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What is the Most Effective Treatment for Alcohol Dependence

The most effective treatment for alcohol use is a program that includes detox, therapies, learning new coping skills, group settings, and aftercare plans.

Understanding Alcohol Dependence and Use Disorder (AUD)

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder is the first step to finding the most effective treatment for alcohol dependence. Alcohol dependence, officially referred to as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a recognized medical condition that is indicated by an inability to control or stop personal alcohol use, even in the face of severe negative consequences. 

Alcohol dependence is so prevalent in the US, that a recent national survey showed that more than 5% of adults, more than 14 million, as well as nearly half a million adolescents between 12 and 17 had participated in heavy drinking, or was experiencing withdrawal symptoms or cravings for alcohol, all indicative of alcohol use disorder. This means that being informed regarding treatment for alcohol abuse is more important than ever.

What Increases the Risks for AUD

While the development of AUD depends on many different factors, some of the biggest influences come from early drinking, genetics, and potential trauma or co-occurring mental illnesses. 

  • Drinking at a young age or early in life dramatically increases the chances that an individual will develop problematic drinking habits. Data shows that among drinkers who are 26 or older, those who drank earlier than age 15 were statistically more than 5 times as likely to develop problem drinking than those who waited until age 21. It is also worth noting that in this study, the potential risk to women was greater than the risk to males.
  • A traumatic childhood or history of trauma, as well as the presence of diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illnesses, are at higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. The most common mental illnesses seen in dual-diagnosis situations include bipolar, depression, PTSD, and ADD/ADHD. Those with schizoaffective disorders are also much more likely to engage in self-medication.
  • Even though there is a wide range of factors, genetics continues to contribute approximately 60% of the chance that someone will develop an AUD. This increased risk applies to individuals that have one or more immediate family members that have been diagnosed with addiction or mental illness.

Signs of an Alcohol Dependence

There are many potential symptoms or signs of alcohol dependence or AUD. There are many variations, but if an individual were to be screened by a clinician for alcohol use disorder to determine if treatment is needed, some of the questions asked might include:

  • Have there been times when you drank more than you intended?
  • Have you tried to cut down on drinking, or wanted to, but were unable to follow through?
  • Do you spend a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking?
  • Do you sometimes want a drink badly enough that you can barely think of anything else?
  • Has drinking caused problems in your family? In your career? 
  • Has drinking interfered with educational activities?
  • Have you continued to drink even when it caused conflict with your friends or family?
  • Do you engage in risky or dangerous behavior while drinking, such as driving, swimming, operating tools or machinery, or having unprotected sex?
  • Have you given up other interests or hobbies that you previously enjoyed, so that you could drink?
  • Do you notice that you need to drink more to feel the same effects that you used to?
  • Do you drink to avoid uncomfortable emotions or thought patterns?
  • When not drinking, have you ever started to experience sleep disruption, shaking, nausea, sweating, elevated heart rate, or hallucinated?

All of these and more can be potential indications of alcohol dependency. The severity of the AUD can also be gauged on a preliminary basis by using the relative number of conditions that the individual admitted to experiencing. More affirmative answers mean a more serious disorder.

Options for Treatment

Inpatient, Intensive Outpatient, Outpatient

Inpatient treatment is the most intensive option available, and it involves the patient living at the clinic for several weeks. This allows the most rigid framework for treatment, as well as the highest level of supervision. Intensive outpatient is a step down from residential treatment and has the patient visiting the facility several days each week for several hours each day. Full outpatient treatment allows the patient the greatest degree of individual freedom but also places the largest amount of responsibility on the patient.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment is often used to help minimize the physical withdrawal effects of detox, as well as to help prevent relapse long-term. There are several medications that are FDA-approved to help reduce or eliminate problem drinking. All of the currently-available medication options are non-addictive and can be combined with other medications, behavioral treatments, and different support frameworks.

Behavioral Methods

Behavioral therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy are highly effective in helping those in recovery to identify problematic behaviors and thought patterns themselves. This helps them to become their own therapists, in a manner of speaking.

Mutual-Support Groups

Support groups are powerful tools for giving those in recovery significant support networks. They can help to solidify treatment outcomes and can help recovering individuals find ongoing support and care for years after the initial detox stage.

Aftercare Plans

Sometimes those leaving inpatient treatment still need guidance and structure, and having a robust aftercare plan is important to that. This can include arrangements in a sober living facility, or simply finding out where the nearest support group meets up.

Can People with AUD Recover?

Recovery for those with AUD is absolutely possible, and it happens every single day. The first step to getting help is understanding that there is a problem in the first place. If you or someone you know gave more than a few affirmative answers to the questions earlier, it may be time to seek professional help.

Getting Help for AUD

To take the first step on your recovery journey, reach out today and speak with a member of our local New York City addiction team. Start determining what treatment fits your needs the best, and make the commitment to get help today.