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5 Types of Treatment for Alcoholism

Author: Kevin Olsen

Last Updated: 10/26/2022

Alcoholism is an ailment that many people around the world deal with daily. In fact, according to the CDC, over 76 million people worldwide suffer from an alcohol use disorder of some kind. In total, over 2 billion people worldwide drink alcohol, which means that any one of them is susceptible to an alcohol use disorder (AUD). The best way to combat alcoholism is to get treatment from a medical health professional.

The five most common methods of treatment are medical detox, residential inpatient alcohol treatment, partial hospitalization program (PHP), intensive outpatient program (IOP), and outpatient alcohol treatment. Alcoholics who seek treatment of some kind recover at a higher rate than those who try to do it on their own. According to SAMHSA, about 40% of those suffering from alcoholism stay sober and recover for at least 12 months, this number drops down to almost 20% of those who try to quit drinking alcohol themselves.

1. Medical Detox

A medical detox of alcohol from your body typically has a few steps. The first is an overall assessment of your physical and mental health. Assessments like the CIWA-AR assessment help the medical team craft an exact plan for your specific detox. Then, it’s time to go through the process of withdrawal. Some of those include anxiety, headaches, nausea, rapid heartbeat, confusion, and more. Due to these side effects, it is important that you either detox in a facility or with the care of someone you trust. 

Once your body is in a fully alcohol-free state and you’re stable, the next step includes entering a rehabilitation center. Just because you were able to detox from the alcohol does not mean you will not be tempted to drink again. The rehabilitation centers help you break your dependency on alcohol.

Keep in mind that the process of detox and withdrawal varies based on each person. Typically, the effects will last 7 days at most. After this, you will have fully detoxed your body. On the other hand, if after 7 days you still have some symptoms of withdrawal then you have not completed the detox. You will know it is over once the side effects are fully gone.

2. Residential Inpatient Alcohol Treatment

There are many different variations of rehabilitation centers for alcohol. The first one is a residential inpatient alcohol treatment center. It’s a full-time, live-in treatment center to help you conquer your alcohol abuse. These treatment centers do tend to be more long-term than others. They have various programs depending on the actual facility but most of them last from 3 months to up to a year or longer. 

It also depends on the level of care you require and how long it takes to beat your addiction. The way these long-term, live-in centers help you with your alcoholism is by providing you with a safe and nurturing environment free from any outside stress and free from any triggers that would normally get you to drink alcohol. By doing this over a long period you will be able to fight off your addiction and leave the center no longer dependent on alcohol.

Inpatient treatment centers will also provide a combination of effective treatment modalities. Treatments depend on the needs of a patient but the common treatments are detox, therapy, medications, and counseling. Peer-to-peer recovery is also a highlight of inpatient rehab because recovering alcoholics are around each other.

3. Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

Another treatment option for those suffering from alcohol addiction is partial hospitalization programs (PHP). There are typically 2 different ways that doctors want to use a partial hospitalization program for you. The first way is if you were hospitalized due to alcohol abuse. They can be either live or outpatient. These are highly structured settings filled with highly trained psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, therapists, and peer support. 

The exact number of sessions varies based on each person and their situation but when you are in a PHP you will have a required number of sessions and meetings you must attend. You will be told how long you must stay and how many days per week based on your situation. Failing to meet these needs will result in problems or being removed from the program. Programs remove patients because they want you to get better and this form of structure is meant to help you get better faster, but if you won’t commit to it then you may not be ready to get better through this method. 

The other way they use the PHP method is as a “bridge” between inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation centers. It allows for a smoother transition for those who need it to continue their recovery safely. PHP may also be used for detox before someone enters into an inpatient program. Therefore, it’s a flexible treatment method but it’s designed for more serious cases of alcoholism.

4. Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

Just as partial hospitalization programs can be used as a “bridge” between inpatient and outpatient programs, intensive outpatient programs are useful in similar ways. When alcohol addiction is not severe enough for an inpatient program but too severe for outpatient treatment, intensive outpatient programs are the solution. The biggest benefit most people find in these programs is flexibility. You can continue living at home, going to school, working, and hanging out with friends and family as you like. Still, you’ll have required hours on specific days that you must report to the facility for addiction care. 

You will also have mental health care available to you if it is required for your treatment or if you wish to add it to your treatment. The IOP treatment method helps those who are leaving an inpatient program because it allows them to begin to transition back into normal life while also having a structured addiction treatment plan to ensure there are no relapses. 

Like most facilities and treatment options, it does vary based on each case but typically most IOPs will last between 1 month and 3 months. They are a shorter treatment method because it is mostly seen as a step down from inpatient and helping you to move to a fully outpatient facility, they are not meant to be your full-time method of care.

5. Outpatient Alcohol Treatment

Outpatient centers are designed to get you fully immersed into your new life outside of an inpatient center and free of alcohol. You will still have structured meetings and times to check in but they can be as low as 1 to 3 days a week depending on the situation. The outpatient step is also seen as a way to determine if you are fully ready to get back into the world with no treatment center help. People who relapse or struggle to stay sober may go back into an inpatient facility or back into a partial hospitalization program. 

One of the biggest things they do in these outpatient facilities is to focus on your mind and mental health. While in an inpatient facility there is no temptation of alcohol, it is fully removed from your environment. Out in the world, it is everywhere. Alcohol is found on commercials, billboards, and in bars on every street. Plus, your friends or family may drink a lot and most restaurants serve alcohol. Outpatient centers focus on how you can ignore temptation so that you can fully live your life and not be worried about having a relapse. 

