Alcoholism is one of the most common forms of drug abuse in the United States, according the Center for Disease Control. Data shows that 52 percent of adults, including teens and young adults between 18 and 20 years of age, are regular drinkers of alcohol, consuming at least one alcoholic beverage per month. With many individuals starting to drink alcohol at such young ages, the threat of alcohol dependence and alcoholism is very real.
Alcoholism is a disease like any other addiction. As such, it is marked by several distinct characteristics. These characteristics include:
- Craving: a desire to consume alcohol that is constant or nearly constant
- Tolerance: the need to consume ever greater amounts of alcohol in order to obtain the same euphoric effects
- Loss of control: the inability to stop drinking alcohol once drinking has begun
- Physical dependence: the presence of withdrawal symptoms when no alcohol is consumed
When these factors come into play, the individual is addicted to alcohol. While many people who do not suffer from alcohol addiction believe drinking is a choice, it is very rare that an alcoholic can stop drinking without professional help and tremendous family support.
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Factors That Contribute to Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
There has been research that shows the children of alcoholics have a predisposition to alcoholism, leading to a misconception that alcoholism is “hereditary.” While some evidence suggests that there is a genetic link within families, this does not mean that an individual will become an alcoholic just because his or her mother or father suffered from alcoholism. Nor does it mean that a person with no family history is safe from alcoholism.
Alcoholism is brought about by the consumption of alcohol frequently enough, and in amounts large enough, to cause the body to build a tolerance. The body and brain grow used to having the alcohol in the system, and the individual craves it to make them feel better.
Some studies have shown that the earlier an individual begins to drink alcohol, the more likely he or she is to develop alcoholism or an alcohol dependence in the future, as well. See Related: Binge Drinking.
Can Alcoholism Be Cured?
Treatment Has Proven Successful for Many People
When someone addicted to alcohol decides to enter recovery, there are several phases that he will pass through along the way. The first stage of recovery involves the clearing of the body of the immediate effects of alcohol. The alcoholic will experience several days of detoxification with various symptoms. Some of these symptoms will be physical, while others will be of a psychological nature.
Physical Symptoms of Withdrawal:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heart palpitations
- Clammy skin and cold sweats
- Trembling and shaking of the hands and/or body
- Jerky or spasmodic movements
- Hallucinations (severe cases)
Psychological Symptoms of Withdrawal:
- Emotional instability
- Fatigue or malaise
- Mood swings
This process can take a few hours to a few days, depending upon the severity of the addiction.
Why It’s Offered
How Does It Work
What the Experience is Like
Entering a Treatment Center
Once the recovering alcoholic has passed the immediate withdrawal phase, he or she will need to be treated professionally for their alcohol addiction. Simply removing the alcohol from the system and detoxifying is not a cure or a treatment for alcoholism or drug abuse. Without the help of trained professionals in alcohol rehabilitation techniques, the chances are very good that the individual will begin drinking again.
There are several types of treatment from which an individual may choose. Some types are conducted in a medical setting, while others are more residential in nature. An inpatient facility may provide certain benefits that an outpatient setting may not, while an outpatient setting may fit the addict’s schedule and responsibilities better. Choosing the type of recovery center is a personal decision, but one that should be made intelligently based upon the needs of the individual.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
An individual may choose to drink excessive amounts of alcohol for many reasons. One of those reasons may be because they do not know of any other healthy way with which to deal with their struggles each day. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a treatment model that is based upon a cooperation between the counselor and the patient to teach the recovering alcoholic how to use cognitive reasoning (thought processes) to make better choices concerning their behavior (the action taken in a given situation).
This process generally takes 16 weeks to complete, but it can be extended based upon the needs of each patient. Throughout the process, whether inpatient or outpatient, the recovering alcoholic will participate in homework assignments and self-assessments to build better habits for the future.
Intensive Outpatient Therapy
If the alcoholic who wishes to enter a alcohol treatment program is the sole breadwinner in a family, or perhaps has parental responsibilities they must meet, an intensive outpatient therapy program may offer some solutions. An outpatient program will meet in the mornings or the evenings several days per week. During the treatment hours, the recovering alcoholic will be exposed to individual and group therapy sessions where he can learn to develop better solutions for his problems.
