Alcoholism, also known as alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic condition characterized by compulsive drinking despite negative consequences. People who have AUD may experience intense cravings, withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking, negative psychological and medical consequences, and severe disruption to their daily lives. Fortunately, treatment is widely available. There are many different alcohol addiction treatment options that can help you quit drinking and live a happier, healthier life. No single recovery path works best for everyone. Treatment must be tailored to the needs of the individual.
With the right support, you can sustain long-term recovery. Talk to an addiction treatment professional about the best path forward for you.
Does Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment Work?
Everyone is different, but research does indicate that professional addiction treatment can help people quit drinking and live a life of recovery. Research has shown that about 33% of individuals who receive alcoholism treatment are still alcohol-free one year later. And many others have drastically reduced their drinking or reported fewer issues related to drinking—which is known as harm reduction and can be a valuable part of the recovery process.
What Is Alcoholism?
AUD is an inability to stop drinking or control alcohol abuse, which generally involves both a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol.
Alcoholism is an imprecise but fairly common term that refers to the condition of struggling with alcohol abuse. While a useful term in everyday conversation, it is more accurate to talk about alcohol use disorder (AUD), a medical condition with a more precise definition. When most people say they struggle with alcoholism, they mean they fit the diagnostic criteria for AUD.
Key Facts About Alcohol Abuse
- Alcoholism is a colloquial term, not a medical one. Most people that we think of as having alcoholism struggle with alcohol dependence and addiction. These other terms have more value and meaning in a medical context.
- AUD is a brain disorder that is generally rated as mild, moderate, or severe, with the level of a person’s alcohol abuse and how it negatively impacts their health and quality of life guiding the level at which a person is diagnosed.
- An estimated 28.6 million American adults ages 18 and older struggled with AUD in 2021, which represents a fairly staggering 11.3 percent of this age group.
- Despite being legal for adults to purchase and use in most places in the United States, alcohol is a particularly dangerous drug even when compared to many illegal drugs. Alcohol has a high level of abuse and addiction potential. It can trigger withdrawal that can even be life-threatening without medical supervision.
What Treatment Options Are Available for Alcohol Addiction?
There are many different settings available for alcoholism treatment, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The right program for you depends on your individual needs and circumstances, including insurance coverage, finances, location, job, responsibilities, and more.
Overview of Treatment Settings
|Treatment Program||Facility||Description||Level of Care|
|Inpatient||Hospital or medical facility||24-hour supervision and treatment, including medical care||Highest|
|Residential||Home-like residence||Live at the treatment center, typically for a longer period and with less access to medical care||High|
|Partial hospitalization||Hospital or facility with medical care||Live at home while attending up to 30 hours per week of treatment||Moderate|
|Intensive outpatient||Hospital or facility with medical care||Live at home while attending between 9 and 20 hours of therapy per week||Moderate|
|Standard outpatient||Various settings||Live at home while attending a few hours of care each week||Lowest (often used as aftercare or step-down care)|
|Medical detox||Medical settings or freestanding detox center||24/7 medical care and support to manage alcohol withdrawal||High (short-term)|
Inpatient is the highest level of care, you live at the treatment facility for the duration of the program—usually between 30 and 90 days—and receive 24/7 care, supervision, and medical treatment.
Many people prefer this setting because it gives them the opportunity to escape from their everyday using environment. They are able to avoid many triggers and stressors so they focus on their recovery, especially early on.
Residential alcohol rehab also involves living at the facility, but the setting is more similar to a home-like environment than a hospital. It also focuses more on the social aspect of alcohol addiction recovery. Many people may stay in residential care for longer periods than inpatient—six to twelve months, depending on needs.
Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)
A partial hospitalization program involves living at home and attending therapy for up to 30 hours per week at a hospital or residential setting. It’s the most intensive outpatient option, providing a nice balance of flexibility and high frequency of care.
Many people who complete an inpatient program end up “stepping down” to a PHP in order to continue receiving alcohol recovery support.
