Alcohol Addiction Treatment


Similar to other diseases, alcohol addiction can be overcome with proper treatment, prevention, and increased research efforts. In a word, as serious as alcohol addiction is, fortunately it can be treated.

Alcohol addiction treatment usually includes a combination of doctor prescribed medications and counseling to help an individual abstain from drinking.

A Basic But Essential Question: What is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism and alcohol dependence, is a progressive debilitating disease. This basically means that the addiction gets increasingly worse as the person continues to drink.

Alcohol addiction has received a lot of recent attention in the media and has also been researched extensively by the alcoholism and alcohol abuse community.

One of the key pieces of information that has emerged from this research is the fact that alcohol addiction includes the following four identifiable symptoms:

  • Craving: having a strong urge or need to drink.

  • Loss of control: an inability to stop drinking after the first drink.

  • Physical dependence: withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, “the shakes,” anxiety, headaches, and perspiration when refraining from alcohol.

  • Tolerance: the need to drink increasingly more alcohol in order to get a “buzz” or to feel “high.”

Alcohol Addiction Treatment: A Basic Overview

Similar to other diseases, alcohol addiction can be overcome with prevention, increased research efforts, and with quality treatment.

With better access to quality alcohol addiction treatment, the costly drain on society and the emotional, physical, and financial encumbrances that alcoholism places on families can be greatly minimized or reduced.

Indeed, alcoholism research studies demonstrate strong evidence that successful alcohol addiction treatment programs and alcoholism prevention efforts result in significant reductions in unwanted pregnancy, HIV, cancer, traffic fatalities, heart disease, child abuse, strokes, and crime.

Moreover, quality treatment for alcohol addiction and drug abuse improves health, the quality of life, and job performance while at the same time reducing family dysfunction, drug abuse, involvement with the criminal justice system.

As serious as alcohol addiction is, fortunately it can be treated. Treatment for alcohol addiction usually includes a combination of counseling and medications to help a person refrain from drinking.

Although most alcoholics need professional assistance to recover from their addiction, alcoholism researchers have shown that with support and top-rate treatment for alcohol addiction, many people are able to stop drinking and reclaim their lives.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment: Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

A number of different techniques exist for treating the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and alcohol detox symptoms. Whereas some of these therapies use medications, many, on the other hand, do not. In fact, according to some of the current scientific research, the safest way to treat mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms is without medications.

Such non-drug detoxification programs employ screening and comprehensive social support throughout the entire alcohol withdrawal process. Other non-drug detoxification approaches, additionally, use vitamin therapy (especially thiamin) and proper nutrition for treating mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Mild to Moderate Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

The following represents mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms that typically occur within 6 to 48 hours after the last alcoholic drink:

  • Abnormal movements

  • Loss of appetite

  • Vomiting

  • Sweating (especially on the palms of the hands or on the face)

  • Enlarged or dilated pupils

  • Nausea

  • Tremor of the hands

  • Pulsating headaches

  • Looking pale

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Clammy skin

  • Involuntary movements of the eyelids

  • Sleeping difficulties

Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

The following is a list of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms that typically occur within 48 to 96 hours after the last alcoholic drink:

  • Severe autonomic nervous system overactivity

  • Black outs

  • Visual hallucinations

  • Seizures

  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

  • Convulsions

  • Muscle tremors

  • Black outs

  • Fever

  • Convulsions

Alcohol Addiction Treatment: Traditional Approaches

There are a number of traditional alcohol treatment options that are widely available. The following alcoholism treatment programs and therapies will be discussed: Outpatient Alcoholism Treatment and Counseling, Detoxification, Behavioral Treatment, Therapeutic Medications, Residential Alcoholism Treatment Programs and Inpatient Alcohol Rehab, and Family and Marital Counseling.

Outpatient Alcoholism Treatment and Counseling. There are many approaches to counseling that teach alcoholics how to become aware of the psychological and situational “hot buttons” that trigger their drinking behavior. Armed with this information, people can therefore learn about the various ways in which they can cope with situations that do not include the use of alcohol. Typically, therapies such as these are offered on an outpatient basis.

Detoxification. Alcohol detoxification is the process of letting the body rid itself of alcohol while controlling the withdrawal symptoms in a harm-free manner. Alcohol detox treatment is usually done under the supervision of a medical doctor and is frequently the first step employed in an alcoholic treatment program.

Due to the time needed for a thorough detoxification process, moreover, these programs are typically part of an inpatient alcohol rehab program.

Behavioral Treatments such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Motivation Enhancement Therapy. It is enlightening to note that according to a study undertaken by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, each of these three behavioral treatment approaches significantly reduced drinking in patients the year after treatment.

Even though all three of these programs were considered “successful,” none of them, interestingly, could be classified as “the best” treatment for alcohol addiction.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Alcoholics Anonymous is a mutual support program for recovering alcoholics that is based on the 12-steps of recovery that are necessary in order for people to remain sober. Support and assistance are provided by the meetings that regularly convene.

Is Alcoholics Anonymous the best strategy for the treatment of alcohol addiction? While Alcoholics Anonymous has proven itself to be an effective alcohol addiction treatment approach, many practitioners outside of Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as many members within Alcoholics Anonymous, believe that Alcoholics Anonymous is most effective when combined with other forms of treatment such as psychotherapy and medical care.

