Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a mental and physical dependence on alcohol.
This chronic illness can include symptoms like an intense need for using alcohol, even when the use has become problematic. Symptoms can also include intense periods of withdrawal once you stop using alcohol.
If you or someone you know is living with an AUD, the good news is that there are many different treatment options, and your doctor can help you choose the best one for you. They may recommend detoxification, medication, or relapse prevention training.
Read on to learn more about how AUD is treated.
There’s no cure for AUD. The road to recovering from AUD can be a long process that requires various treatments or therapies.
Experts recommend that your individual treatment plan should potentially be based on your American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) Criteria results, as well as personal circumstances, like:
- history of alcohol use dependency and alcohol withdrawal
- other medical or psychiatric conditions
- interest in treatment options
- physical and social environment
If you want to take steps to get treatment for your AUD, make an appointment with your doctor. They’ll likely ask you a series of questions to determine the severity of your dependency. These questions can also help them determine the best treatment option for your needs.
Your doctor or therapist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- relapse prevention training, including therapy and behavior modification
Many treatment plans begin with a detoxification program to help treat your withdrawal symptoms after you stop drinking alcohol.
Detoxification is often performed in an inpatient therapy treatment center or hospital. It typically takes 1 week to complete. Because the symptoms of physical withdrawal can be life-threatening, you may also be given medications to help prevent:
- tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
Therapy and behavioral modification
Your doctor may refer you to one-on-one therapy or group counseling.
Benefits of therapy
Working with a therapist can help determine your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and can help get to the root cause of your AUD. Some other benefits of therapy can include:
- developing coping strategies for your dependency
- expressing yourself without fear of judgment
- practicing self-awareness
- learning to create healthier behaviors to help curb dependency
People who’re dependent on alcohol may need to learn skills and coping mechanisms to help avoid alcohol once you leave a treatment center or return to familiar environments.
Your doctor may refer you to a counselor or other treatment program to help you learn those skills and coping strategies.
Find support groups
Support groups can be especially helpful when you’re going through treatment for AUD. A support group can help you connect with other people who’re facing similar challenges. They can help answer questions, provide encouragement, and direct you to support resources.
But keep in mind that support groups aren’t for everyone, and they may not be helpful for some people.
Types of support groups
There are a few different support groups specifically for tackling alcohol dependency. There are also groups for family and friends helping their loved ones cope with AUD. Some of these include:
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Al-Anon (for friends and family of people living with AUD)
- National Association for Children of Alcoholics
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
- local alcoholic support groups
Several medications are used to treat AUD. They include:
- Naltrexone. This blocks the feel-good effects that alcohol has on your brain. Without those good feelings, you may feel less inclined to drink.
- Acamprosate. This may help combat alcohol cravings by restoring the balance of certain chemicals in your brain.
- Disulfiram. This is an alcohol-sensitizing drug that works by making you sick when you consume alcohol. When combined with alcohol, it can cause flushing, nausea, and headaches.
- It’s important to keep in mind that this drug is the least preferred drug for AUD, as side effects can be dangerous for some and it doesn’t treat the core symptoms of AUD.
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. This 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.
AUD 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
Dependency is often accompanied by certain mood or mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. Along with your treatment for AUD, you may need to seek medical care for other complications you experience.
Treating AUD may be a lifelong journey. You may experience relapses and temptations, but this is completely normal. It’s not uncommon to slip in and out of sobriety on your recovery journey.
Some people recover from AUD the first time they seek treatment, while others may require several treatment attempts. The more you try, the higher your chances of success.