The first step in treating alcoholism is accepting that you have a problem. Confronting an addiction and accepting responsibility for your actions as a result is not easy, but it is a necessary step on the road to treatment and recovery.
People who have lost the ability to control their use of alcohol are alcohol dependent. Simply cutting back is not enough—the ultimate goal is to quit drinking and give up alcohol entirely.
How Is Alcohol Addiction Treated?
There is no “cure” for alcohol addiction–overcoming addiction can be a long process that requires both personal dedication and the use of various treatments or therapies. The treatments for alcoholism are often dependent on a person’s circumstances, prior history with alcohol dependence, level of support from family and friends, financial situation, and personal commitment to becoming and remaining sober.
If you think you’re ready to face your addiction, make an appointment with a doctor. He or she will likely ask you a series of questions or give you a questionnaire that will help to determine your level of addiction. These questions can also help your doctor determine which treatment option is best suited for your needs.
Your doctor may also wish to speak with friends and relatives to gauge your addiction, symptoms, and treatment opportunities.
Your doctor or therapist may recommend one or more of these forms of treatment:
Detoxification. Many treatment plans begin with a detoxification program to help break your body’s physical addiction to alcohol. This type of treatment is often performed in an inpatient therapy treatment center or a hospital, and typically takes a week to complete. Because the symptoms of physical withdrawal can be dramatic, you may also be given medications to help prevent shaking, confusion, hallucinations, convulsions, and other symptoms of withdrawal.
Behavior modification. Alcoholics are often addicted to the act of drinking as much as to the alcohol itself. For that reason, you may go through a process of relearning skills and coping mechanisms to help you once you leave a treatment center or reenter familiar environments where the urge to drink may be stronger.
Counseling. Support groups can be especially helpful for people as they go through treatment for alcoholism. In particular, a support group can help you connect to individuals and professionals who can answer questions, provide encouragement, and direct you to resources for your recovery.
Medications. Several medications, both oral and injected, are used to treat alcoholism. They include:
- Disulfiram, an alcohol-sensitizing drug may help reduce your desire to drink by making you sick if you consume alcohol while taking this medication. You may experience flushing, nausea, vomiting, and headaches.
- Naltrexone, which blocks the feel-good effects alcohol causes in your brain. Without that sensation, you may feel less inclined to drink as you’ll no longer have the same “reward.”
- Acamprosate may help you combat cravings.
- Vivitrol is an injected form of naltrexone that your doctor will administer once a month. As with the oral form of the medication, you may become less interested in drinking because you will no longer experience the same physical sensations. Receiving an injection may be a more reliable way to receive medication for people who forget or may not be willing to continue their pills.
Long-term support. Recovery from alcoholism is a lifelong journey. A person who was once dependent on alcohol will likely fight relapses and temptations for most of his or her life. It’s not uncommon for people to fall on and off “the wagon,” or slip in and out of sobriety as they work their way through the addiction. Some people may beat addiction the first time they try to become sober. Others will battle the dependency for many years. But the more a person tries, the more likely it is that he or she will be successful.
Alcohol addiction can take a physical toll on the body, causing a variety of complications such as heart disease, cancer, and cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Addiction is often accompanied by certain mood or psychological disorders, such as depression or anxiety. In addition to your treatment for addiction, you may also have to seek out medical care for any complications you experience as a result of alcoholism.