Treating Alcohol Addiction

Treating Alcohol Addiction

Confronting alcohol addiction

The first step in treating alcoholism is accepting that you have a problem. Confronting an addiction and accepting that drinking is having a negative impact on your life isn’t easy. But it’s a necessary step on the road to recovery.

If you’ve lost the ability to control your use of alcohol, then you have an alcohol dependence, or alcoholism. Simply cutting back isn’t enough. It’s important to quit drinking and give up alcohol entirely. Your doctor can help you make this change. They may recommend detoxification, counseling, medication, or other treatment options.

How is alcohol addiction treated?

There’s no cure for alcohol dependence or alcoholism. Overcoming addiction can be a long process that requires both personal dedication and various treatments or therapies. Your optimal treatment plan will depend on your personal circumstances, including your:

  • prior history of alcohol dependence
  • level of support from family and friends
  • personal commitment to becoming and remaining sober
  • financial situation

If you’re ready to face your addiction, make an appointment with your doctor. They will likely ask you a series of questions to determine your level of addiction. These questions can also help them determine which treatment option is best suited to your needs. They may also want to speak with some of your friends or relatives to gauge your addiction, symptoms, and treatment opportunities.

Your doctor or therapist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • detoxification
  • behavior modification
  • counseling
  • medications


Many treatment plans begin with a detoxification program to help break your body’s physical addiction to alcohol. Detoxification is often performed in an inpatient therapy treatment center or hospital. It typically takes one 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

Behavior modification

People who misuse alcohol are often addicted to the act of drinking, as much as the alcohol itself. For that reason, you may need to learn skills and coping mechanisms to help you avoid alcohol once you leave a treatment center or return to familiar environments where the urge to drink may be stronger. Your doctor may refer you to a counselor or other treatment program to help you learn those skills and coping strategies.


Your doctor may also refer you to one-on-one or group counseling. Support groups can be especially helpful when you’re going through treatment for alcohol addiction. A support group can help you connect with other people who are facing similar challenges. They can help answer questions, provide encouragement, and direct you to support resources.


Several medications are used to treat alcohol addiction. They include:

  • disulfiram, an alcohol-sensitizing drug that may lower your desire to drink by making you sick when you consume alcohol. When combined with alcohol, it can cause flushing, nausea, vomiting, and headaches.
  • acamprosate, which may help combat alcohol cravings by restoring the balance of certain chemicals in your brain.
  • naltrexone, which blocks the feel-good effects that alcohol has on your brain. Without those good feelings, you may feel less inclined to drink.

Naltrexone is available in the form of an oral tablet or injection. Vivitrol is an injected form of the drug that your doctor can give you once a month. It may be more reliable and convenient than oral pills, especially if you think you may forget or be unwilling to take a pill every day.

Long-term outlook

Recovery from alcohol addiction is a lifelong journey. You may face relapses and temptations for most of your life. It’s not uncommon to slip in and out of sobriety as you work your way through your addiction. Some people beat addiction the first time they try to become sober. Others battle alcohol dependence for many years. The more you try, the higher your chances of success.

Alcohol addiction can take a physical toll on your body, causing a variety of complications. For example, it can raise your risk of:

  • heart disease
  • many kinds of cancer
  • scarring of your liver, known as cirrhosis
  • inflammation of your stomach lining, known as gastritis
  • dementia and other neurological disorders
  • erectile dysfunction

Addiction is often accompanied by certain mood or psychological disorders, such as depression or anxiety. Along with your treatment for alcohol addiction, you may need to seek medical care for other complications you experience.

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