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How to Know if You Need Treatment for Alcoholism

There are various warning signs that might suggest someone is struggling with alcohol abuse.

While many signs are recognizable, others may be harder to identify. Likewise, the severity of alcohol abuse may affect the person’s specific symptoms. 

For example, some people drink in private to cover their alcohol abuse. This isolation makes it difficult for family members or friends to notice or offer help.

Overlooking mild alcohol abuse is also easy to overlook. However, what may seem like a small issue can turn dangerous in time.

Early warning signs should never be ignored. Seeking medical treatment as soon as possible is critical for full recovery.

Alcohol Addiction Symptoms

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a condition that doctors diagnose when someone’s drinking causes distress or harm to themselves and/or others.

An AUD can range from mild to severe. In the past year, have you:1

  • Had instances when you’ve ended up drinking more or longer than planned? 
  • More than once, wanted to reduce or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t? 
  • Spent a lot of time drinking, being sick from drinking or recovering from the aftereffects of drinking? 
  • Experienced cravings to drink? 
  • Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often affected taking care of your home or family, caused job problems, or school issues? 
  • Continued to drink alcohol even though it caused problems with your family or friends?
  • Given up or reduced activities that were once important or interesting to you to drink? 
  • More than once, experienced situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt? For example, driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or engaging in unsafe sex? 
  • Continued to drink even though it made you feel depressed or anxious or exacerbated another health issue? Or after experiencing memory blackouts? 
  • Had to drink more than you once did for the same effects? Or found that your typical number of drinks had much less effect than before? 
  • Noticed that when the effects of alcohol wore off, you had withdrawal symptoms? For example, issues sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that weren’t really there?

If you have any of these symptoms, your alcohol consumption might be a serious problem. Generally, the more of these symptoms you have, the more critical the need for treatment is.

A health professional can formally assess your symptoms to see if you have AUD. 

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What are the Different Types of Treatment Programs?

Seeking help can be one of the most difficult, yet important decisions for someone struggling with AUD. Before beginning treatment, it’s essential to understand the differences between each program. 

AUD treatment program options include:

Alcohol Detox

Detox is the first step in treating alcoholism. It can often be the most challenging.

Within the first few days after you stop drinking, you may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Because of this, detox should be completed under professional medical care.

Medical professionals might prescribe medication to reduce pain associated with withdrawal. This can help you focus on recovery. 

After detox, you can begin other types of treatment and therapy.

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehab is the most structured environment for people recovering from alcoholism.

Typically, inpatient rehabs are designed to treat the most severe cases of alcoholism. They typically require people to remain on-site for the program for either 30, 60, or 90 days.

Staff members provide around-the-clock care and prepare people for life following rehab. This may involve help on overcoming triggers, learning the importance of sobriety maintenance treatment, and learning what to do if relapse occurs.

Inpatient rehab is also necessary for people with unstable home environments. This includes homelessness or living in an environment where family or roommates use drugs or drink alcohol on a regular basis.

Alcohol Counseling

Consistent meetings with an alcohol counselor help people heal during recovery. 

Alcohol counseling provides a line of communication during both the good and challenging times of healing.

Your therapist can also help you work on any underlying issues that may contribute to your drinking problem. These issues may include toxic peers or family members, work stress, or other circumstances.

Therapy helps you  learn more about yourself and how to keep your body and mind healthy.

Types of Therapies Used in Treatment

There are various types of therapies used in alcohol treatment:

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies aim to change drinking behavior through counseling. Health professionals, like counselors or psychologists, lead behavioral therapy.1

Medication

There are currently three medications approved in the United States to help people stop or reduce their drinking and avoid relapse. Primary care physicians and other health professionals prescribe these medications.1

These medications can be used alone or with counseling.

Support Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs provide support groups for people quitting or reducing their drinking.1

Combined with professionally led treatment, support groups provide a valuable extra layer of support.

What is the Most Effective Treatment for Alcoholism?

A 2020 study concluded that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a mutual support program, is the most effective treatment for alcoholism.2

Alcoholics Anonymous is free and doesn’t require booking appointments or filling out insurance forms.

The study’s researchers concluded that people who remain in the 12-step program have better success with abstinence, as well as improved relationships with family members and friends. 

The team assessed 35 studies involving the work of 145 scientists and the results of more than 10,000 participants. They found that long-term outcomes were better across the board when AA was a part of treatment.2

The study also found that the people who connected to 12-groups saw improvement in terms of: 

  • Stopping substance use
  • Improving relationships with loved ones
  • Feeling more fulfilled in life

AA supports people for as long as they need it. Sometimes this support lasts years or even decades. A frequently heard saying in AA is ‘all you have to do is stop drinking and change your whole life.’

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Costs of Alcohol Treatment

The cost of alcohol treatment varies widely based on:

  • Program type
  • Treatment duration
  • Location
  • Services offered

Drug and alcohol rehab fees range between $10,000 and $80,000.

Does Insurance Pay for Treatment?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandated that health insurers provide alcohol addiction coverage. 

This includes:

  • Private insurance policies
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare
  • State-financed health insurance
  • Military insurance

In some states, such as California, disability insurance might cover inpatient treatment for alcoholism. This varies by policy.

Many insurers only cover up to 30 days of residential treatment. For some people, this may not be enough recovery time. Although the ACA requires insurance coverage for AUD/SUD, the extent of what is covered varies between policies.

Insurance can also affect the type of treatment you receive. For example, healing avenues like yoga and massages may benefit someone recovering from alcoholism. However, most insurance companies do not cover therapeutic services like these.

Updated on March 29, 2022
6 sources cited
  1. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), August 2021
  2. Kelly, John F et al. “Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs for alcohol use disorder.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews vol. 3,3 CD012880. 11 Mar. 2020
  3. Witkiewitz, K et al. “Advances in the science and treatment of alcohol use disorder.” Science advances vol. 5,9 eaax4043. 25 Sep. 2019
  4. Huebner, Robert B, and Lori Wolfgang Kantor. “Advances in alcoholism treatment.” Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism vol. 33,4 : 295-9.
  5. Nehring SM, Freeman AM. Alcohol Use Disorder. [Updated 2021 Apr 16]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan
  6. Simons, Jeffrey S et al. “Alcohol abuse and dependence symptoms: a multidimensional model of common and specific etiology.” Psychology of addictive behaviors : journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors vol. 23,3 : 415-27

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