Alcohol Addiction Treatment

When alcohol abuse begins to interfere with someone’s mood, job and relationships, it is time to seek treatment for alcoholism. Although recovering from alcoholism is not an easy process, it can be achieved when a strict treatment plan is created and followed. One-third of people who participate in treatment for alcohol show no symptoms of alcoholism one year later.

Seeking Treatment: Sobriety can only be achieved if a person admits that there is a problem and makes steps to recover. If a member of your family has an addiction they are not ready to admit to, staging an intervention can be a healthy and effective way to talk to them about their behavior. To learn more about how to stage an intervention, visit the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. Having a support system of friends and family is the best way to stay on track and avoid relapse. The transition to a sober lifestyle can be wrought with anxiety and having a support team can make the process easier. All decisions regarding medications and therapy treatments should be discussed with a doctor or medical professional.

Detoxification: Detoxification is an unpleasant but important part of starting a journey to sobriety. When someone has an alcohol addiction, their brain’s neurotransmitters are disrupted, resulting in abnormal transmitting of messages. This produces the feelings of relaxation that chronic alcohol users feel when they drink. Shortly after they stop drinking, an alcoholic’s brain will start to overcompensate since it is not being suppressed, resulting in hyperexcitability and the symptoms commonly associated with it.

Withdrawal symptoms for alcohol addiction usually include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Shakiness
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

Detox is the body’s way of releasing the chemicals and toxins left over in the body from an extended period of abuse from alcohol. It can happen as soon as 2 hours after someone has stopped drinking and can last for weeks.

There are medications and certain active therapies that can reduce the symptoms of withdrawal and make them more bearable, but these can only usually be performed at a rehabilitation center. Going through detoxification is not usually life threatening, although there is a small chance that complications such as seizures can occur. For these reasons it is important to go through withdrawal and detoxification with the supervision of a medical professional especially if there is a previous history of heart disease or other serious conditions. These can worsen when put through withdrawal.

Utilizing Therapy:Finding the right therapy to get a person through detoxification and continuing on without alcohol is key to staying sober. A successful treatment plan should address every factor that leads to addiction including the physical dependence, the mental or psychological dependence, the outside influences that lead people to addiction and the predisposed risk factors that people can’t control.

Most therapy treatments fall into two categories: Behavioral and pharmacological therapies. Although some people prefer one or the other, the best option is to use a combination of them both. Discussing treatment options with a medical professional or counselor is essential at this point.

Staying on Track:The most important step in the journey to an addiction-free life is to stay on track once you’ve started. Having a proper plan with direction from a medical professional and a solid support system (friends, family or a support group) will keep someone from turning back to alcohol when treatment becomes difficult.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction

Pharmacological approaches:

  • Naltrexone is an effective medication for alcoholism treatment because it reduces both the pleasure and the cravings of alcohol intake. Naltrexone blocks receptors in the brain that are responsible for producing endorphins, removing the ability to feel the rush from ingesting alcohol or drugs. In several studies, Naltrexone is shown to dramatically reduce relapses and be as effective as professional alcohol counseling. It can be taken in pill form daily or once monthly through an injection administered by a medical professional.
  • Antabuse is the oldest method of treatment for alcoholism. It stops the production of the enzyme that allows the body to absorb alcohol. Without the enzyme to break down alcohol in the body, continuing to drink it will result in extremely unpleasant side effects like nausea and flushing. Antabuse is not a particularly popular method of treatment because if a person drinks they still feel the same pleasurable effects from alcohol, until they start feeling sick. In most cases, the person will stop taking the medication instead of deciding not to drink.
  • Campral is an effective drug for reducing withdrawal symptoms, making it easier to successfully detox. People with a very high dependence on alcohol had better results using Campral than those that had a less severe dependence.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Antianxiety medications and seizure medications are also used to treat uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal and detoxification.

Behavioral Interventions

There is more to addiction than the physical toll it takes on the body. Addiction changes a person’s emotional and mental state to make alcohol their number one priority. Behavioral interventions aim to give an alcoholic the power to resist the environmental and personal temptations that lead to drinking.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy:To prevent relapse, patients trying to acheive sobriety can try to relearn the certain behaviors that lead them to drinking. During cognitive-behavioral strategy, individuals identify the behaviors and learn specific tools of coping with them. A patient works closely with a counselor or therapist to develop effective coping strategies and implement them into daily life. Some examples of coping strategies include:

  • Examining the positive and negative consequences of alcohol in their life
  • Identifying when and where cravings manifest and avoiding those situations
  • Identifying environmental factors that play a role in addiction

Apps and other digital mediums are especially helpful with cognitive-behavioral therapy. Users can track progress and take make notes to help them stay sober.

Contingency management interventions/ motivational incentives:In this type of behavioral intervention, patients are given physical incentives as a reward for progress in sobriety. The physical incentives usually come in the form of a voucher or a prize that is valuable or can be used for food items, movie passes or other goods. Over time, if a participant continues to abstain from alcohol, the incentives increase in value. This method has been proven highly effective in support programs because it gives participants something tangible to work towards.

Motivational enhancement therapy:Motivational enhancement therapy is beneficial for heavy drinkers who are hesitant about entering a treatment program. This treatment is often preceded with an intervention, where family members gather with a counselor and attempt to convince someone they care about to give up drinking. Once a participant has agreed to seek out therapy, they they meet with a counselor one-on-one to plan how to proceed with treatment. This treatment begins aggressively in attempts to make the participant come to terms with their problem and want to take steps to live a healthier life. During sessions, the counselor and the participant work on motivational strategies and statements to encourage the desire to not return to the destructive behavior.

Alcoholics Anonymous:Alcoholics Anonymous is a popular group therapy program that helps individuals reduce or eliminate their addiction to alcohol. Using a twelve step facilitation program, participants are taught to use trust in a higher power and support from their peers to overcome addiction. Groups can be completely anonymous or open and meet all over the country. Some alcoholics anonymous groups use motivational incentives or other reward interventions as prizes for staying sober.

If you would like to learn more about an alcoholics anonymous program or find a meeting in your area, visit www.aa.org.

Resources

To locate an alcoholism treatment center near you and begin a journey to a healthier, addiction-free life, use the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

View Sources Last Edited: May 29, 2016

Sources and Citations

  1. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol/facts-about-alcohol
  2. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  3. http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/alcohol/international-statistics.html
  4. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/check-the-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-dependence
  5. http://www.recovery.org/topics/alcohol-and-drug-addiction-recovery/
  6. http://www.addictionsandrecovery.org/alcohol.htm
  7. http://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol-addiction-treatment