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Treatment of Alcoholism

There Is No Medical Cure for Alcoholism

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Updated April 05, 2014

Alcoholism is a treatable disease and many treatment programs and approaches are available to support alcoholics who have decided to get help, but no medical cure available.

Regardless of how someone is diagnosed as alcohol dependent or how they came to realize they have a serious drinking problem, the first step to treatment is a sincere desire to get help. Alcoholics who are pressured into treatment by social pressure or forced to quit by circumstances rarely succeed in the long run.

Even most alcoholics who seek help on their own volition have at least one relapse before they obtain long-term sobriety.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Almost all alcoholics who have been chronic, heavy drinkers will experience some level of withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop drinking. These symptoms can range from mild shakes and discomfort to life-threatening delirium tremens -- which can include confusion, hallucinations, convulsions, autonomic instability and death. Long-time, heavy drinkers who decide to quit drinking should seek medical assistance first.

Approximately 95 percent of alcoholics experience mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms that can be treated by health-care providers on an outpatient basis, but five percent experience severe withdrawals and should be treated in a hospital or a facility that specializes in detoxification.

Detoxification treatment, includes abstinence from alcohol in a controlled environment and close monitoring of vital signs and any withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, detox treatment can also include administering benzodiazepines (tranquilizers such as Valium, Librium, Ativan or Serax).

Alcohol Rehab and Treatment Facilities

The process of detoxification from alcohol takes three to seven days, after which the alcoholic's dependency on alcohol is primarily psychological, rather than physical or chemical. The goal after detox is to prevent a relapse of excessive drinking.

Thousands of facilities in the United States offer alcohol and drug rehabilitation and treatment services, ranging from short-term residential or in-patient hospitalization to long-term, outpatient counseling and therapy. The goal of these facilities is to help the alcoholic learn how to remain sober and resist the urge to drink.

Pharmaceutical Treatment for Alcoholism

Although there is no "magic pill" that will cure alcoholism, there are medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration that are used to help people who have stopped drinking to remain sober. Currently, three medications approved in the U.S. for the treatment of alcoholism.

Antabuse (disulfiram) works as a deterrent against drinking by making the person sick if they consume any alcohol. Naltrexone (Revia) blocks the affects of alcohol in the brain and reduces alcohol craving. Acamprosate (Campral) relieves the distress and discomfort alcoholics experience when they stop drinking.

Alcoholism Support Groups

One of the oldest and most well-known "treatments" for alcoholism is Alcoholics Anonymous, a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other to solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. Participation in A.A. is free.

Scientific research has shown that participation in support groups, combined with other treatment efforts, is more effective in helping alcoholics remain sober than participating in treatment by itself. For those who do not prefer the 12-step approach, many other support groups are available.

Related Video
What to Expect at a First AA Meeting
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