Treatments for Alcoholism: Types, Effectiveness & Where to Get Help
Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
The next time you visit your doctor, you’ll be asked a very important question. Your answer could help you understand whether or not you could benefit from alcoholism treatment.
The question: How many times in the past year have you had five or more drinks in a day (or four or more drinks in a day for women)? Researchers say this question is between 73 percent and 88 percent effective in detecting unhealthy alcohol use in both men and women.
If you need help with your drinking, get ready for good news. Plenty of treatment types exist, and your doctor can help you determine what program, settings, and ingredients are right for you.
With determination and hard work, you can learn to control your drinking.
Alcoholism Treatment Methods Your Doctor Might Use
Alcoholism is a multifaceted disease that can change almost everything about your health, habits, and relationships. To help you get better, your treatment team can build a program out of elements made to address your specific needs and values.
These are a few elements typically included in alcoholism treatment programs.
Counseling helps you understand how your drinking started and what you can do to stop it.
Sometimes, you meet with a professional privately to discuss your recovery. Sometimes, you attend in groups filled with other people. And sometimes, your close family members come to sessions to learn how to support you.
Four main types of therapy are used in alcoholism treatment programs:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: Learn to identify the thoughts and feelings that lead to relapse. Change the way you think, and you’ll change the way you act.
- Motivational enhancement therapy: Strengthen your resolve to quit drinking. Make concrete plans to quit, and understand that you can make your life better.
- Family counseling: Repair your connections to the people closest to you. Allow your partner and other family members to learn more about drinking and how to support your recovery.
- Brief interventions: Work closely with one counselor on your drinking issue and set goals for the future.
You may use some or all of these therapy types during your treatment program.
If you’ve tried to quit drinking and keep relapsing, medications may help. Drugs could make drinking less rewarding, less enticing, or both. Some versions could even lessen your drinking cravings, so you’re less likely to think about alcohol at all.
Three medications approved for alcoholism treatment include naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. Your doctor may also suggest medications to address underlying mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety.
Join Alcoholics Anonymous and connect with other people in recovery from alcoholism. Attend meetings to study AA literature and hear motivational stories.
And work closely with a sponsor who offers added support when you’re struggling. In time, you can give back to this community by sponsoring someone else.
If AA doesn’t appeal to you, there are a lot of alternative peer support groups available, like SMART Recovery.
Alcohol can rob your body of vital nutrients, and when you enter treatment, you may feel weak and ill. Nutritional support is designed to do the following:
- Heal and nourish your body
- Stabilize your mood
- Reduce your cravings
- Encourage self-care
Some treatment centers offer catered meals per medical condition. Others give people a chance to learn how to cook healthy meals. You may discover a love of cooking.
Alcohol may seem all-powerful right now, but mindfulness techniques can help you regain control over your thoughts and reactions. Your treatment team might use yoga classes to introduce you to the concept, but you might also learn to use simple breathing exercises to pass through the temptation to drink.
These approaches are proven effective, and they’re remarkably easy to learn. Give them a try because they could make a big difference in your life.
During active alcoholism, your body may sometimes feel like little more than a container for alcohol. Incorporating exercise into treatment helps you change your relationship with your body, which can make you respect your tissues too much to poison them with alcohol.
Exercise can also boost feel-good chemicals in your brain, lowering relapse risks and making you feel better. Some programs offer structured exercise classes, while others encourage people to join gyms or start an at-home fitness routine.
Where Do You Get Care for Alcohol Use Disorder?
The severity of alcoholism symptoms can help you choose your addiction treatment setting. In general, the more you struggle, the more supervision you’ll need to improve.
These are the four levels of care for alcoholism:
- Outpatient treatment: You visit the office or clinic regularly for counseling sessions, medications, or both. You live at home.
- Intensive outpatient treatment: Your needs are more complex, so you visit a treatment center almost every day for care.
- Residential treatment: It’s not safe for you to recover at home, so you move into a treatment facility where you have medical and therapeutic supervision as well as peer support.
