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  • Addiction & recovery

Alcohol Addiction and Treatment Options

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Megan Bandy

September 3, 2021

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What is Alcoholism?

Alcohol use disorder, commonly referred to as “alcoholism”, is a mental health condition that involves a pattern of using alcohol beyond a healthy or usual amount, even when the use begins to cause problems. While it may be depicted as a “choice” in certain media, this repeated use is out of the person’s control in many ways, as their brains have become dependent on the effects of the alcohol. 

While alcohol addiction involves binge drinking, occasional heavy drinking does not necessarily indicate a disorder. 

The primary dangers of alcohol use disorder are the major implications it has for a person’s wellbeing: physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, financially, and more. When left untreated, long-term overdrinking can cause detrimental health issues that can lead to death. Similarly, it can strain and destroy relationships, careers, and more. 

Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

While alcoholism and other mental health issues often look different from one person to another, there are many commonalities in the experience of alcohol use disorder.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder may include:

  • Unmanageable and intense cravings to drink alcohol
  • Being overly preoccupied with thoughts and desires about drinking in daily life
  • Choosing drinking over seeing friends or family or participating in other previously-enjoyed hobbies
  • Being unable to cut down or eliminate alcohol use, even after several attempts
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal (fever, nausea, shaking, irritability, etc.) when going without alcohol
  • Disregarding drinking safety by overconsuming or participating in unsafe activities while intoxicated, like driving under the influence.
  • Facing difficulties in close relationships, careers, health, and more due to alcohol use
  • Continuing to use alcohol despite social, physical, emotional, and other consequences

If you think you or a loved one may have an alcohol use disorder, find out how we can help.

Still not sure if you have an alcohol use disorder? Take this short quiz to find out.

A man struggling with alcohol addiction sits on the ground next to liquor and wine bottles

Causes of Alcohol Use Disorder

Despite the commonly spouted stereotypes about those with alcohol addiction, anyone can fall victim to alcohol and other substance use disorders. The causes of this and other addictions are incredibly complicated, ranging from genetic components out of one’s control to experiencing major traumatic events.

Known contributors of alcohol use disorder (or “alcoholism”) include:

  • Family history of a substance use disorderthose with a family history of addiction have a higher risk of developing an addiction, due to genetic and environmental factors.
  • Undiagnosed or untreated mental health issuesalcohol is often used, whether consciously or not, as a coping mechanism for dealing with existing mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and more. 
  • Being introduced to alcohol at a young ageresearch shows that beginning to drink in childhood or adolescence can increase someone’s likelihood of disordered drinking.
  • Experiencing one or repeated traumatic eventsuntreated trauma can have a major impact on someone’s life, including increasing their risk of developing an alcohol or other substance use disorder.
  • Certain social or cultural factorsthose who grow up in cultures that encourage heavy drinking or who have close relationships with people who drink often or endorse binge drinking are more likely to have a drinking problem.

The complicated nature of alcoholism means that it can affect anyone at any time, much like most other mental disorders. It’s important to be aware of the causes of alcohol addictions and what symptoms to look for so you can identify the illness in yourself or your loved ones and get help quickly. 

Treatment for Alcoholism

Alcohol use disorder is considered a chronic condition, meaning it cannot currently be “cured” in the traditional sense. Figuring out how to quit alcohol in the first place can be incredibly challenging and those who have had active alcohol addictions may develop them again. However, with patience, dedication, and professional help, alcohol use disorder is manageable. Overcoming alcohol addiction with guidance and time is completely possible and can help get them back to the lifestyle they miss.

While there are currently many different types of alcohol abuse programs, alcohol detox programs, and other alcohol addiction treatments, ranging in location, length, cost, and more, there is no “right” kind of treatment. The best treatment out there is the one that will fit someone’s goals and lifestyle so they can find long-term recovery and live an amazing life after alcohol addiction.

Options for treatment for alcohol use disorder and alcoholism include:

  • Withdrawal and alcohol detox at home
  • Outpatient or inpatient rehab (which can range from a 7 day alcohol treatment to a 30 day alcohol rehab or more)
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
  • Whole-person approach programs
  • Support groups

Withdrawal and Alcohol Detox at Home

Often, the first step someone makes in treating their alcohol addiction is trying to stop drinking on their own. For many, though, opting for an at-home alcohol detox as a form of treatment isn’t the best choice. When people with an alcohol use disorder stop consuming alcohol, they usually begin to experience symptoms of withdrawal, like nausea, shaking, and more. These side effects can be severe enough to cause some to drink again in an effort to stop the discomfort.

