Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse
The various treatment therapies for alcohol abuse work in different ways for different individuals.
One thing about alcohol treatment, however, is perfectly clear: the longer a person stays away from
excessive alcohol, the more likely he or she will be able to avoid alcohol treatment.
Factors That Affect Alcoholism Treatment
The form of alcohol abuse and alcoholism treatment an individual receives depends on a number of significant
- The resources available in the person's community.
- The personal health care coverage of the individual.
- Whether the individual wants to involve himself or herself with traditional alcoholism approaches or
alternative treatment options.
- Whether the individual has the financial resources for the treatment of choice
- The severity of the individual's condition.
Traditional Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Treatment
There are a number of traditional alcoholism treatment approaches that are relatively well established.
Detoxification. Alcohol detoxification is the process of letting the body rid itself of alcohol
while managing the withdrawal symptoms in a safe environment.
This form of treatment is usually done under the supervision of a medical practitioner and is often the first
step in an alcoholic treatment program.
Behavioral Treatments such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Motivation Enhancement Therapy, and
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Interestingly, a study administered by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that
each of these behavioral treatment therapies greatly reduced drinking in patients the year after treatment.
The NIAAA, nonetheless, did not conclude which program was the "most effective."
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 meet on a regular basis.
While AA has proven to be an effective therapeutic approach, most practitioners outside of AA, as well as many
people within AA, find that Alcoholics Anonymous works best when combined with other forms of treatment, including
medical care and psychotherapy.
Motivation Enhancement Therapy (MET) is a systematic therapeutic approach that is almost diametrically
opposed to AA in that it uses motivational strategies to activate the client's own change resources. Some of the
key characteristics of MET are the following:
- Providing feedback regarding the personal risks or damage associated with the abuse.
- Helping the client achieve self-efficacy or a sense of optimism.
- Emphasis on taking personal responsibility for positive change.
- Providing the client with a number of alternative change options.
- Receiving clear advice to make healthy changes.
- Therapist empathy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). There are several forms of cognitive behavior therapy. Most of them,
however, have the following commonalties:
- Homework is a central feature of CBT.
- CBT uses the Socratic Method that is based on the asking of questions for insight.
- CBT is structured and directive.
- 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.
- CBT usually has therapeutic sessions that are briefer and fewer in number than most other forms of
- CBT is based on stoic philosophy. For instance, CBT doesn't tell clients how they should feel. Rather, this
form of therapy focuses on helping clients learn how to think more logically and effectively.
- 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.
- 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.
- In CBT a solid therapeutic relationship is necessary but not the primary focal point for effective
Therapeutic Medications. This treatment approach centers on the client taking doctor-prescribed
medications such as naltrexone (ReViaT) or disulfiram (Antabuse) in an attempt to help prevent the person from
returning to drinking after he or she has consumed alcohol.
Antabuse is a drug given to alcoholics that elicits negative effects such as vomiting, flushing, nausea,
dizziness, and vomiting if alcohol is ingested.
Antabuse is effective mainly because it is a strong deterrent. Naltrexone (ReViaT), on the other hand, targets
the brain's reward circuits and is effective because it reduces the craving the client has for alcohol.
Outpatient Counseling. There are various approaches to counseling that teach alcoholics how to
become aware of the emotional and situational hot buttons that trigger their drinking.
Armed with this information, clients can then learn about different ways in which they can cope with their
feelings and situations that do not include the use of alcohol. These types of therapies are typically offered on
an outpatient basis.
Counseling. Because the recovery process is so intimately tied to the support the client
receives from his or her family, numerous alcohol dependency programs include family counseling and marital
counseling as key components in the treatment process.
Such therapeutic programs, moreover, may also provide clients with essential community resources, such as
parenting classes, job training, legal assistance, financial management classes, and childcare courses.
Alternative Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Treatment
Although the research findings are not clear, there are some alternative treatment approaches for alcohol abuse
and alcoholism that are becoming more mainstream and widely used.
Examples include "Drumming out Drugs" (a form of therapy that employs the use of drumming by clients), the
holistic and naturalistic approaches employed by Traditional Chinese Medicine, and various vitamin and supplement
therapies have been proposed as "natural" ways to treat alcohol abuse.
As promising as these alternative approaches are, more research is needed to establish the effectiveness of such
therapeutic approaches to alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Conclusion: Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse
Different treatment options for alcohol abuse work in diverse ways for different people. Like any chronic
disease, however, there are varying degrees of success regarding treatment. For instance, after treatment, some
individuals abstain from drinking and remain sober.
Others who seek treatment, however, experience relatively long periods of sobriety and then experience a
And still others who abuse alcohol cannot abstain from drinking for any sustainable time period regardless of
what kind of treatment they receive.
With alcohol treatment, however, one thing is certain: the longer an individual stays away from alcohol, the
more likely he or she will be able to circumvent the alcohol treatment process.