What are the Options for Alcoholism Treatment?

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Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 11/15/2021

Alcoholism is a condition that develops over time when someone regularly consumes alcohol. The condition causes people to become dependent on the substance and it produces urges to drink and symptoms of withdrawal during sobriety. Alcoholism is a dangerous condition because many people don't seek treatment and it damages organ function throughout the body over time. 

Still, alcoholism is a treatable addiction. It's not as simple as just not drinking alcohol but treatment is accessible in many forms. The most common methods include:

  • Alcohol rehab treatment facilities 

  • Alcohol detoxification 

  • Pharmaceutical treatment for alcoholism 

  • Alcoholism support groups 

1. Alcohol Rehab Treatment Facilities 

Alcoholism rehab programs are among the most effective treatment options for alcohol addiction. These programs consist of inpatient or outpatient modalities that give people the tools to overcome addiction and remain sober after treatment. 

Inpatient treatment is designed for people to remain at a treatment center for a prolonged period. These periods can last for between 3-12 months (depending on the severity of the addiction). Inpatient treatment centers provide people with rooms, beds, meals, activities, therapy, and even support groups. Because residents remain on campus, Inpatient treatment tends to have the highest success rate and works well for severe cases of alcoholism.

Outpatient programs are different from inpatient programs because people don't remain at the clinic. Instead, there is typically a treatment schedule that consists of weekly therapy sessions and group meetings. Some outpatient clinics also offer detox programs and prescribe medications.

2. Alcohol Detoxification 

Alcohol withdrawal can start after 6-12 hours of not drinking and withdrawal symptoms tend to peak at around 24-48 hours. During this time medical detox can ease symptoms and prevent complications. For these severe cases, medical professionals will recommend a medically-assisted treatment (MAT). Detox programs aren't considered long-term solutions but they can help you get started on the path to recovery. 

These programs typically begin with an intake exam. The exam helps medical professionals identify how serious the detoxification process will be. From there, medical staff will monitor vitals, keep patients comfortable, and recommend treatment programs once detox is complete. In fact, some treatment programs won't take people unless they've completed a detox (this is most common with sober living homes).

3. Pharmaceutical Treatment for Alcoholism 

Pharmaceutical treatment for alcoholism treats the condition by making alcohol undesirable with the use of medications. The most common medication for alcoholism treatment is Antabuse, a brand of disulfiram medication. Disulfiram medications make alcoholism undesirable by making the buzz and drunkenness unpleasant.

That said, if withdrawal symptoms are severe medical professionals might recommend additional medications like vitamins and sedatives. The vitamins can help people avoid dehydration and sedatives can help with seizures if they occur. While pharmaceutical treatment is useful it should be used in conjunction with other treatment methods like outpatient care or support groups.

4. Alcoholism Support Groups

Alcoholism support groups are the most common treatment options for people suffering from alcoholism. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are designed to help people remain sober for the rest of their lives. Sobriety is maintained through an accountability partner (sponsor). 

Groups like AA are excellent treatment options when used as aftercare treatment once inpatient and outpatient programs come to an end. You can find local AA groups in your area by visiting their website.

What Strategies are Used to Treat Alcoholism? 

Alcoholism is treated with medications, therapy, and even electrolytes. With many treatment options, it's important to explore your options.

Below are the common strategies used to treat alcoholism:

  • Oral medications

  • Detox 

  • Abstinence 

  • Group meetings and opening up about the journey 

  • Long-term inpatient programs

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

  • Outpatient programs with weekly therapy sessions 

  • Sober living homes

  • Christian faith programs

There are many strategies to treat alcoholism but prevention is always the best option. Always aim to prevent alcoholism before it starts.

Can the Brain Heal Itself From Alcohol? 

Yes, the brain can heal itself from alcohol, alcohol abuse, and long-term alcoholism. According to Clinical Psychology Review, studies have shown that the brain can return to normal in areas like general intelligence, long-term memory, short-term memory, verbal fluency, and more. In fact, studies have also shown that the brain can repair neural pathways damaged by alcohol abuse. While the process takes time and varies from person to person, it's possible to heal.

Unfortunately, the brain can't fully heal from years of alcohol abuse. While some areas of the brain will return to normal, other regions will not. Studies have shown that semantic memories, attention span, emotional intelligence, facial memory, and planning skills don't fully recover. People may improve to a degree in these areas but damage there is often permanent.

What Medication Can Help You Stop Drinking? 

Medications like Disulfiram (Antabuse) are designed to help people stop drinking. Developed in the early 1950s Disulfiram was the first medication of its kind to get FDA approval. The medication works by changing the way your body breaks down alcohol, which causes alcohol to become unpleasant. While it works for some people, people have a hard time using the medication because it makes most people feel sick.

A more recent medication is naltrexone. Naltrexone is designed to make alcohol unpleasant but it doesn't make people feel sick. Instead, it takes away the euphoria that comes with alcohol. Studies have shown that naltrexone is best-suited for people who have already gone through alcohol detox.

Another medication doctors can prescribe is acamprosate. Unlike naltrexone and disulfiram, acamprosate works by easing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and the anxiety that comes with it. Acamprosate binds to GABA receptors to help control insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness caused by alcohol withdrawal and the chemical imbalances it creates over time.

While all of these medications are helpful, it's up to the individual to stop drinking. These medications should be looked at as a tool to help you with alcoholism, not the short-term, quick fix. Research shows that following a program with these medications for 6-12 months has the highest rate of success, so it should be treated as other alcoholism treatment modalities.

What Medication Can You Not Drink Alcohol With?

Alcohol is a depressant, so you shouldn't mix it with other depressants. That said, alcohol and medications are not a good combination.

Here are some medications you shouldn't drink with alcohol:

  • Antibiotics (some)

  • Antidepressants 

  • Xanax 

  • Opioids (Percocet)

  • Marijuana 

  • Certain Steroids 

  • Antihistamines 

  • Blood pressure medications 

  • Blood thinners 

  • Muscle relaxers 

  • Cholesterol medication

If you're unsure of whether or not you can drink with the medication you take make sure you consult with your doctor.

Can You Stop Drinking on Your Own?

Yes, you can stop drinking on your own. People that suffer from alcoholism can quit and maintain a sober lifestyle by deciding not to drink alcohol anymore. While withdrawal might be challenging to manage it's not impossible and some people have success with the "cold turkey" strategy.

If you want to stop drinking there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of success. First and foremost, involve your friends and family. Going through the process with people you can trust makes the experience easier. Next, evaluate your goals and why you drink. Determining why you drink can help you discover the root cause of your addiction and prevent it from coming back once you're sober.

Once you have a support system in place and understand why you drink, start talking about it. Consider joining AA groups and sharing your experiences with others; you're not alone. The last step is to change your environment and get rid of your alcohol. Make sure you stop hanging out in bars or with people that might encourage you to drink. 

If you follow these tips your chances of recovering and not relapsing will increase.

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Thomas Roth
Lead Editor

Thomas has been working in the substance abuse industry for over 3 years and he's made it his mission to help those in need. Tom started out by writing content to help people find addiction treatment centers near their location. Once he understood the value in the words he wrote Tom shifted to outreach, editing, and content creation. If nothing else, Tom wants to see those who struggle with Alcohol abuse disorder recover.