Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder and Withdrawal
The term Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) has largely replaced the term “alcoholism,” but both phrases are referring to alcohol addiction.
There are some differences between developing actual alcohol addiction rather than simply building an alcohol dependence. However, both situations can result in harmful or even dangerous side effects.
Alcohol Dependence VS Addiction
Alcohol abuse occurs when a person drinks more than what the CDC defines as moderate drinking. Abusing alcohol can be demonstrated through both binge drinking and heavy drinking.
Binge drinking is defined as drinking several alcoholic beverages in a short period of time. For instance, having 5 or more drinks in a couple of hours could constitute binge drinking. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, is determined by drinking alcohol regularly over long periods of time—such as 15+ drinks (men) or 8+ drinks (women) every week.
Over time, the body can get used to these regular doses of alcohol, which is known as alcohol dependence. The body becomes dependent on the steady flow of alcohol to its system.
Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal
Once a person becomes dependent on alcohol, quitting drinking can cause the person to experience withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, these alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous or even deadly.
Some of the more minor alcohol withdrawal side effects may include cravings for alcohol or mild tremors. More severe side effects are known as Delerium Tremens (DTs) and can include strong tremors, seizures, significant confusion, coma, and death.
During withdrawal from alcohol, the brain becomes overstimulated. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it creates a sedative effect on the brain. If the brain gets used to constant sedation from regular alcohol use and then suddenly stops receiving that sedative, the brain becomes almost agitated. This brain agitation is what causes many of these dangerous side effects.
Therefore, many alcohol treatment centers provide specialized detox services where the patient is monitored, and medical care can be provided if withdrawal symptoms become dangerous.
Types of Alcohol Addiction Treatments
When people hear “alcohol rehab center,” they likely think of a residential facility where a person stays for a prolonged period of time. However, alcohol rehab programs cover a wide range of needs and can include both inpatient and outpatient treatment services.
The type of treatment plan you select will be as unique as you are. Regardless of what kind of rehab facility you choose, your treatment services will likely include a combination of therapies to assist you with quitting drinking and, if necessary, remaining abstinent from alcohol in the future.
As mentioned above, stopping your regular alcohol consumption could result in experiencing withdrawals. Some of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, even life-threatening, so medical detoxification (or detox) provides a safe way to get through the withdrawals process.
Going through alcohol detox under medical supervision will give you access to a team of healthcare professionals. They will monitor your vitals and, if necessary, prescribe medication for you during or after the medical detox is complete.
These prescription medications can assist with lessening your alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They can also help you avoid relapse by blocking the effects of alcohol altogether.
Some common medication prescribed to help treat alcohol use disorder include:
Inpatient care is designed to provide comprehensive care in a residential treatment setting. Inpatient treatment usually takes place at specialized recovery centers where the patient will stay for an extended period of time (typically 30 days or more).
In many cases, medical care will be provided to the patient during their inpatient stay. Inpatient programs are typically the most intense rehabilitation program option, so it is often recommended for patients with severe alcohol addiction, dual diagnoses, additional health concerns, or a history of substance abuse/substance use disorder.
Outpatient treatment comes in a few different forms, providing different levels of care for people with mild to moderate alcohol addiction. Outpatient care provides the same quality of treatment to individuals with alcohol use disorder without requiring such an extensive time commitment.
At outpatient recovery centers, patients will visit for a predetermined time each day. Patients are able to return home at the end of the day, and may also be able to continue working at jobs or attend to other obligations. The level of time commitment for outpatient treatment will depend on your individual treatment plan.
A partial hospitalization program is a type of outpatient treatment. In many ways, partial hospitalization is very similar to the daytime routine of residential or inpatient rehab, but without requiring the patient to stay the night.
Sometimes partial hospital programs are referred to as “day treatment” or “day rehab” for this very reason.
Types of Therapies Involved in a Treatment Program
All rehab programs for alcohol use disorder will provide some form of treatment geared toward behavioral health. Overall, patients struggling with any type of substance use disorder benefit most from a comprehensive approach that treats their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
In some cases, patients with co-occurring disorders (such as additional mental health concerns) will continue their mental health treatment as before, but with a specific focus on how their mental illness impacted their alcohol or drug addiction.
There are many types of mental health therapy offered for addiction recovery, and the types of therapy offered will vary between treatment centers. You can call ahead to find out what a specific recovery center offers if there’s something specific you’re interested in.
Psychotherapy is an umbrella term for counseling based on talking through issues with a licensed mental health professional. There are a few different types of psychotherapy that involve specific approaches to this “talk therapy” format.
Psychotherapy has been found to be beneficial to people in recovery for substance use disorders, including drugs and alcohol addiction.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves working with a therapist to identify your negative thought patterns. By identifying these negative behaviors, you and your therapist will then work together to reframe these thoughts.
CBT allows individuals in treatment for alcohol use disorder to examine any possible triggers that led to their issues with alcohol and learn better coping mechanisms to use in the future.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Another form of psychotherapy, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is especially helpful for at-risk patients or those recovering addicts who may still be in denial about some of their addiction issues.
