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An alcohol use disorder (AUD) refers to a pattern of alcohol use that involves:1
An AUD also involves consuming more to reach the same effects or having alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you quickly reduce or stop drinking.
Unhealthy alcohol use involves putting your health or safety at risk or leading to other alcohol-related problems. It also includes binge drinking. This is a pattern of drinking where a male consumes five or more drinks within 2 hours, or a female has at least four drinks within 2 hours.
Binge drinking contributes to significant health and safety risks. If your drinking results in repeated distress and issues functioning in your daily life, you may need alcohol addiction treatment.
An alcohol addiction problem can range from mild to severe. However, even a mild AUD can escalate and lead to severe problems, so early treatment is essential.
Alcohol addiction can lead to cardiovascular and liver disease (such as heart failure, stroke, or hypertension). These can be fatal.
Alcoholism can also cause:
If someone with an AUD takes dangerous risks while drinking, they can also affect others. For example, if they drink and drive.
Nearly all risks involved with alcoholism can be avoidable or treatable with successful long-term recovery.
Inpatient treatment is one of the most common ways to initiate treatment for alcoholism. It involves checking into a rehab center and remaining there for the duration of your treatment.
You’ll have access to medical professionals and other specialists 24 hours a day. Help will always be available.
Inpatient rehab programs have a fixed schedule. This schedule typically consists of breakfast in the morning followed by therapies, counseling, and activities for the rest of the day.
A partial hospitalization program (PHP) in an intensive level of outpatient treatment for people with alcoholism. Programs can vary in schedules, but PHPs typically provide at least 20 hours of treatment per week.
PHPs may also function as an ideal outpatient setting for treating people with both alcoholism and mental health issues. An important feature of many PHPs is that they provide access to intensive medical and psychiatric services when required.
There are many similarities between an inpatient and outpatient rehab program but also differences. Outpatient programs aren’t usually as intensive and give the freedom to attend work or school while receiving treatment.
Many outpatient programs meet every day for the first several weeks of treatment or even months. Afterward, the number of meetings will start to reduce based on how far along someone has come in their recovery.
Outpatient treatment is an excellent option for people who have a stable home environment and don’t have a serious drinking problem.
However, outpatient programs aren’t for everyone. A more intensive treatment method may be suitable if someone struggles with a long-term drinking problem.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved various medications to treat alcohol and opioid use disorders. MAT medications treat the withdrawal symptoms and psychological cravings that lead to chemical imbalances in the body.2
MAT medications are evidence-based treatment options and don’t substitute one drug for another. This type of treatment combines medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to provide a ‘whole-patient’ approach to treating substance use disorders. It’s also essential to address other health conditions during treatment.2
Naltrexone blocks the euphoric feelings of alcohol intoxication. The drug allows people with alcoholism to reduce their drinking, remain motivated, stay in treatment, and avoid relapse.2
Acamprosate is for people in recovery who aren’t consuming alcohol anymore and want to avoid drinking. The drug helps prevent people from drinking alcohol but doesn’t stop withdrawal symptoms. Acamprosate hasn’t been shown to work in people who continue drinking.2
The use of acamprosate usually begins on the fifth day of quitting drinking. It reaches full effectiveness in 5 to 8 days.
Acamprosate comes in tablet form and is taken three times a day, preferably at the same time each day. Side effects may include appetite loss, anxiety, dizziness, diarrhea, and difficulty sleeping.
Disulfiram is used in the treatment of chronic alcoholism. It interferes with the normal breakdown of alcohol, resulting in the buildup of a chemical in the blood that causes unpleasant side effects.
The drug is most effective in those who have been through detox or are in the initial stages of abstinence.2 It is administered in tablet form and taken once a day. Disulfiram should never be taken when intoxicated and shouldn’t be taken for at least 12 hours after drinking.
Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, chest pains, headache, and difficulty breathing. These side effects can occur as soon as 10 minutes after drinking a small amount of alcohol and may persist for an hour or longer.
In severe cases of alcohol withdrawal, detox professionals may provide medications to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Benzodiazepines are a class of sedative medicines used to treat panic and anxiety and to control some types of seizures. These drugs are often the first choice to manage a large portion of problematic alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Benzodiazepines can significantly lessen the risk of seizures in people suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Behavioral treatments involve working with a medical professional to identify and help change behaviors contributing to heavy drinking.
These types of treatments share certain features, including:3
Mutual support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs are also popular therapies in alcohol addiction treatment. These programs provide peer support for people quitting or reducing their drinking.3
These support groups are often combined with treatment led by health professionals and can provide a valuable added layer of support.
Everyone is different with various needs. No two people have the same experience with alcoholism. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to treatment.
As such, addiction treatment can last for various lengths depending on the person and the type of program. Some people believe recovery from AUD or SUD lasts a lifetime.
However, the three most common lengths of rehab programs are:
There are lots of benefits to quitting alcohol. Short-term benefits include reducing your blood pressure and improving your sleep.
Long-term benefits include reducing your risk of developing many serious alcohol-related diseases.
Alcohol is linked with several different types of cancer, including:
Quitting drinking can also have a positive impact on your liver. Giving up drinking should reduce the chances of liver disease, as long it hasn’t already been irreversibly damaged.
Stopping drinking also reduces the risk of:
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