Treating alcoholism is a long-drawn process and requires firm determination and motivation on the part of the person with alcohol abuse disorder.

Most of the people with alcohol abuse disorder never admit that they are alcohol dependent. It, therefore, becomes that much more difficult for their loved ones to convince them to undertake treatment for their alcohol addiction.

If there is alcohol dependency, there is no point in reducing your alcohol intake gradually because that will never work. The patient must completely stop drinking alcohol.

Besides medication, the treatment for alcoholism and alcohol abuse also involves psychotherapeutic support like alcohol education, alcohol counseling, and group therapy with groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Alcohol rehab forms an important part of treating alcoholism. It is that which prevents you from falling prey to its adverse health effects.

Alcohol detoxification

Treatment of alcoholism typically starts with alcohol detox. Alcohol detoxification is the abrupt cessation of drinking alcohol by individuals who suffer from alcoholism.

Detoxification involves getting the substance out of your body and system and this constitutes the first step to overcoming an addiction to alcohol.

Starting with detox isn’t easy. It can have serious complications on the individual’s body due to the development of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which can be physical and emotional.

An alcohol detox patient is immediately treated with medication, put on medical observation, and counseling.

These symptoms of alcohol detox can be mild, moderate, or severe depending on the extent of the dependence and are the result of sudden stopping drinking alcohol. They commonly include:

  • Tremors. A tremor is an involuntary, uncontrolled rhythmic muscle contraction that causes shaking movements in one part or one limb of the body.
  • Hallucinations mean seeing, hearing, and feeling things that in fact are not there or do not exist.
  • Seizures. A seizure occurs due to uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain and may manifest as a physical convulsion, minor physical signs, or thought disturbances, or a combination of all these.

Going through alcohol withdrawal is the hardest part for most individuals because it can be very painful and sometimes fatal if treatment is not taken.

To help the patient go through this initial phase of detox, additional medication is necessary, which substitutes the alcohol and helps the patient through the withdrawal symptoms. The most commonly prescribed and effective medicines are Benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepines are sedatives with actions similar to that of alcohol and are prescribed to minimize alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Individuals with mild withdrawal symptoms can be treated as outpatients and need no admission to an alcohol facility.

Benzodiazepines commonly used to treat alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

People who experience severe withdrawal need to get admitted and treated for withdrawal as inpatients till alcohol detox is complete, which may take about a week. Alcohol detoxification forms an important part of the treatment.

Detox can take place on-site at an alcohol rehab facility or off-site at a stand-alone detox center. A rehab facility is preferred due to the availability of other functions that form part of therapy.

These include alcohol group therapy, alcohol counseling, and alcohol education, which form the three aspects of detoxing alcohol while treating alcoholism.

Inpatient and outpatient rehab programs

Alcohol rehab programs are generally categorized as inpatient or outpatient rehab. Inpatient rehabs are residential treatment programs that are more intensive and reserved to treat serious addictions.

Outpatient rehabs are part-time programs for patients with mild addiction and symptoms and allow the patient to attend work or school during the day.

  • Inpatient rehab. Inpatient rehab requires the patient to stay at the rehab facility and therefore, works out more expensive than outpatient treatment. The rehab stay can extend anywhere from one month to six months since it is meant for patients with a serious addiction. The advantage of this type of rehab is that the patient is assured of 24-hour medical and emotional support. The success rate with this type is also much higher.
  • Outpatient rehab. The outpatient rehab is less intensive and reserved for those with mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. It can extend anywhere from three months to one year, costs less than the inpatient program, and the patient is able to attend school or work. The patient is required to attend rehab for about 10 to 12 hours a week with an everyday presence. The success rate with this rehab is lower since the patient has easy access to a drink of alcohol, unlike the inpatient individuals who cannot venture out of the facility.

Alcohol counseling

Alcohol counseling is another step that helps you toward your recovery from alcoholism. It involves an explanation by a counselor of the adverse health effects that alcohol has on the body and the motivation talk to stop drinking.

Alcohol counselors are professionally trained experts educated in the field of alcoholism and alcohol abuse. They make a huge difference in the success of the recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD).

You may have several frequent sessions with your counselor both in person and during group sessions during the first few months of your recovery.

The meetings are later tapered down. However, you can always schedule a meeting with a counselor during a particular week if you feel you are having a difficult time fighting the urge to drink.

Each person’s counseling differs because the recovery process of each individual will be different. The important thing about counseling is that it supports you emotionally and encourages you throughout each stage of the recovery process.

Medications to treat alcoholism

Several drugs are used in combination with behavioral therapies to treat and cure the person of addiction.

Medication involves the use of drugs that cause side effects if alcohol is taken when the patient is on this drug therapy.

Certain other drugs for alcohol are also prescribed to reduce the craving for alcohol and to prevent relapse rates.

  • Disulfiram (brand name Antabuse) is an oral alcohol-sensitizing drug. It is one of the drugs for alcohol treatment, which produces side effects if alcohol is consumed when the patient is on this drug. It causes certain undesired physical reactions like flushing, nausea, vomiting, palpitation, and headache.
  • Naltrexone (brand name Vivitrol) is an injectable drug, which acts on the opioid receptors in the brain to block the good feeling that comes with alcohol drinking. This reduces the craving for alcohol.
  • Acamprosate is used along with counseling and support to help addicted people not drink alcohol. It works by restoring the natural balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Before starting this medication, you should be off alcohol totally. It has been shown to lower the relapse rate.

Alcohol group therapy

Group therapy has been at the heart of alcohol addiction recovery for several decades, and it has proven to be very effective.

It involves group discussions among individuals who are alcohol-dependent. The discussion mainly involves the explanation by the individuals of the various problems caused by their addiction.

They also motivate each other when they discuss their strong urge to give up alcohol and want to regain their original life status back.

Others in the group cheer you on when you set goals for your addiction recovery and it can be very satisfying and motivating.

Such group discussions also help you to get easy solutions to something you thought was very challenging.

Examples of such groups include Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, and others. A lot of people continue to attend such groups for years.

Alcohol education

Alcohol education is the practice of imparting information about the ill effects of alcohol on health, society, and the family.

According to The World Health Organisations (WHO) Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, alcohol will become a serious problem in years to come, even suggesting that it will be the leading cause of disability and death. Therefore, educating people on the dangers of drinking alcohol should become a priority.

Alcohol education involves education on

  1. the reasons for developing alcoholism and
  2. the need to change the unwanted status in social life, family life, finances, and workplace, that has come about due to the addiction.

Treatment for alcohol abuse may take months or even a year. Most cases relapse and therefore it is necessary to stick with it and follow guidelines and seek help when necessary all your life.

Prognosis of treatment

Most of the patients who undergo treatment for their alcoholism do give up alcohol only to have a relapse. Only about 15% to 20% succeed to stay away from alcohol lifelong.

Less than 20% of patients remain abstain from alcohol for a full year. Among those who have abstained for 2 years, the relapse rate is 40%. Patients who have abstained for 5 years are likely to stay without alcohol,  but they are still at risk for relapse.

The urge to drink is strong and stays for a long time. For a complete alcohol recovery, it is necessary to stay motivated and psychologically strong.

Keep up with the counseling, education, and alcohol group support all life if necessary. More importantly, avoid places where the temptation to drink is strong.