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What is the Most Effective Treatment for Alcohol Dependence?

If your drinking pattern causes you significant distress and problems functioning in your daily life, you most likely have an alcohol use disorder. Its severity can range from mild to severe. However, even mild disorders can worsen and cause serious problems, so early treatment is critical. Many people struggle with alcohol control at some point in their lives. More than 14 million adults aged 18 and older have alcohol use disorder (AUD), and one in every ten children lives in a home with a drinking parent.

Understanding Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol use disorder is a pattern of alcohol use that includes difficulties controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, or continuing to use alcohol despite the fact that it causes problems. This disorder also involves drinking more to achieve the same effect or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you abruptly reduce or stop drinking. Alcohol use disorder includes a level of drinking known as alcoholism.

 It also includes binge drinking, which is defined as a pattern of drinking in which a male consumes five or more drinks in two hours or a female consumes at least four drinks in two hours. Binge drinking poses serious health and safety risks.

Diagnosis of Alcohol Dependence

To assess your alcohol problem, your provider will most likely:

  • Ask you a few questions about your drinking habits.
  • Conduct a physical examination.
  • Lab and imaging tests should be suggested.
  • Complete a psychological assessment. This assessment will ask you questions about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns. To help answer these questions, you may be asked to complete a questionnaire.

Most Effective Treatment For Alcohol Dependence

Treatment for alcoholism can vary depending on your specific needs. A brief intervention, individual or group counseling, an outpatient program, or a residential inpatient stay may be used in treatment. The primary treatment goal is to help people stop drinking in order to improve their quality of life.

Alcohol use disorder treatment may include:

FDA-Approved Medications

Some people are surprised to learn that there are medications on the market that are approved to treat alcoholism. The newer types of these medications work by reversing brain changes caused by AUD.

All medications that have been approved are non-addictive and can be used alone or in conjunction with other forms of treatment. Find out more about these FDA-approved treatments. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has approved three medications for the treatment of alcoholism, and others are being tested to see if they are effective. 

  • Naltrexone can help people cut back on their drinking.
  • Suboxone makes abstinence easier to maintain.
  • Methadone inhibits the body's breakdown (metabolism) of alcohol, resulting in unpleasant symptoms. 

Behavioral Treatments

Behavioral treatments, also known as alcohol counseling, involve working with a health professional to identify and change the behaviors that lead to heavy drinking. Certain characteristics are shared by behavioral treatments, which can include:

  • Developing the abilities required to quit or reduce drinking
  • Contributing to the development of a strong social support system
  • Setting attainable objectives
  • coping with or avoiding potential relapse triggers

Types of Behavioral Treatments

  1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy can be done one-on-one or in small groups with a therapist. This type of therapy focuses on identifying the feelings and situations (referred to as "cues") that lead to binge drinking and managing stress, both of which can lead to relapse. The goal is to change the thought processes that lead to alcohol abuse and to learn how to deal with everyday situations that may trigger problem drinking.
  1. Motivational Enhancement Therapy is used to build and strengthen motivation to change drinking habits in a short period of time. The therapy focuses on identifying the benefits and drawbacks of seeking treatment, developing a plan for changing one's drinking habits, increasing confidence, and developing the skills needed to stick to the plan.

Remember, the decision to seek treatment may be more important than the method used, as long as the method avoids confrontation and incorporates empathy, motivational support, and a focus on changing drinking behavior.

How Effective Is Alcohol Dependence Treatment?

Alcohol addiction programs, like many other treatments that address behavior and the mind, can be extremely beneficial when the individual is open to them. AUD is a chronic disorder with no known cure, which means that there may always be impulses and cravings when things are stressful. Many people suffering from AUD do not receive the necessary treatment. 

The Bottom Line…

There is no one right treatment. Everyone has different needs and should be treated with keeping those needs in mind. The good news is that, regardless of how severe the problem appears to be, most people with AUD can benefit from treatment. According to research, approximately one-third of people who are treated for alcoholism have no further symptoms one year later. Many others have reduced their drinking significantly and report fewer alcohol-related problems. By combining new medications with brief counseling visits, primary care and mental health practitioners can provide effective AUD treatment. Find an addiction treatment near you that offers co-occurring addiction treatment rehab that accepts all insurances. It is better to start addiction treatment as soon as possible.

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