According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 18 million Americans suffer from alcohol abuse or dependency problems. While cases of dependency and abuse are not all necessarily cases of alcohol addiction, the statistic does point to one of the biggest challenges to treating alcoholism, especially when measured against the reportedly 8 million people with an illicit drug dependency: alcohol is an easily available, widely consumed, and socially and legally acceptable drug.
For those who have acknowledged that they have an addiction to alcohol, there are a variety of treatment options available. Some people succeed with structured models of moderation that have been put forward, while others join a 12-step program like AA, which advocates abstinence from alcohol, period. Perhaps the surest way to begin the recovery process, however, is with a professionally supervised treatment program.
Alcoholism often leads to nutritional deficiency, not only because many substance abusers have a tendency to neglect their diet, but because alcohol changes the way the body digests and metabolizes many nutrients. For a recovering alcoholic, supplements and a diet rich in lacking vitamins and minerals can be a key part of improving their overall health.
Medical Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
The ultimate goal of any alcohol rehab program is for the patient to embrace a life without drinking. Professional treatment for alcoholism can be provided on an inpatient or outpatient basis, depending on the severity of the addiction and of the patient’s withdrawal symptoms. Outpatient programs are suitable for milder cases of withdrawal, but an inpatient alcohol rehabilitation center is the better option for those who are heavily addicted and are likely to experience severe alcohol-withdrawal symptoms, or those who have another physical or mental condition that might complicate their detox and put their health in greater danger.
Detox is the first stage of treatment, and it can last for a day or two or longer than a week. It is medically supervised, either through the patient’s staying in a residential rehabilitation center, or through their daily outpatient appointments with a doctor and/or treatment team.
During their body’s detoxification process, a patient can experience symptoms ranging from nausea to vomiting and other digestive discomfort, from mild anxiety to hallucinations, from sweating and shaking to potentially life-threatening convulsions and seizures — different people experience different symptoms, and the length and seriousness of the withdrawal generally corresponds with the seriousness of the addiction.In cases of severe withdrawal, the doctor or medical team that is closely monitoring the patient in a detoxification hospital ward, center or other inpatient facility may prescribe anticonvulsants or other medications to reduce the discomfort and, more importantly, the health risk of the withdrawal symptoms.
Once the patient has gone through the worst of their body’s reaction to the lack of alcohol, treatment with the goal of long-term abstinence from drinking can begin. Alcoholics going through inpatient residential rehab have the advantage of beginning this new stage of their lives in an environment insulated from temptation. However, both inpatient and outpatient programs will reflect the fact that alcoholism is a chronic condition, and will continue to require the recovering addict to attend regular doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions as part of the ongoing recovery process.
Therapy with a psychologist or other licensed addiction specialist is fundamental to successful long-term recovery. The therapist will help the patient in important processes like:
- Setting goals and addressing fears
- Recognizing personal and environmental threats to their sobriety, such as an anxiety disorder, depression, stressful work or home life, or group of friends who drink a lot and often
- Restructuring their life to minimize opportunities for relapse
- Building coping and problem-solving skills to deal with those opportunities that cannot be avoided
Where appropriate, group therapy sessions with other recovering alcoholics or family members may be offered in addition to one-on-one counseling.
Some people also choose to attend local professionally or peer-led support-group meetings as part of their long-term addiction management, and benefit from surrounding themselves with a strong network of people who understand what it means to live as a recovering alcoholic.