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)
An intensive outpatient program involves living at home and attending treatment for between 9 and 20 hours per week. Much like a PHP, many people complete an inpatient program and step down to an IOP. This type of program also gives people the opportunity to meet obligations like work or childcare while recovering from alcohol use disorder.
Standard Outpatient Treatment
The least intensive alcoholism treatment option, standard outpatient involves a few hours of counseling per week. Because of the low frequency of care, people often use this treatment option as a form of aftercare. It’s not recommended for people with severe alcohol addiction, polysubstance addiction, a co-occurring mental health condition, a history of trauma, or unstable housing or support systems.
Medical Detox for Alcohol Withdrawal
Medical detox for alcohol withdrawal is not a substitute for comprehensive alcohol abuse treatment—rather, it is a short-term intervention designed to manage alcohol withdrawal and achieve medical stabilization.
Medical detox, which involves 24/7 care in a hospital or medical facility, is the safest option for alcohol withdrawal since it can manifest with life-threatening symptoms like seizures. During medical detox, you’ll receive alcohol withdrawal medications like benzodiazepines, which can reduce the risk of seizures, mitigate other uncomfortable symptoms, reduce alcohol cravings, and ensure your safety while alcohol leaves your body.
Once you complete alcohol withdrawal, the detox team will help you transition into a formal addiction treatment program where you can begin the work toward changing your behaviors.
Types of Therapies Used to Treat Alcohol Addiction
Every treatment program for alcohol use disorder may use different therapies and interventions; however, there are a few therapies that are considered best practice because they are evidence-based and have been proven effective. They include: ,
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often considered the primary treatment for addictions of any kind, and for good reason. It focuses on helping a person identify what leads them to misuse alcohol. Then, it teaches coping skills to help channel those negative feelings in healthier ways.
It also teaches you how to readjust how you think to better resist alcohol misuse.
Motivational Enhancement Therapy
This is generally a short-term therapy, with a patient going to about four sessions over a short period of time.
The therapist works with the client to identify the pros and cons of seeking addiction treatment. Then, the client works with their therapist to make a plan to change their drinking patterns and regain control over their drinking. The client works to build confidence in their ability to achieve their plan and practice the necessary skills to do so.
Marital & Family Counseling
Addiction can often damage the bonds a person once had with their family members. And it’s been shown that a strong support network can help an individual in their addiction treatment, offering vital help to sustain recovery for the long term.
Marital and family counseling can help a person reconnect with their family, make amends for any damage they’ve done, and help their family members understand the nature of their problems and how best to help.
Brief intervention are essentially “gateway” counseling, meant to help equip a person to seek further help if they’re willing.
These are a type of short counseling session (or sometimes a few sessions), where a counselor works to inform a person about the nature of their drinking, associated health risks, and what may help them change their behavior.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This type of therapy was originally created for people with borderline personality disorder, it is now used to treat various types of addictions, including alcohol use disorder. DBT helps people improve emotional regulation, impulse control, interpersonal skills, and mindfulness.
12-Step Facilitation Therapy
This form of therapy encourages patients to join a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in order to receive and benefit from peer support.
Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for alcohol use disorder involves the combination of medication and counseling to provide comprehensive care that can reduce the risk of relapse. FDA-approved medications commonly prescribed to treat alcoholism include: [3,],
- Naltrexone (Revia): Binds to opioid receptors in the brain, reducing alcohol cravings and blocking the feelings of pleasure associated with drinking
- Disulfiram (Antabuse): May help reduce protracted withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression, and insomnia
- Acamprosate (Campral): Causes an unpleasant reaction when a person drinks while taking it, which reduces the desire to drink
Other medications, such as topiramate or anticonvulsants, may be used off-label for the treatment of alcohol use disorder, but they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Life After Rehab: Ongoing Support
Once you complete alcohol rehab, the work isn’t done. It’s important to receive ongoing support in order to prevent relapse and build upon the recovery foundation you established during treatment. Much like treatment, everyone’s aftercare needs may be different. Options may include:
- Joining Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery
- Individual therapy
- Group counseling
- Family therapy
- Sober living homes
- Step-down care to PHP or IOP
How Effective is Alcoholism Treatment?
