous symptoms of withdrawal include fluctuations in blood pressure and heart rate, delirium tremens, and possible damage to the central nervous system. Medical experts advise that anyone interested in quitting alcohol seek out a licensed alcohol detox facility where a person can get proper care.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
- Shaky hands
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
6 hours after a person stops drinking, the first physical and psychological symptoms can become apparent. For individuals with severe alcohol use disorder, seizures are a possibility. It is important for these people especially to detox at a treatment center so that they can get the care they need.
Between 12 and 24 hours after taking a final drink, some individuals experience hallucinations. While these can be terrifying experiences, they pose no inherent risk to the patient. Once again, however, it is important to work with counselors to deal with associated mental health difficulties.
Between 24 and 48 hours, patients can expect to continue to experience some of the more minor symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. These include headaches and other pains, tremors, and gastrointestinal issues.
At the 48 hour mark, some patients experience delirium tremens (DTs), a dangerous condition characterized by high heart rates, seizures, and a high body temperature. DTs can be life-threatening.
Enrolling in a medical detox is the best course of action for anyone interested in beginning the withdrawal process. Medical detoxes can provide a safe comfortable environment in which to detox. For individuals with severe addictions, medical professionals at these treatment centers can also prescribe drugs that reduce alcohol cravings and alleviate some of the symptoms of withdrawal.
Which Type of Alcohol Treatment Center is Best for Me?
Alcohol Addiction DetoxMedical detox facilities are recommended for anyone who is planning to stop drinking. At these treatment centers, withdrawal symptoms are treated by medical professionals to ensure safe outcomes. Patients can begin their journey of recovery here and work with a case worker to determine the best next course of action.
Alcohol Addiction Inpatient Treatment ProgramsAfter detox, addiction professionals recommend enrollment at an inpatient treatment program. These residential programs, often referred to as alcohol rehabs, offer patients a safe space to get further treatment for alcohol use disorder. They work with support groups and counselors to work on underlying issues. Individuals also begin the process of developing coping mechanisms and strategies to avoid relapse over the long term.
Alcohol Addiction Outpatient Treatment ProgramsOutpatient treatment programs can be used as a transition from an inpatient treatment program, or they can be used in lieu of one for individuals who require more flexibility. Attending an outpatient treatment program usually involves spending a few hours a day at a treatment center where patients can receive counseling and learn valuable life skills.
Alcohol Addiction Aftercare Treatment ProgramsWhen people graduate from a treatment center, it is always a good idea to have a plan in place for long term treatment. 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other alternative support groups are the most popular and time-proven method. These programs offer both a social support system and a program to treat addiction on an ongoing basis. Aftercare is, in some ways, the most important aspect of a treatment program. It is important to remember that alcohol use disorder can be continually treated, but it can never be completely cured.