Is There a Cure for Alcoholism?

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Alcoholism (Alcohol Use Disorder) Definition

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), or alcoholism, is a condition that develops when a person loses control over their alcohol consumption.1

When suffering from alcoholism, you’re unable to stop despite the social, occupational, and health effects that come with this chronic condition.

According to a 2019 research by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 14.5 million adults and 414,000 adolescents were reported to be suffering from alcoholism.2

Common signs of alcoholism include:

  • A persistent desire to drink 
  • Inability to quit drinking even when you attempt to do so
  • Mood swings and other physical and mental health issues when alcohol is absent
  • Inability to fulfill important work, school, or family obligations
  • Risky behaviors such as drinking and driving
  • Tolerance to alcohol, resulting in heavy consumption
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sweating when you don’t drink alcohol

Although excessive drinking is not always a sign of alcohol dependence, it increases the risk of developing AUD.

Is There a Cure for Alcoholism?

Alcoholism has no definitive cure. However, there are some things you can do to maintain your sobriety.

With effective substance abuse treatment, alcoholism can be controlled.

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Is Alcoholism a Disease? 

Yes, alcoholism is considered a disease of the brain. This is because, when you consume excess alcohol, it interferes with your brain chemistry.

As you develop a higher tolerance, you’re forced to consume more. This is a dangerous trend as excessive alcohol use damages the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys.3

Risks of Quitting Drinking ‘Cold Turkey’

Quitting “cold turkey” means stopping suddenly without a plan.

If you’re suffering from alcoholism and decide to quit suddenly, you’re likely to experience undesirable withdrawal symptoms. This condition is known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

These symptoms are the reasons why most alcoholics relapse (return to their drinking habits).4

Mild withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Dehydration
  • Nightmares

Severe withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • High body temperature (hyperthermia)
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Your treatment provider can help you manage the alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They’re skilled to deal with life-threatening situations such as seizures and dehydration.

How to Treat Alcoholism Safely & Effectively

There are various approaches to treating and managing alcoholism. 

Many treatment programs use a mix of behavioral therapy, counseling sessions, and medical care to help you manage the condition.

They also help you plan your long-term aftercare goals before completing the program. However, it all begins with professional detoxification.

Professional Detoxification

Detoxification or detox is a period of medical therapy, generally accompanied by counseling. It’s the preparatory step of AUD treatment.

During detox, you’ll be assisted in overcoming physical and psychological alcohol dependence.

Professional detoxification will mostly involve three steps:

  1. Examination: The treatment professionals will review your history, drug, medical, and psychiatric history.
  2. Medication: Medications will be used to mimic the effects of alcohol to mitigate withdrawal symptoms.
  3. Stabilization: You’ll undergo medical therapies to stabilize your mind and body.

You can access professional detoxification services by enrolling in an inpatient or outpatient rehab facility.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient rehab (also residential rehab) refers to a recovery facility that requires you to live there for the entire treatment period.

People suffering from severe alcoholism may benefit from the 24-hour monitoring in inpatient treatment.

Living at a rehab program facility helps you escape the temptations and influences that lead to alcohol abuse in your regular life.

The healthy environment in inpatient facilities also supports your recovery process.

Some disadvantages of inpatient treatment include:

  • Separation from your daily life
  • A highly structured and intense treatment that may be challenging to cope with
  • Higher cost compared to outpatient treatment
Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient therapy allows you to remain at home while recovering. This means you can still attend to family, job, or school obligations.

This program involves daily medication, therapy, counseling, and group sessions.

During outpatient therapy, you have the opportunity to choose the type of therapy that works for you.

Some disadvantages of outpatient treatment include:

  • Potential of relapse in case of severe alcoholism or triggers
  • You may find it challenging to keep up with the daily sessions
  • Treatment may be less intense, thus, less effective

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Different medications may be used to reduce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms during alcohol detox.

These medications may also assist in controlling your body chemicals, lowering the risk of serious complications.

Common medications used in alcohol addiction treatment include:

Benzodiazepines

Also known as benzos, benzodiazepines are used to relieve withdrawal symptoms.5  

Benzodiazepines (benzos) are commonly used during the alcohol detox phase to relieve withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can include sleeplessness, anxiety, and muscular spasms. Benzos also help calm down the brain. 

The medicine is available in two strengths: short-acting and long-acting. Long-acting benzos are often administered for three days or as needed.