- Intensive inpatient treatment: You need medical care to treat alcoholism, so you choose a facility with doctors and nurses available. You’ll have medical supervision and care around the clock.
You may move through these levels of care as your treatment progresses. You might begin with an intensive inpatient program to manage alcohol withdrawal, enter a residential program for treatment, and then graduate to outpatient programs.
Who Is Part of Your Alcohol Treatment Team?
You can’t get better without help. The professionals guiding or providing your treatments are part of your recovery team.
Most treatment programs involve these professionals:
- Primary care doctor: This professional offers alcoholism screenings and can refer you to a specialist. If your insurance company requires a referral before paying for care (and many do), your doctor makes this possible.
- Psychiatrist: This doctor can prescribe medications to ease any underlying mental health issues (like depression) that complicate your recovery. This doctor can also offer therapy sessions.
- Psychologist: This specialist offers behavioral treatment.
- Social worker: This person can run counseling sessions, and some social workers can help you find stable housing and appropriate jobs too.
- Counselor: This person can run counseling sessions, including group sessions.
You may work with dietitians, coaches, and peers as you improve. Specialty therapists may assist depending on your treatment plan.
Your family also plays a critical role in helping you to change your life and avoid drinking for good. You’ll be encouraged to build a support network while in treatment, and family members and friends are crucial here.
How Effective Is Alcoholism Treatment?
An effective treatment program will help you reach three goals: reduce drinking, improve your ability to cope with life, and lower your relapse risks. If you enter treatment and can reach these three critical goals, your program is working well.
Researchers examining specific types of treatment support the fact that these interventions work.
Some alcohol treatment medications are proven to significantly reduce relapse risks along with the amount people drink when they do relapse. These medications are used in conjunction with therapy to promote long-term sobriety.
Researchers say Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most effective ways to help people with alcoholism get better. You’ll learn from peers and build a support network here.
Meditation is a successful add-on therapy for people struggling with alcohol use disorder. But it works best when used in concert with other treatments.
How to Choose Your Alcoholism Treatment Program
Matching your treatment types and settings to your problems and needs is critical to your success. Your doctor, along with intake specialists at a treatment center, can help you determine the mix and location that’s right for you.
As you work with your treatment team to create a program, think about the following:
- Your addiction history: How long have you been drinking? Do you use other substances too? Have you tried treatment before?
- Your health: Do you have underlying mental health issues? Are you dealing with physical issues like diabetes?
- Your home: Do you have friends and family near you whom you trust? Is your family stable? Can you get to and from appointments easily?
Be open and honest in discussions about your alcoholism, and you’re sure to find a program that’s right for you.
Alcoholism Treatment Resources
Where can you go to find out more about treatment options? Are there centers near you? Consider tapping into these resources with your critical questions.
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline: This free resource is available every day. Get referrals to local treatment centers, support groups, and other resources.
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield Substance Abuse Resource Center: This tool is available to everyone, including people without BCBS insurance. Follow links to helpful resources or use the state-by-state locator to find help near you.
- Single State Agencies from SAMHSA: Use this PDF to find contact information for state-level treatment services near you. Reach them via phone or email.
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Ultra-Brief Breath Counting (Mindfulness) Training Promotes Recovery From Stress-Induced Alcohol Seeking in Student Drinkers. (March 2020). Addictive Behaviors.
Why Do Different People Need Different Options? National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
A Guide to Substance Abuse Services for Primary Care Physicians. (1997). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Evidence for the Efficacy of Naltrexone in the Treatment of Alcohol Dependence. (March 2002). Addiction Treatment Forum.
Alcoholics Anonymous Most Effective Path to Alcohol Abstinence. (March 2020). Stanford Medicine.
Mindfulness Meditation for Alcohol Relapse Prevention: A Feasibility Pilot Study. (July 2014). Journal of Addiction Medicine.
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What Types of Alcohol Treatment Are Available? National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Substance Abuse Resource Center. Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
Directory of Single State Agencies for Substance Use Disorders. (December 2016). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
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