Alcohol Addiction and Treatment

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There are various treatment options available for alcoholism, so it’s important to pick the one that meets your individual needs. Being the most common addiction in the United States, alcohol addiction is highly treatable with the help of medical detox and intensive counseling.

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is a chronic and progressive disease characterized by maladaptive coping behaviors such as compulsive and dangerous drinking patterns. People suffering from alcoholism will often experience severe physical, mental, emotional, and social consequences of their drinking. Furthermore, many people find it difficult to stop drinking without professional help, which is why it’s so important to get treatment in the early stages of addiction.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

When problem drinking becomes severe, people may qualify for the medical diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD). However, this term is often used interchangeably with “alcoholism” and “alcohol addiction.” Patients who meet two or more of the following criteria over a 12-month time span are thought to have AUD.

  • Experiencing intense cravings or urges to drink
  • Trying or wanting to stop drinking or cut back on drinking but being unable to do so
  • Drinking more or for longer than originally intended to
  • Spending excess time obtaining alcohol, drinking alcohol, and recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Drinking is causing problems at home, school, or work
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences at home, school, or work
  • Continuing to drink despite worsening physical or mental health issues
  • Giving up responsibilities or things a person once enjoyed in order to drink
  • Exposing oneself to dangerous or risky situations due to drinking
  • Developing a tolerance where someone has to drink more than they used to in order to feel drunk
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when one’s alcohol intake is cut back or ceased entirely

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 15 million Americans suffer from alcohol use disorder.

Causes and Consequences of Alcohol Addiction

When people consume alcohol, the substance triggers the brain to release chemicals that provide feelings of pleasure, relaxation, and sensation. Although this euphoria is generally enjoyed safely by a large portion of the population, others abuse alcohol and become addicted to it over time. Unfortunately, some people are more susceptible to developing alcohol use disorder than others. The development and progression of alcohol addiction are attributed to a variety of factors, including genetics, environment, and social. Consider the following causes of alcohol use disorder.

  • People who start drinking at an early age, especially those who binge drink, are more likely to have problems with alcohol later in life.
  • Binge drinking or prolonged alcohol abuse are known to lead to alcohol-related problems and alcoholism.
  • Genetics make up nearly 50% of a person’s chance of developing alcohol use disorder. People who have parents or other relatives who struggle with alcoholism are more likely to suffer themselves.
  • It is extremely common for people with mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder to have problems with alcohol.
  • People with a history of trauma, whether physical or emotional, are at an increased risk for alcohol addiction.
  • Research indicates that bariatric surgery may increase the risk of alcoholism or relapse after recovering from alcoholism.
  • Hanging out with friends or family members who drink a lot, or people who glamorize binge drinking can increase a person’s risk of having a problem with alcohol.

Regardless of why alcohol use disorder develops, excessive drinking is known to lead to an array of negative physical, social, and psychological complications. For example, alcohol depresses the central nervous system, impairing a person’s judgment and decision-making abilities. As a result, people who abuse alcohol are at high risk for accidents, drunk driving, problems within their relationships, declining cognitive performance, legal problems, and more. In addition, long-term alcohol abuse can cause many severe health problems, including:

  • Digestive problems
  • Heart problems
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Birth defects
  • Bone damage
  • Sexual function issues
  • Cancer
  • Weakened immune system
  • Neurological complications

Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox

As a physically addictive substance, people who are dependent on alcohol will experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop drinking. Although not everyone who is addicted to alcohol will have severe withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to always detox under medical supervision. After all, alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening, consisting of symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Headache
  • Shaky hands or trembling
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Racing heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Seizures

Even if a person’s physical symptoms are minor, the psychological symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal can be painful enough to drive people to another drink. Instead, people who suffer from alcohol addiction can benefit from a medical detox.

Alcohol withdrawal typically only lasts for a week, so detox is a fairly short process. However, it’s a crucial first step towards recovery. The ultimate goal of medical detox is to ensure the comfort and safety of patients during the withdrawal process. Consequently, patients who are detoxing from alcohol may take medications to help minimize their symptoms. The most commonly used medications during alcohol detox include:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Antipsychotics

In addition to withdrawal medications, detox staff provides patients with emotional support, guidance, and counseling to help them begin their journey to recovery. After a successful medical detox, patients are ready to move on to a more intensive level of care.

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

There are various treatment options available for alcoholism. Depending on the patient’s needs, their alcohol rehab plan may consist of the following:

  • Inpatient rehab – Residential alcohol treatment programs treat people with severe addictions who require intensive treatment, medication management, and/or dual diagnosis treatment. As the most intensive level of treatment available, patients live at the treatment facility and dedicate their entire stay to therapy, support groups, and their recovery.
  • Outpatient rehab – Outpatient alcohol rehab is for people who have either completed inpatient rehab who don’t require residential treatment services. Patients will attend group and individual therapy for a few hours at a time, a couple of days a week. The therapies used in outpatient treatment are similar to inpatient rehab but on a less intensive scale.
  • AftercareAftercare treatment varies for everyone. Some people participate in Alcoholics Anonymous while others participate in alumni programs or live in sober homes. In fact, many people do all three to best maintain their recovery. Since alcoholism is a chronic illness, it’s important to continue treating it.

People with severe alcohol use disorders or those with a history of relapse may benefit from medication-assisted treatment. This involves the use of FDA-approved medications that help minimize cravings and reduce the risk of relapse. When used in combination with behavioral therapies, these drugs can be extremely beneficial to those recovering from alcohol addiction. Some medications that may be used include:

  • Campral
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)
  • Naltrexone or Vivitrol
  • Topiramate

Since there are so many treatment options available, it’s important to speak with an addiction specialist to determine which course of care is right for you.

Getting Help for Alcoholism

If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for alcoholism, Rehab Recovery Centers is here to help. With resources and tools to connect you with the most qualified treatment providers in the nation, we will help you find treatment in your state that you deserve. Contact us today to learn more.

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