Motivation Enhancement Therapy (MET) is a systematic therapeutic protocol that is basically the total opposite of Alcoholics Anonymous in that it employs motivational strategies to stimulate the person’s own change mechanisms. Some of the main features of MET are the following:

  • Helping the client achieve self-efficacy or a sense of optimism

  • Therapist empathy

  • Providing feedback regarding the personal risks or damage associated with the abuse

  • Providing the client with a number of alternative change options

  • Receiving clear advice to make healthy changes

  • Emphasis on taking personal responsibility for positive change

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). There are several forms of cognitive behavior therapy. Most of them, however, share the following characteristics:

  • CBT uses the Socratic Method that is based on the asking of questions for insight.

  • CBT approaches are based on the cognitive model of emotional response. That is, if we change the way we think, we can act and feel better, even if the situation doesn’t change.

  • CBT is a mutually shared effort between the therapist and the client.

  • CBT theory and techniques rely on the Inductive Method. This method has clients look at their thoughts as hypotheses (or suggested explanations) that can be tested and questioned. If clients discover that their hypotheses are incorrect, they can then change their thoughts and feelings to be more in line with reality.

  • In CBT, a solid therapeutic relationship is necessary but not the primary focal point for effective therapy.

  • CBT is based on an educational model that views most emotions and behavioral reactions as learned responses. Thus, the therapeutic goal in to help the client unlearn undesirable reactions and emotions and replace them with new and more positive ways of feeling and reacting.

  • Homework is a central feature of CBT.

  • CBT is structured and directive.

  • CBT usually has therapeutic sessions that are briefer and fewer in number than most other forms of therapy.

  • CBT is based on stoic philosophy. CBT does not tell clients how they should feel. Rather, this form of therapy focuses on helping clients learn how to think more logically and effectively.

Therapeutic Medications. Recent research findings strongly suggest that the drugs with the highest likelihood of producing effective results when treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms are the benzodiazepines.

Examples include the shorter-acting benzodiazepines such as Ativan and Serax and the longer-acting benzodiazepines such as Valium and Librium.

After a person overcomes his or her withdrawal symptoms, other doctor-prescribed medications such as disulfiram (Antabuse) or naltrexone (ReViaT) can be prescribed to help prevent the person from returning to drinking after he or she has suffered a relapse.

Simply put, with this approach, doctors prescribe drugs to treat alcohol addiction. For instance, antabuse is administered to alcoholics and elicits negative effects such as nausea, vomiting, flushing, and/or dizziness if alcohol is ingested. Obviously, antabuse “works” so well mainly because it is a strong and efficient deterrent.

Naltrexone (ReViaT), on the other hand, is used in a dissimilar manner in that it targets the brain’s reward circuits and is effective because it reduces the alcoholic’s craving for alcohol.

Residential Alcohol Treatment Programs and Inpatient Alcohol Rehab. If the person’s withdrawal symptoms are excessive, if a person needs alcohol poisoning treatment, if outpatient programs or support-oriented programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous are not effective, or if there’s a need for alcohol AND drug abuse treatment, the person typically has to register into a hospital or into a residential alcohol treatment facility and receive inpatient alcohol rehabilitation treatment.

Programs such as these are geared for alcohol dependent inpatients and typically include doctor-prescribed medications to help the alcoholic get through the alcohol detoxification and the alcohol withdrawal treatment process in a safe and harm-free manner.

Family and Marital Counseling. Since the recovery process is so intrinsically tied to the support the alcoholic receives from his or her family, many alcohol addiction programs include marital therapy and family counseling as essential components in the treatment process.

Such therapeutic approaches, moreover, also provide alcoholics with basic community resources such as childcare classes, financial management courses, parenting classes, legal assistance, and job training.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment: Alternative Therapies

Although the research findings are not conclusive, there are a number of alternative treatment approaches for alcohol addiction that are becoming more researched, widely used, and more available.

Examples include the following therapies that have been proposed as “natural” forms of alcohol addiction treatment: the holistic and naturalistic approaches employed by Traditional Chinese Medicine, various vitamin and supplement therapies, and “Drumming out Drugs” (a form of therapy that employs the use of drumming by clients).

As encouraging and promising as these alternative therapies are, more research, nevertheless, is required to ascertain their effectiveness and to find out if these forms of treatment for alcohol addiction offer long term success.

Conclusion: Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Although a cure for alcoholism has not been discovered, many alcohol therapeutic methodologies and treatment programs, however, exist that help alcoholics recover from alcohol addiction. In short, there is a lot of alcohol addiction treatment information that is available both offline and online.

Some people are sure to ask the following question regarding alcohol addiction treatment: “What is the best alcohol addiction treatment approach that is available today”? Like any chronic illness or disease, there are many different levels of success concerning alcohol addiction treatment.

For example, some alcoholics experience relatively long periods of sobriety after receiving treatment, and then suffer a drinking relapse. Other alcoholics, after treatment, refrain from drinking and remain sober.

And still other alcoholics cannot refrain from drinking alcohol for any sustainable period of time, no matter what type of treatment they receive.

By the way, all of these treatment outcomes happen with every known type of alcohol addiction treatment. In any event, one key point about alcohol addiction treatment, however, is unmistakable: the longer a person stays away from drinking alcohol, the more likely he or she will be able to remain sober and possibly avoid alcohol addiction treatment before it becomes an issue.

On the other hand, if you think that you may have a drinking problem, consider making it a priority to talk with an alcohol abuse and alcoholism professional about getting alcohol treatment as soon as possible.