The two most common forms of benzos administered during AUD treatment are chlordiazepoxide (Librium) and diazepam (Valium).

Acamprosate (Campral)

Years of excessive drinking affect the appearance and function of the brain.

Acamprosate is administered to help your brain return to normal function after you stop drinking. It also helps to lower alcohol cravings.

This medication is being studied to see whether it might assist with the symptoms such as sleeplessness, anxiety, and restlessness.

Acamprosate is not impacted by alcohol consumption.6

Naltrexone

Naltrexone reduces alcohol cravings. In the case of a relapse, naltrexone helps prevent the euphoric feeling caused by alcohol.

Because naltrexone might cause or worsen withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to wait 7 to 10 days before taking it.7

Naltrexone is available in two forms: tablet (ReVia and Depade) and injectable (Vivitrol).

Even after you feel well, don’t stop taking naltrexone unless directed by a doctor.

Disulfiram (Antabuse)

Unlike other medications, disulfiram does not treat symptoms or prevent cravings. 

This drug works by producing unpleasant side effects such as headache, nausea, high blood pressure, and facial flushing when it reacts with alcohol.

The purpose of disulfiram is to deter you from a continuous drinking pattern. 

Baclofen

Baclofen is a medication that helps manage muscular stiffness in people with neurological illnesses.8

According to some research, baclofen may help to lessen alcohol cravings and consumption. It reduces anxiety in alcoholics, which in turn reduces cravings.9

Other Therapies, Programs & Support Groups

The majority of medical professionals believe that alcoholism must be addressed using therapy and a solid support system.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

As a type of evidence-based treatment, CBT aims to identify and change negative behaviors that may have contributed to alcoholism.

CBT teaches you how to deal with stress in a healthy way. It also gives you the skills you need to prevent relapse.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)

As the name suggests, this therapy motivates you to reduce or quit drinking.

Motivational enhancement helps you identify the benefits and drawbacks of therapy. In addition, it helps you make a plan to change.

MET also increases your self-confidence by teaching you the necessary skills to help you focus on recovery-related goals.

Marital and Family Therapy

Alcoholism may ruin your relationship with loved ones. Marital and family counseling will help you repair and rebuild your relationship with others.

This therapy also addresses underlying issues that may have motivated your drinking problem.

Alcoholics Anonymous

The 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) follows a series of rules defined as “steps” toward recovery.10

This aftercare program is largely recognized as an effective tool for sustaining sobriety when recovering from AUD.

SMART Recovery

Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) is a group-based addiction recovery approach run by volunteers.

SMART is designed to help you overcome alcohol addiction using the most up-to-date, scientifically based therapies.

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Will I Relapse After Treatment? (+ Prevention Tips)

Most people relapse because the brain takes some time to adjust to its normal function.

However, committing to treatment and welcoming aftercare therapies such as counseling can help prevent relapse.

Below are tips to prevent relapse after treatment:

  • Distract yourself: Focus on activities that take your mind off the cravings. You can try getting together with friends or attending a meeting.
  • Speak up: Sometimes, those supporting you may not notice your struggle. If you feel like you’re on the brink of relapsing, talk to someone.
  • Consider the consequences: Alcoholism comes with a lot of negative effects. Think about the health risks before you go back to drinking.
  • Keep calm: The common triggers of relapse are stress and anxiety. When things get tough, try to relax your mind. After all, alcohol is never a solution.
  • Set goals: Make a plan for a healthy lifestyle that will inspire you to be a better version of yourself while also allowing you to stay sober.

Just like any other drug abuse case, addiction recovery is an ongoing treatment process. The most important step is to seek treatment. After treatment, keep up with other aftercare programs to help avoid a relapse.

Updated on November 19, 2021
10 sources cited
  1. Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), April 2021
  2. Alcohol Facts and Statistics,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
  3. Alcohol's Effects on the Body,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
  4. Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
  5. Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 1 September 2015
  6. Acamprosate for treatment of alcohol dependence: mechanisms, efficacy, and clinical utility,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 1 February 2012
  7. Naltrexone” U.S. National Library of Medicine
  8. Baclofen for Treating Anxiety and Alcoholism,”  U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 September  2017
  9. Suppression of Alcohol Dependence Using Baclofen: A 2-Year Observational Study of 100 Patients,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 3 December 2012
  10. Welcome to Alcoholics Anonymous,” Alcoholic Anonymous (AA)

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