Chronic Alcoholism Information and Rehab
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), over 700,000 people in the United States access treatment for an alcohol abuse problem on any given day. For some people, this will be their very first time in therapy. They may have been drinking for years, but today was the day they decided to get the help they needed to stay sober. For other people, this day might represent the third or even the fourth time they’ve tried to kick a drinking habit. This isn’t unusual. Alcoholism is considered a chronic disease that might include several cycles of treatment, relapse and recovery.
While a chronic model of alcoholism might seem depressing, there is reason to be hopeful. By using a chronic model and admitting that treatment never really ends, doctors are doing their part to provide real help to patients in need. People who have a severe and ongoing problem with alcoholism can be assured that they’ll be given the sort of help that is associated with long-term success, since more and more experts agree that this is the only sort of intervention that works.
Alcoholism is a specific condition involving the compulsive use of alcohol. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who are alcoholics tend to display these characteristics:
- An inability to fulfill major obligations in work, school or family life
- Risky behavior, such as drunk driving
- Law enforcement action or legal problems due to drinking
- An inability to quit drinking, even though the alcoholism is impacting the person’s life and relationships
Many people can have difficulties with alcohol without meeting the formal diagnosis of alcoholism. For example, some people drink compulsively in party settings or at home, and they may black out or behave uncharacteristically when they’re drunk. These people may meet the definition of alcohol abusers, and there are specific interventions designed to assist with that issue, but they may not meet the definition of alcoholic. They do not feel a need to drink nearly every day. Instead, when they do drink, they drink in an unhealthy manner.
This distinction is important to understand in the field of addiction medicine, as the treatment the two groups receive may vary dramatically. People with binge drinking issues may be able to receive a short, targeted intervention and then go on to live life with no alcohol-related problems cropping up ever again. Alcoholics, by contrast, may have a chronic issue with alcoholism, and they may need an entirely different program altogether.
The Best Alcoholism Treatment
For many alcoholics, real change begins in sessions with a counselor. While the individual methods counselors use tend to vary depending on the counselor’s preference and the needs of the person in treatment, most sessions aim to provide the alcoholic with more information about how the mind and the body interconnect when it comes to addiction. For example, in the course of the addiction, the person might become accustomed to dealing with stress by drinking. When the person feels stress, and the brain picks up that signal, the brain begins to flip through its files, looking for solutions to that problem. If alcohol has always worked in the past, the brain might send out a craving for alcohol when stress occurs. It’s a way to stop that signal. The person might not know that communication is going on, but deep in the mind, that signal exchange is driving the craving.
In therapy, this person might learn new ways to deal with stress. The person might learn how to do deep breathing exercises, combined with systematic muscle tightening that starts at the head and moves down to the feet. If that person leaves therapy and endures a stressful episode, those breathing lessons can take the place of drinking. The changed thought then changes behavior.
Some people benefit from therapies that include the whole family. Couples who fight might need to learn new conflict-management styles, as might parents who tend to rant and rave at their disobedient children. In family therapy sessions, all of these issues can come to light and people can truly focus on pulling together a complete and loving atmosphere that is conducive to long-term control of an alcoholism issue.
Some alcoholics also benefit from medication therapy. The medication naltrexone, for example, blocks receptors that trigger pleasure when a person drinks heavily. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, naltrexone can cut relapse rates within the first three months of abstinence by about 36 percent. The medication disulfiram may also be helpful in treating alcoholism, as it causes a severe and violent reaction when a person drinks alcohol. People who have trained their bodies to expect pleasure when they drink might quickly train their bodies to expect nausea when they drink, and this could also keep a relapse at bay.
The facts and figures swirling around the best alcoholism and treatment can be a bit difficult to parse out and interpret as some people confuse those who abuse alcohol with those who are alcoholics. For example, the NIAAA reported that 66 to 75 percent of risky drinkers were able to stop their problem drinking on their own, with no treatment. Some people interpreted this result to mean that rehabilitation programs as a whole were ineffective at best and unnecessary at worst. Nothing could be further from the truth. This study demonstrated the behavior of “risky drinkers,” not alcoholics, so they would have different cure rates. They have a completely different disorder.
A study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol may clear up some of this confusion. Here, researchers examined people who had been admitted to a community program for alcoholism treatment. About 57 percent of the people who completed the program were readmitted to a program in the years that followed. This isn’t to say that their treatment wasn’t successful, as perhaps they learned lessons on the second try at rehabilitation that could translate into long-term gains, but it does suggest that many people truly do cycle in and out of treatment as they move through their lives. It also highlights the difficulty of treating alcoholism. These people didn’t cure themselves miraculously. Instead, they got treatment, and sometimes, they needed even more treatment in order to complete the process.
There is one more statistic that’s important to discuss in the context of alcoholism and recovery. According to a study published in the journal Alcohol Research and Health, of those who met the criteria for alcohol dependence or alcoholism, only 25.5 percent ever received treatment. That’s a strikingly low number, and it seems to indicate that there are many, many people who are dealing with this issue on their own without the help they need to improve and leave addiction behind. Statistics may be confusing, and they may contribute to the idea that alcoholism can spontaneously heal itself, but the truth is that treatment is necessary, and it provides many benefits to those who use it.
Benefits of Treatment
Alcohol addiction can cause serious impairment to a person’s:
Some of this damage can be fatal, but other issues can be successfully treated, or they can even heal on their own in the course of therapy. For example, some research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has discovered that severe alcohol intake can cause difficulty with memory and learning new concepts. People in the early stages of sobriety are just not thinking as clearly as they could be, and they may be unable to retain the important information they’re being shown. This could have important implications for their long-term sobriety, but there is good news here. This same research suggests that the impairment lasts for only a few weeks. As time goes on, these people display cognitive abilities no different than those displayed by people who did not drink. This is one reason why treatment is so important: It’s the best way to start the healing process.
In addition, the best treatment programs for alcoholism often include participation in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery. These programs can help to solidify the lessons learned in rehab programs, of course, but they can also help alcoholics in recovery to make friends and feel as though they are part of a community. For many alcoholics, the addiction process has been isolating, separating them from their friends, families and coworkers. By participating in a support group, they may make social links and build up those important connections that can make long-term recovery much more likely.
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Getting Needed Help
Recovering from alcoholism is hard, and it might take alcoholics a few tries to get the process just right. But recovery is certainly possible. Every day, people try and win the fight against alcohol by joining a top rehabilitation program or linking back up with their previously completed program for a quick touch-up session. Thousands more attend support group meetings in their communities, learning more about addiction and sharing their stories of struggle and recovery. It’s a long battle, but it can be won.
If you have a problem with alcohol, it’s time for you to start fighting. We’d like to help you at Alta Mira. We offer a comprehensive alcoholism rehabilitation program in our California facility, and we include lifetime support for our graduates. Any time an issue comes up in our graduates’ recovery, we’re able to step in and provide meaningful help. Please contact us today to find out more about our philosophy, our programs and the help we can provide.