The effectiveness of alcohol treatment depends on the type of intervention, how long you went to treatment, other mental health issues, the severity of your alcohol addiction, and more. However, generally speaking, alcoholism treatment can help someone obtain and maintain sobriety.
When it comes to MAT options, there is considerable research demonstrating the effectiveness of acamprosate and naltrexone, whereas there is mixed evidence related to the effectiveness of disulfiram—which may have issues related to treatment compliance.
Moreover, studies have shown that approximately one-third of people who go to alcohol rehab are abstinent one year after completing treatment. That said, it’s important not to shame yourself if you relapse at some point throughout your recovery process. Relapse rates for alcoholism are similar to those associated with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension—between 40% and 60%.  As such, relapse doesn’t mean that alcohol rehab failed, nor does it mean that you failed. It simply means that you may need to return to treatment or receive a higher level of care.
What to Look for in an Alcoholism Treatment Program
With so many alcoholism treatment programs available to you, it’s important to know what to look for in a quality program that is going to provide you with comprehensive, evidence-based care.
Here are some qualities to look for:
- Accreditation: The best alcohol rehab programs have accreditations, such as CARF and Joint Commission.
- Credentialed staff: When researching programs, make sure the staff has the appropriate credentials for medical, psychiatric, and addiction care.
- Insurance coverage: If you have insurance, make sure to choose an alcoholism treatment program that accepts your insurance plan so you can save money on rehab.
- Financing options: Choose a program that offers financing and payment options for those who are uninsured or who need financial assistance.
- Evidence-based treatment methods: Select an alcohol rehab that uses evidence-based treatment methods, such as MAT, CBT, DBT, group therapy, and more.
- Aftercare: Choose a program that understands alcoholism is a lifelong condition that requires ongoing support and relapse prevention and will create an aftercare plan for you.
- Individualized treatment plans: Alcoholism treatment is not a one-size-fits-all approach. You’ll want to choose an alcohol rehab that conducts thorough intake assessments and creates individualized treatment plans that suit your unique needs.
If you are looking for a high-quality and accredited alcoholism recovery program, Boca Recovery Center offers comprehensive and integrated care and support from a compassionate treatment team that understands the importance of an individualized treatment plan. Contact us today to learn more about Boca Recovery Center.
Alcohol Recovery FAQs
What is considered the most effective treatment for alcoholism?
The most effective treatment for alcoholism is generally a mixed treatment approach that is customized to your needs. There is no “perfect” solution to alcohol addiction and no medication that can just cure addiction over a few days.
The path many people take is first going through the detox process at a treatment center or hospital and then forming a treatment plan with an addiction professional. Alcohol addiction treatment plans often include various forms of therapy to address underlying triggers that led to alcohol abuse.
What is the ideal first step in getting treatment for alcohol addiction?
Once you can admit you have a problem with alcohol and want help, it’s a good idea to just talk to a licensed addiction treatment professional. Where addiction may seem confusing and even hopeless to you, an addiction treatment professional has studied addiction and how best to combat it. They can give you the information you need and help you form a solid recovery plan.
What can be done to stop alcoholism?
On a societal level, stopping alcoholism is a difficult goal. One thing we know is that trying to simply ban the sale and consumption of alcohol is both unpopular and ineffective. Instead, we can focus on what drives people to misuse alcohol and other drugs, correct those societal problems when possible, and improve access to effective treatments.
As for stopping your own alcoholism, the first step is just admitting you have a problem and seeking help. While that’s easier to say than do, addiction treatment professionals want to help you.
Alcohol addiction isn’t a moral failing. Alcohol is an addictive drug that can hijack the brain and rewire it, so it becomes very hard to stop drinking on your own.
- Principles of Effective Treatment. (January 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder. (April 2021). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- What Types of Alcohol Treatment Are Available? National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Treatment. (September 2017). National Library of Medicine.
- Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder. Winslow, B. T., Onysko, M., & Hebert, M. (2016). American family physician, 93(6), 457–465.
- Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (July 2020).