The term ‘alcoholic’ is often flippantly applied to anyone who is often seen drinking to excess, whereas that is not always the case. An alcoholic is someone who has lost control over their need to drink because it has become a compulsion rather than a desire. Alcoholism is a progressive condition that can start with occasional misuse of alcohol and quickly spiral into something more serious.
Around 15 million Americans over the age of 18 suffer from alcohol use disorder or AUD, although this number is likely to be higher when factoring the many people who don’t seek treatment. According to the World Health Organization, there are almost 3.5 million alcohol-related deaths each year and so alcohol abuse is a serious issue worldwide.
The signs and symptoms of alcoholism:
- The need to drink is a combination of physical compulsion and mental obsession
- The individual is not capable of knowing when or even how to stop drinking
- Loss of control over how much alcohol is consumed
- Withdrawal symptoms are likely to present when someone with alcoholism has not had a drink for a while
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Blackouts frequently occur after drinking and there is no memory of events later on
- Other physical symptoms may begin to become noticeable such as a sallow or pale complexion, dark circles under the eyes and sometimes burst blood capillaries on the fleshy parts of the face such as the nose and cheeks
- Changes in personality or behavior as attempts are made to conceal their drinking such as drinking secretively or alone
- Becoming defensive or angry when challenged about alcohol use and being in denial of there being a problem
Treatment for Alcohol Dependency
The first step towards recovering from alcoholism is to accept there is a problem. However, this is not something that comes easily to someone in the grip of addiction. People who have experienced prolonged alcohol dependency are often in complete denial and have retreated into a place where their compulsion is all that exists.
However, it is certainly not all doom and gloom for someone who is termed an alcoholic and there are numerous treatment approaches that have been developed by alcohol treatment centers to combat the condition. Once people with drink issues take the first step of being admitted to alcohol treatment facilities, there is hope on the near horizon.
There are a few recognized treatment options available for alcoholism, including:
- DIY: Although it is not recommended to attempt alcohol detox outside of a clinical environment, some people do manage to control their drinking on their own if they are in the early stages of alcoholism. There is a huge amount of online resources available to people who want to take responsibility for their own detox although they should be aware that some of the withdrawal symptoms may be serious depending on how long they’ve been addicted.
- Counseling: One to one counseling is important in establishing the cause of a patient’s drinking issues and allows therapists to devise a personalized program of treatment that’s likely to be more effective for long-term sobriety.
- Treatment of Co-Occurring Mental Illness: Some people suffer from alcoholism and a mental illness at the same time and there is a strong link between the two. Either an individual can turn to alcohol as a means to help them deal with the distressing symptoms of mental illness or they can develop conditions as a result of prolonged alcohol abuse. Whatever the circumstances behind the co-occurring disorders, these dual diagnosis cases require both conditions to be treated separately, at the same time.
- Residential Alcohol Treatment: Although outpatient alcohol rehab can be extremely effective, some people respond better to treatment delivered in a residential program, particularly if they’ve been drinking for many years. Residential alcohol treatment also provides patients with access to group and individual therapy, which is enormously beneficial in allowing them to build a support network they can rely on as a lifeline when they’ve completed a treatment program.
- Medications that Create Negative Reactions to Alcohol: There are some types of medications used mainly for outpatient rehab programs and aftercare following residential treatment that will induce a severe reaction if the individual uses alcohol. These meds can be effective in preventing relapse although it is still very important to address any issues underlying alcoholism in the patient.
- Meds that Reduce Cravings: Some drugs are used to reduce the urge to use alcohol including Naltrexone and Acamprosate. Again, these meds need to be prescribed in combination with other therapies for the most effective outcomes.
- Alternative and Holistic Therapies: There is a wide variety of holistic and complementary approaches to treatment for alcoholism including mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation. These therapies can be invaluable in providing patients with effective coping mechanisms for the stressors and triggers they will have to deal with for many years in sobriety.