Who is Right For Outpatient Care
Recovering from alcoholism is difficult, if not impossible, if the temptation to drink is easy to find almost everywhere. For many families, alcohol is a vital part of each and every day. Mimosas are part of Sunday breakfast. Martinis are served when people arrive home from work. Wine complements the evening meal. Living in a household like this isn’t ideal for someone who is learning to overcome an alcohol addiction. If the family can commit to sobriety, and perhaps they can all heal together, then the home environment might not be so destructive.
People who succeed in outpatient programs also tend to have family relationships based on:
- Open communication
Not all families function in this way, but those that do can provide a loving and caring environment that’s conducive to healing, and people with families like this might do quite well in outpatient care.
Strong Mental Health
Some people turn to alcohol in a desperate search for a solution to an underlying mental health problem. These people might have depression, anxiety or unresolved anger, and alcohol seems to provide them with the numbing they need in order to get through the day. There are some people, however, who drink in the absence of a mental health disorder. They might be going through a difficult time of life, or they might have grown up in a dysfunctional household full of alcohol. Their problems are real, but the therapies they need are relatively straightforward. They don’t need intensive help for another mental illness, for example, and they don’t need assistance with medications to align out-of-whack brain chemicals.
Outpatient care can be intense, but it’s best suited for relatively straightforward cases of addiction like this. People need therapy in order to change their habits and their preferences, but it’s unlikely they’ll take risks or otherwise lose control between their appointments. People with uncomplicated cases of alcoholism can do quite well in outpatient care.
Lack of Previous Attempts at Sobriety
Some people are successful at treating an alcoholism problem with their very first attempt at therapy. There are some people, however, who cycle in and out of therapy for addiction. For example, a study in the Journal of Hospital Medicine found that of those who were admitted to a hospital for alcohol withdrawal, 44 percent had been in the same hospital for the same problem in the past. People like this need intensive care that an inpatient program can provide, as it’s clear that their habits are ingrained and hard to break. But, people who are new to alcoholism don’t have those same kinds of ingrained poor habits, and they may be able to revise their behavior more readily as a result. Outpatient care might be more appropriate for them, since they don’t have the same kind of serious problems as those who cycle in and out of care repeatedly.
There is one small exception to this rule. Sometimes, people emerge from addiction treatment programs with a firm resolve to stop drinking, but they have a small slip down the line. They sip a cocktail at a party, for example, or they buy one beer with friends and don’t even slurp the entire glass. People like this, who still want sobriety but who need a little touchup of skills, might do well in outpatient programs. They only need a little help, and it’s appropriate to get it on an outpatient basis.
If the condition is severe enough that the recovering alcoholic needs supervision to help defeat the cravings for alcohol, an inpatient facility may be the best course of action. Many inpatient facility offers a staff 24 hours per day to monitor the recovering alcoholic’s withdrawal symptoms, diet and exercise. Counselors are also on staff around the clock to help with any mental or emotional issues that may develop during the first few weeks of recovery.
The Role of Therapy
Therapy has a myriad of recovery benefits during an inpatient alcohol rehab stay. Group therapy provides encouragement, a forum for exchange of useful ideas, and the ability to express oneself in the safety of a sober and supportive environment. Family counseling sessions can provide rebuilding and strengthening of central bonds, and promote understanding of the role of addiction within the family unit. Individualized therapy sessions provide deep healing through discussion with a clinical therapist, forging practical coping strategies and bringing invaluable insight to the environmental, emotional and psychological factors involved in alcohol addiction.
Life and Communication Skills
Over the course of alcohol addiction, many parts of living become negatively affected. Communication styles may break down into argumentative, nonproductive ways of expression and angry outbursts may have become the norm. Many individuals have experienced some form of financial ruin in the wake of addiction, due to late bill payments, lost employment and the high cost of alcohol purchases or bar visits. Organizational skills, time management abilities and self-care may have fallen by the wayside as a result. During inpatient alcohol rehab programs, therapy can provide the tools necessary to forge new and better lifestyle habits, environments and coping mechanisms for stronger, more productive relationships – both in one’s personal life and in the workplace.
