Not unlike other diseases, alcoholism can be overcome with quality and professional treatment, prevention,
educational programs, and increased research efforts.
Fortunately, as serious as alcoholism is, the good news is that it can be effectively treated. Most
traditional forms of alcoholism treatment include a combination of drug therapy, support, and counseling to help a
person stop drinking and attain sobriety.
A Fundamental Question: What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence and alcohol addiction, is a progressive debilitating disease. What
this means is that the disease gets increasingly more problematic as the person continues to drink.
Alcoholism has been comprehensively researched and includes the following four highly identifiable and
- Tolerance: the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to get "high" or
to feel a "buzz."
- Physical dependence: withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, "the shakes," anxiety,
headaches, and perspiration when refraining from alcohol.
- Loss of control: an inability to stop drinking after the first drink.
- Craving: having a strong urge or need to drink.
Alcoholism Treatment: A Straightforward Overview
As serious as alcoholism is, fortunately it can be treated. The various types of alcoholism treatment typically
include a combination of counseling and medications to help a person abstain from drinking.
Even though most alcoholics need professional help in order to recover from their dependency, the research
literature has demonstrated that with expert treatment and support, many people who are alcohol dependent are able
to stop drinking and reclaim their lives.
One of the truly significant aspects of alcoholism treatment is the following.
By providing more individuals with access to top-rate alcoholism treatment, the costly drain on society and the
emotional, physical, and financial burdens that alcoholism places on families can be substantially minimized.
Indeed, research studies show strong evidence that effective alcoholism prevention efforts and successful
alcoholism treatment result in significant reductions in unwanted pregnancy, child abuse, strokes, HIV, crime,
traffic fatalities, heart disease, and cancer.
Not only this, but quality alcoholism treatment programs improve a person's job performance, quality of life,
and health while at the same time reducing family dysfunction, drug abuse, and involvement with the criminal
Alcoholism Treatment: Withdrawal Symptoms
A number of different approaches and programs exist regarding alcoholism treatment and especially the treatment
of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. While medications are used in a number of withdrawal treatment settings, other
forms of therapy are drug free.
Indeed, according to recent research findings, the safest way to treat mild withdrawal symptoms is without
Such non-drug detox approaches use comprehensive social support and screening throughout the entire withdrawal
process. Other non-drug detoxification approaches, furthermore, use proper nutrition and vitamin therapy
(especially thiamin) for treating mild withdrawal symptoms.
Mild to Moderate Withdrawal Symptoms
The following represents mild to moderate physical withdrawal symptoms that typically occur within 6 to 48 hours
after the last alcoholic drink:
- Sleeping difficulties
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid heart rate
- Enlarged or dilated pupils
- Looking pale
- Abnormal movements
- Clammy skin
- Tremor of the hands
- Involuntary movements of the eyelids
- Sweating (especially on the palms of the hands or on the face)
- Pulsating headaches
Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
The following is a list of severe symptoms that typically occur within 48 to 96 hours after the last alcoholic
- Severe autonomic nervous system overactivity
- Black outs
- Visual hallucinations
- Muscle tremors
- Delirium tremens (DTs)
Alcoholism Treatment: Traditional Approaches
There is a number of alcoholism treatment approaches that are considered traditional, or "mainstream"
The following alcoholism treatment methodologies will be discussed: Therapeutic Medications, Residential
Alcoholism Treatment Programs and Inpatient Alcohol Rehab, Detoxification, Behavioral Treatment, Outpatient
Alcoholism Treatment and Counseling, and Family and Marital Counseling.
Therapeutic Medications. In this treatment approach, the alcoholic takes doctor-prescribed
drugs such as naltrexone (ReViaT) or disulfiram (Antabuse) to help prevent him or her from returning to drinking
after he or she has ingested alcohol.
More specifically, with this approach, doctors prescribe medications to treat alcoholism.
For instance, antabuse is a drug given to alcoholics that elicits negative effects such as vomiting, flushing,
nausea, or dizziness if alcohol is ingested.
Antabuse obviously "works" because it is a strong deterrent. Naltrexone (ReViaT), on the other hand, employs and
entirely different approach by targeting the brain's reward circuits and effectively reducing the craving the
alcoholic has for alcohol.
Residential Alcohol Treatment Programs and Inpatient Alcohol Rehab. If there's a need for
alcohol AND drug abuse treatment, if an individual needs alcohol poisoning treatment, if the individual's
withdrawal symptoms are severe, or if outpatient programs or support-oriented programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous
are ineffective, the person typically has to enroll in a residential alcohol treatment facility or into a hospital
and receive inpatient alcohol rehab treatment.
Programs such as these are earmarked for alcoholism inpatients and usually include doctor-prescribed drugs to
help the person get through the detoxification and the alcohol withdrawal treatment process in a harm-free
Detoxification. Alcohol detoxification is the process of letting the body rid itself of alcohol
while managing the withdrawal symptoms in a safe atmosphere.
Alcohol detoxification treatment is usually done under the supervision of a medical doctor and is frequently
employed as the first step in alcoholism treatments.