Through DBT, the therapist will guide the patient to acknowledging and accepting the behaviors that may have led to their alcohol addiction in order to help the patient move forward past this mental block. By accepting the reality of their substance use disorder, patients can be successful in maintaining sobriety in the future.
Motivational interviewing is a therapy technique that is often used in the treatment of addiction. Motivational interviewing is especially helpful for recovering alcoholics who may not recognize the importance of changing their behavior or might feel that there isn’t much of a point in changing.
Through motivational interviewing, the therapist can help patients become more motivated to make a positive, lasting change in their lives.
Twelve-step programs are especially common in recovery for both substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder. These programs provide recovering addicts with 12 actionable, progressive steps to help guide them through recovering from their addiction.
Twelve-step groups also act as peer support groups, providing individuals with a sense of camaraderie, accountability, and encouragement throughout their recovery. These groups can be especially helpful for recovering alcoholics who may not have a solid support system outside of rehab.
In terms of treating alcohol use disorder specifically, one of the most popular 12-step programs is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
With advances in technology comes the ability to receive these important therapies electronically. Many AA meetings can happen through Zoom or other online call formats. Additionally, many therapists now offer remote sessions through telehealth formats.
Patients who desire to participate in teletherapy will need is a computer or similar device with internet access to enjoy this convenient form of therapy.
Typical Length of Alcohol Rehab
The length of rehabilitation for alcohol use disorder can vary based on the individual. Some factors considered may include the length of time alcohol was being abused, or whether the person has a dual diagnosis of other issues that need to be addressed.
With that said, overall alcohol use disorder rehabilitation timelines are as follows:
- Alcohol detox programs: Anywhere from about two weeks to one month, depending on the severity of dependence. (Available at both inpatient and outpatient levels.)
- Inpatient treatment for AUD: Typical length of stay can be 30, 60, or 90 days
- Outpatient treatment for AUD: Between 1-6 months, with hourly commitments each week varying based on individual patient needs
How to Support a Recovering Alcoholic
If you have a family member or loved one that is working through alcohol addiction recovery, providing them with a solid support system will go a long way in helping them.
Here are some ways you can support a recovering alcoholic:
- Show a sincere interest: Check in with them and ask about their recovery process. Oftentimes, people appreciate being able to talk about their progress and the strides they have made (or struggles they have faced). It helps them to know that someone cares about the work they are putting in. Make sure to practice active listening!
- Reduce friction and unnecessary arguments: Addiction recovery is a lot of work. Adding additional stress through nagging, picking fights, or causing other unneeded stress can work against them. While your loved one is working through recovery, it’s not necessary to walk on eggshells, but giving them a bit of extra grace in the form of patience can go a long way.
- Encourage healthy habits: Do you enjoy fitness? Maybe invite them to join you in your regular routine. Do you like to cook? Offer to have them over for a healthy meal. Even verbal praise and encouragement when the recovering addict is making healthy strides.
- Don’t judge: Remember, the person is in RECOVERY. They know that their alcohol use was a problem, and they sought treatment to get help for their problem. One of the worst things you can do is judge them while they continue working on improving themselves and making better life choices.
- Educate yourself on addiction and recovery: Understanding addiction can make a big difference in how you view the recovering addict and all the hard work they’re putting in. For instance, were you aware that addiction is a disease and not simply a personal failing? You can start learning more about addiction right here on this site.
- Set healthy boundaries: While it’s great that you’re encouraging your friend, relative, or loved one through their addiction recovery process, you may have mixed feelings. During this time, it’s also important for you to set healthy boundaries for yourself as well. Remember, the recovery process is their responsibility, not yours. Encouragement is great but you can’t do the work for them.
Is Recovery From Alcoholism Possible?
One of the most important steps in the journey to an alcohol-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 you from turning back to alcohol when life becomes difficult.
However, recovery from alcohol use disorder is absolutely possible. Many people go on to lead healthy lives with moderate drinking, and others choose to remain sober with great success.
Is it time to get help for alcohol use?
Whether you or your loved one needs help with a drinking problem, there are many resources available to assist you. You can start by finding an AA program in your city, or by using the SAMHSA program locator to find different rehab options in your area.
Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Rehab
Does Insurance Cover Alcohol Rehab?
In many cases, insurance plans (including Medicare) will cover some or all care for alcohol use disorder. However, it’s important to speak with your insurance carrier to find out what coverage is offered ahead of time for your specific plan.
How Do You Identify If Someone is Truly Addicted to Alcohol?
Alcohol misuse does not immediately mean addiction. Addiction to alcohol can often be identified if one or more of the following concerns are displayed:
- Excessive drinking on a regular basis
- Inability to cut down on drinking
- Lots of time spent acquiring, drinking, or recovering from alcohol
- Strong alcohol cravings
- Missed obligations
- Continuing to drink despite negative effects
- Losing interest in other activities
- Drinking even if it is dangerous
- Continuing to drink drinking despite physical/psychological harm
- Developing an alcohol tolerance
- Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
How Do I Find a Rehab Treatment Facility?
You can find a treatment facility for alcohol use disorder through your physician or therapist, by calling a local hotline, or through the SAMHSA program locator.