All too often, alcoholism intertwines with trauma. For those who face the genetic components of alcohol addiction, growing up in an alcoholic home sometimes carried with it the repercussions of abuse or neglect. Additionally, many alcohol-dependent individuals have suffered, through no fault of their own, interpersonal violence, sexual assault, natural disasters or combat experiences that have left them battling the psychological effects of trauma. Alcohol inpatient treatment programs can incorporate trauma therapy into the rehab experience, allowing individuals to recover not only physically, but on a deeper, psychological level.
In recent years, there have been many alternative therapies developed to help those who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction. Some of these therapies include:
- Equine-Assisted Therapy: the use of horses to help the recovering alcoholic learn new ways to communicate and effect change
- Reiki: the use of energy healing to assist with the effects of alcohol withdrawal
- Meditation: teaches the recovering alcoholic that being alone and enjoying the quiet can be a healing process
- Massage Therapy: helps with the inherent pain of alcohol or drug withdrawal and teaches a better means for managing chronic pain
What to Look For
Licensing and Credentials
Personnel and Services
- Will treatment be tailored to my needs? A cookie-cutter approach to rehab probably won’t give you the results you’re looking for, especially if you have a co-occurring mental health disorder or you’re struggling with multiple addictions.
- Are treatment plans flexible enough to be adjusted if my needs change? If you experience a relapse during treatment or you’re diagnosed with another medical or psychiatric condition, your team should be able to modify your treatment plan accordingly.
- Are the level of treatment and the duration of the program right for me? The type of care you receive and the length of treatment should accurately reflect your needs. If you have a chronic problem with alcoholism, you may need a long-term residential facility, while a problem drinker in the early stages of addiction may benefit from a shorter outpatient program.
- Do you offer pharmaceutical therapy to help me stay sober? Medications like naltrexone, acamprosate and disulfiram can be instrumental in helping you maintain abstinence.
How Dual Diagnosis Can Affect Recovery and Treatment
Many individuals who seek refuge in alcohol do so because of an underlying mental health condition that may not have been diagnosed prior to treatment. When someone suffers from both alcoholism and another condition, like major depression or an anxiety disorder, they have a dual diagnosis. It is important to find the root causes of alcoholism and addiction in order to effectively treat the conditions. Many psychological conditions can be helped with the use of medication that may help the alcoholic manage the mental illness without the use of alcohol.
How to Help a Loved One Who Will Not Enter Therapy
There is a belief structure born of compliance and a lack of knowledge and understanding that an alcoholic must hit “rock bottom” before they will seek help. Fortunately, with the involvement of a trained interventionist, many families and friends of those suffering from alcoholism have discovered it is possible to raise “rock bottom” to meet their loved one sooner. An intervention is a process through which the family and friends confront an addicted individual as a group. By explaining and showing the addict, in a controlled and supervised setting, just how damaging their behaviors are, many addicts will choose to enter alcoholism treatment recovery right away. The key to a successful intervention is to “strike while the iron is hot.” Make sure that a bed is waiting for the loved one at a treatment center of your choice as soon as they agree to enter a program.
If a loved one refuses to seek help immediately, or if an intervention is not possible, there are other steps that a family can take to help the alcoholic realize they have a problem:
- Do not make excuses for them. If they are unable to come to the phone to answer a call because they are intoxicated, do not infer that they are napping. Let the caller know why they cannot come to the phone.
- Do not help them when they fall. Certainly, a family member is not going to allow true harm to come to their loved one, however, spending the night on the floor beside the bed because they were unable to reach it is not going to cause injury. Let them remember in the morning why they were unable to sleep in the comfort of their bed.
- Do not loan them money. When an abuse problem reaches the point of addiction, finding the next drink may become more important than paying the electric bill. When this happens, allow the afflicted individual to experience the financial effects of alcoholism rather than paying to keep the lights on.
- Offer to help them get help, and mean it. Many alcoholics choose not to enter recovery because they do not believe they have the resources to complete the program. For instance, if they have children but need to enter an inpatient facility, offer to tend the children while they are away.
Alcoholism is a powerful affliction that can lead to many long-term health problems, including liver and kidney disease, heart attack and stroke. Finding help and entering rehab is the best way to help an addict beat their addiction and live a long, happy and healthy life.