Acknowledging that alcohol treatment is necessary for your addiction problem may not be easy. However, keep in mind that the sooner you receive help, the better your chances are for a successful recovery. Any reluctance you may feel about discussing your drinking with a health care professional may stem from common misconceptions about alcoholism and alcoholic people. In our society, the myth prevails that an alcohol problem is somehow a sign of moral weakness. As a result, you may feel that to seek alcohol treatment is to admit some type of shameful defect in yourself. In fact, alcoholism is a serious health problem that is no more a sign of weakness than is asthma or diabetes. Moreover, taking steps to identify a possible drinking problem has an enormous payoff -- a chance for a healthier, more rewarding life.
When you contact a health care provider, he or she will ask you a number of questions about your alcohol use to determine whether you are experiencing problems related to your drinking. Try to answer these questions as fully and honestly as you can. You also will be given a physical examination. If the health care professional concludes that you may be dependent on alcohol, he or she may recommend that you enter into alcohol treatment to help you during your recovery. You should be involved in making referral decisions and have all treatment choices explained to you.
The nature of alcohol treatment depends on the severity of an individual's alcoholism and the resources that are available in his or her community. Treatment may include detoxification (the process of safely getting alcohol out of one's system), taking doctor-prescribed medications, such as disulfiram (Antabuse) or naltrexone (ReVia), to help prevent a return to drinking once drinking has stopped; and individual and/or group counseling. There are promising types of counseling that teach recovering alcoholics to identify situations and feelings that trigger the urge to drink and to find new ways to cope that do not include alcohol use. Any of these treatments may be provided in a hospital or residential treatment setting or on an outpatient basis.
Because the involvement of family members is important to the recovery process, many alcohol treatment programs also offer brief marital counseling and family therapy as part of the treatment process. Some programs also link up individuals with vital community resources, such as legal assistance, job training, child care, and parenting classes.
Virtually all alcohol treatment programs also include meetings to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which describes itself as a "worldwide fellowship of men and women who help each other to stay sober." While AA is generally recognized as an effective mutual help program for recovering alcoholics, not everyone responds to AA's style and message, and other recovery approaches are available. Even those who are helped by AA usually find that AA works best in combination with other elements of treatment, including counseling and medical care.
Can alcoholism be cured?
While alcoholism is a treatable problem, one must always be mindful of their past struggles with addiction. This means that even if an alcoholic has been sober for a long while and has regained health, he or she remains slightly susceptible to relapse and must continue to avoid all alcoholic beverages. "Cutting down" on drinking doesn't work; cutting out alcohol is necessary for a successful recovery.
However, even individuals who are determined to stay sober may suffer one or several "slips," or relapses, before achieving long-term sobriety. Relapses are very common and do not mean that a person has failed or cannot eventually recover from alcoholism. Keep in mind, that every day that a recovering alcoholic has stayed sober prior to a relapse is extremely valuable time, both to the individual and to his or her family. If a relapse occurs, it is very important to try to stop drinking once again and to get whatever additional alcohol treatment and support is needed to abstain from drinking.
What are some of the new directions alcohol treatment are taking?
With the support of NIAAA, scientists at medical centers and universities throughout the country are studying alcoholism. The goal of this research is to develop more effective ways of treating and preventing alcohol problems. Today, NIAAA funds approximately 90 percent of all alcoholism research in the United States. Some of the more exciting investigations include:
- Genetic research: Scientists are now studying 3,000 individuals from several hundred families with a history of alcoholism in order to pinpoint the location of genes that influence vulnerability to alcoholism. This new knowledge will help identify individuals at high risk for alcoholism and also will pave the way for the development of new alcohol treatments for alcohol-related problems. Other research is investigating the ways in which genetic and environmental factors combine to cause alcoholism.
- Alcohol treatment approaches: NIAAA also sponsored a study called Project MATCH, which tested whether treatment outcome could be improved by matching patients to three types of treatment based on particular individual characteristics. This study found that all three types of treatment reduced drinking markedly in the year following treatment.
- New medications: Studies supported by NIAAA have led to the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the medication naltrexone (ReViaTM) for the treatment of alcoholism. When used in combination with counseling, this prescription drug lessens the craving for alcohol in many people and helps prevent a return to heavy drinking. Naltrexone is the first medication approved in 45 years to help alcoholics stay sober after they detoxify from alcohol.
- In addition to these efforts, NIAAA is sponsoring promising research in other vital areas, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol's effects on the brain and other organs, aspects of drinkers' environments that may contribute to alcohol abuse and alcoholism, strategies to reduce alcohol-related problems, and new alcohol treatment techniques.
Together, these investigations will help to prevent alcohol problems; identify alcohol abuse and alcoholism at earlier stages; and make available new, more effective alcohol treatment approaches for individuals and families.