Due to the relatively long time frame involved in many detoxification procedures, these programs are typically
part of an inpatient alcohol rehab program.
Behavioral Treatments such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and
Motivation Enhancement Therapy.
In a recent study performed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it was discovered that
each of these three behavioral treatment approaches significantly reduced drinking in alcoholics one year after
Even though all three of these programs were considered "successful," none of them, however, could be classified
as "the best" treatment for alcoholism.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).Alcoholics Anonymous is a mutual support program for recovering
alcoholics that is based on the 12-steps of recovery that are needed in order to stay sober.
Help and support are provided by the meetings that convene on a regular basis. Is Alcoholics Anonymous
one of the best alcoholism treatments?
While Alcoholics Anonymous has proven to be an effective alcoholism treatment program, many
practitioners outside of Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as many people who are members of Alcoholics Anonymous,
think that Alcoholics Anonymous works best when combined with other forms of therapy such medical care and
Motivation Enhancement Therapy (MET) is a systematic therapeutic method that is almost 180 degrees
different from Alcoholics Anonymous in that it uses motivational techniques to activate the client's own
change processes. Some of the key characteristics of MET programs are the following:
- Receiving clear advice to make healthy changes
- Therapist empathy
- Providing feedback regarding the personal risks or damage associated with the abuse
- Helping the person achieve self-efficacy or a sense of optimism
- Providing the individual with a number of alternative change options
- Emphasis on taking personal responsibility for positive change
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). There are several forms of cognitive behavior therapy. Most of
them, however, share the following characteristics:
- In CBT, a solid therapeutic relationship is necessary but not the primary focal point for effective
- CBT approaches are based on the cognitive model of emotional response. That is, if we change the way we
think, we can act and feel better, even if the situation doesn't change.
- Homework is a central feature of CBT.
- CBT is structured and directive.
- CBT is based on stoic philosophy. CBT does not tell clients how they should feel. Rather, this form of
therapy focuses on helping clients learn how to think more logically and effectively.
- CBT usually has therapeutic sessions that are briefer and fewer in number than most other forms of
- CBT theory and techniques rely on the Inductive Method. This method has clients look at their thoughts as
hypotheses (or suggested explanations) that can be tested and questioned. If clients discover that their
hypotheses are incorrect, they can then change their thoughts and feelings to be more in line with reality.
- CBT uses the Socratic Method that is based on the asking of questions for insight.
- CBT is a mutually shared effort between the therapist and the client.
- CBT is based on an educational model that views most emotions and behavioral reactions as learned
responses. Thus, the therapeutic goal in to help the client unlearn undesirable reactions and emotions and
replace them with new and more positive ways of feeling and reacting.
Outpatient Alcoholism Treatment and Counseling. There is a variety of counseling approaches
that teach alcoholics how to become aware of the situational and emotional "hot buttons" that trigger their
Armed with this information, alcoholics can thus learn about different ways in which they can cope with
situations that do not include the use of alcohol. Unlike detox programs, approaches such as these are usually
offered on an outpatient basis.
Family and Marital Counseling. Since the recovery process is so intimately related to the
support the alcoholic receives from his or her family, a number of alcoholism treatments include family therapy and
marital counseling as key aspects in the therapeutic process.
Such therapies, moreover, also provide alcoholics with essential community resources, such as childcare classes,
legal assistance, parenting classes, financial management courses, and job training skills.
Alcoholism Treatment: Alternative Therapies
Although the research findings are not conclusive, there are numerous alternative treatment approaches for
alcohol abuse and alcoholism that are becoming more mainstream, more widely used, and more available.
The following therapeutic approaches are perceived as "natural" alcoholism treatments and include: Drumming out
Drugs" (a type of therapy that employs the use of drumming by clients), the naturalistic and holistic methodologies
employed by Traditional Chinese Medicine, and different vitamin and supplement therapies.
As promising as these alternative therapies have been, additional research, nonetheless, is needed to evaluate
their effectiveness and to see if these alcoholism treatments offer long term success.
Conclusion: Alcoholism Treatment
Although a cure for alcoholism has not been discovered, a variety of alcoholism treatment methodologies,
nevertheless, exist that help alcoholics recover from their alcohol dependency. Simply stated, there is a lot of
helpful information available online and offline about alcoholism treatment.
Some people ask the following question regarding treating alcoholism: "What is the best type of alcoholism
treatment"? Like any chronic disease, there are different levels of success concerning alcoholism treatments.
For instance, some alcoholics cannot stop drinking alcohol for any sustainable period of time regardless of the
type of treatment they have received. Other alcoholics, conversely, experience a relatively long period of sobriety
after receiving treatment, and then have a drinking relapse.
And finally, some alcoholics, after treatment, refrain from drinking and remain sober. What is intriguing about
this is that all of these treatment outcomes occur with virtually all alcoholism treatments!
The bottom line, however, is this: the longer an individual abstains from drinking alcohol, the more likely he
or she will be able to remain sober and avoid alcoholism treatment.