Typically you will stay in an outpatient treatment center’s plans for about 10 weeks. At this time you will fully transition back into society. Keep in mind that treatment length is personal. Therefore, some people will seek outpatient treatment for up to one year. Outpatient treatment is also possible for people who never enter an inpatient treatment program. In some cases, outpatient programs have a higher success rate than inpatient programs for people who need to work or support a family.

What to Know More About the Treatment of Alcoholism?

Almost every city in the United States, if not in the whole world, has alcohol treatment centers. You can search online for a local center, or you can ask your healthcare provider for any references they may have. Many recovering alcoholics may even put their stories and journeys online and you may be able to see what they thought of certain programs and specific centers. 

It’s important to talk to people you can fully trust to give you the cold hard facts. You may think you don’t have a problem and that a short outpatient program is all you need. One of your loved ones may feel different and they may be able to tell you how bad the situation is. It’s important to remember that you could be biased and you should listen to those you trust. 

What are the Types of Therapies Needed for Alcoholism?

There are multiple different types of therapies for recovering alcoholics. However, the three most common methods are found below.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Treatment Centers will use CBT to help you manage your cravings for alcohol, reduce your substance use and avoid any relapses. It does this by speaking with a therapist and examining each thought you have. You begin to notice the unhealthy pattern that leads to drinking and how you can stop these situations from happening. CBT is also used to help you find other ways to cope with situations such as healthy habits like exercising and arts & crafts.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): DBT is a combination of multiple therapy methods to reduce your use of alcohol, ease the withdrawal you may be experiencing, manage cravings, and avoid triggers around you. DBT is typically a combination of 1 on 1 therapy, group session, and phone session, all used to determine ways to help you in your recovery. Emotional regulation is a major part of DBT. Figuring out why you have certain negative emotions and why they lead you to drink alcohol, and how to overcome that and take the alcohol out of the situation.
  • Recreational Therapy: Recreational Therapy is used in many different settings and different populations. When used in a treatment center for alcohol it is used to help reduce stress and enjoy yourself. Sometimes being in a treatment center can seem like a boring or “bland” experience. Being able to let loose and enjoy games of volleyball, do some yoga, or paint pictures can help to let your guard down and tap into more emotions and it can also help you to find a new hobby to use as a coping mechanism rather than alcohol. Recreational therapy is a vastly important tool in many treatment centers across the world.

Which One is the Most Effective Alcoholism Treatment?

According to research published in Alcohol Research and Health, the average success rate of CBT is between 50% and 75%. Most methods have a success rate under 50%, so CBT is the most effective alcoholism treatment. According to the Psychiatric Clinics of North America, CBT is the most useful and effective in inpatient rehab sessions.

What kind of Alcoholism Therapy is most Frequently Used?

Sources like the Mayo Clinic suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most frequently used therapy for alcoholism. CBT is the most common because it gives alcoholics the tools to recover and maintain sobriety. Still, there are also other effective therapy and counseling methods.

One of the most frequently used therapy methods in a treatment center is recreational therapy. This is because most therapy methods involve speaking 1 on 1 or in a group and discussing things that make you feel uncomfortable. Most people don’t want to do this. With recreational therapy, most people don’t even realize they are engaging in therapy because they think that all they’re doing is playing a game of basketball or hockey. They are letting their guard down, letting their emotions out. It allows them to feel stress-free and helps them find new ways of coping other than turning to alcohol.

Over the last few years, recreational therapy has become increasingly popular in treatment centers and most centers will seek out some of the top recreational therapists they can find to provide that top level of care to their patients.

What are the Medications Needed for Alcoholism?

There are 4 primary medications that doctors prescribe for alcoholism. Disulfiram has been used for over 50 years in the treatment of alcoholism. It stops your body from being able to metabolize alcohol. This causes you to begin to have some side effects when you drink alcohol. The more you drink, the worse the effects will become. It’s intended to become a deterrent to drinking and help you quit. 

Naltrexone blocks your brain’s alcohol receptors and causes you to drink less. If you already stopped drinking you will notice cravings going away and if you still drink you will notice that you begin to drink less and less each time. 

Acamprosate is useful for stopping you from wanting to drink. It is used commonly for alcoholics and is a “quick fix” for your addiction. It is not a long-term solution and you should still seek treatment after taking this medication. The main difference with this medication is you will not incur any negative side effects if you drink alcohol while taking this medication. 

Lastly, benzodiazepines are a class of medication and not just 1 medication. Benzos are a class of anti-anxiety medications including Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium. Benzos are primarily used in your initial stage of detoxification and help to stop you from experiencing seizures or other negative side effects that come along with withdrawal.

What is the Aftercare Program for Alcoholism?

Aftercare programs for alcoholics are exactly what they sound like. An aftercare program is a program that alcoholics enter into after spending time at an inpatient or outpatient rehab center. Examples of aftercare programs include Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) and even outpatient rehab can be considered aftercare.

Aftercare programs help you to avoid the triggers and learn what life will be like after rehab. It also sets you up for your first year of life in sobriety before you exit the program. Aftercare programs are important to make sure you don’t relapse and need to restart your recovery process all over again.

Is the Treatment for Alcoholism Effective?

Yes, the treatment of alcoholism is effective. Studies from the CDC show that 36% of those suffering from alcoholism fully recover after 1 year of sobriety. However, different treatment methods have different success rates. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, has an 80% success rate for people maintaining sobriety. Another example is the Sinclair Method, which helps people reduce drinking without quitting alcohol. The Sinclair Method has an 80% success rate.

Is Alcohol Addiction Treatment Covered by My Insurance?

Yes and no. Depending on your insurance the answer varies. Most major insurance companies will cover either the full amount or a partial amount of alcohol rehabilitation. If you are curious about your specific plan you should reach out to the company to find out. Medicare and Medicaid programs also have specific rules surrounding alcoholism.