However, making an effort to detox and stop drinking is an important part of anyone’s journey to recovery, even when it’s attempted without professional help. Above all, it shows that someone is aware of their alcohol use and ready to make some sort of change.

If you’re going to try an alcohol detox at home, make sure that you do so safely. It can be dangerous, particularly for those with existing health conditions, so have a plan about where to go for alcohol withdrawal that gets out of hand. Be prepared to seek immediate medical attention if you feel you’re at risk. Drink plenty of water, give yourself several days of patience and time, and try to have someone supportive on-hand to help you through.

Alcohol withdrawal treatment at home may not be the right option for you, though. It’s much safer to work with a trained addiction specialist and treatment program to recover in a healthier, more sustainable way.

Inpatient vs Outpatient Rehab

Ultimately, seeking professional help to safely stop drinking alcohol is the best option for most people either through inpatient or outpatient alcohol rehab. The primary difference between the two is that inpatient treatment is live-in and includes your housing, food, and other daily necessities, while outpatient treatment involves in-clinic or telehealth appointments with an addiction specialist, like other doctor’s appointments.

For those who need more intensive, monitored care or have a difficult time recovering in your usual environment, inpatient rehab is likely the best option. Inpatient addiction treatment facilities include full-time care, often for both mental and physical health conditions, depending on the specific program. Inpatient treatment varies both in length, often ranging from a couple of weeks to up to a year, and in cost. Alcohol rehab cost for inpatient clinics depends mostly on what your insurance will cover for addiction or behavioral health care. To find out exactly what it’ll cost you, contact your insurance company using the phone number on the back of your insurance card labeled “member services”, “customer service”, or something similar. 

Closely monitored inpatient facilities may not be the best option for those who feel safe in their home environment and have less-detrimental health concerns. In these cases, outpatient detox and treatment services may be the best fit. Outpatient centers allow you to recover without needing to put the rest of your life on hold. Outpatient alcohol rehab varies in length, depending on a person’s unique needs, but it is often much cheaper than inpatient care. While some outpatient treatment programs focus solely on medical recovery, often neglecting to offer crucial mental health treatment, Eleanor Health provides comprehensive care to treat you completely and ensure long-term recovery. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication is also available to help people overcome alcohol cravings. Taking medications like Vivitrol for alcohol use disorder can be an incredibly beneficial option offered by a doctor or addiction treatment center as it best suits someone’s recovery. The right medication, as overseen by a doctor, can help curb alcohol cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms to keep your recovery as painless as possible.

If you’re curious about trying medication-assisted treatment, talk to your doctor or addiction care team about your options.

Whole-Person Approach

When looking for an alcohol addiction treatment program, it’s vitally important to choose one with a whole-person approach to treatment. This means that, in addition to helping you reduce or eliminate your alcohol intake, your treatment program is also caring for your mental, social, and other health needs. Without comprehensive addiction care that addresses underlying mental, physical, and similar health issues that contribute to your drinking, long-term recovery becomes much more difficult. By finding a treatment program, like Eleanor Health, that shows compassion and practices evidence-based care to treat all of your needs, you can recover safely and live an amazing life.

Support Groups

In addition to other medical and mental health care when recovering from alcohol addiction, support groups with people in similar positions can help you feel less isolated. Alcohol support groups online or in-person can give you a healthy community that you can discuss your recovery journey with as it unfolds. Support groups are also a good option for those who are looking for how to help a family member with alcohol addiction or who care about someone in recovery. 

Eleanor Health offers free online support groups open to anyone with alcohol or other substance use disorders or their family members. Click here to learn more about our support groups and join the one best for you.

A woman speaks to her alcohol addiction support group

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Near Me

Finding alcohol addiction help near your location is vital to recovery. If you’re located in Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, or Washington, Eleanor Health is an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center that can help you. Contact us today to start your recovery.

For those in other states looking for an alcohol treatment center, check out SAMHSA’s treatment locator to find alcohol counseling near you.