Alcoholism Treatment & Medications

Alcohol addiction is a treatable chronic brain disorder that progressively gets worse over time.1 While many people who drink alcohol can do so responsibly, some people will compulsively misuse alcohol to the point where they prioritize it over their own health, relationships, career, and other important areas of the lives.1,2  This loss of control over one’s drinking despite the harm that occurs as a result is the primary characteristic of an alcohol addiction.1,2

If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol addiction, you should know that evidence-based treatment for alcohol abuse—and in many cases, medication—can help you stop using alcohol, recover from addiction, and regain control of your life.3

When To Go to Rehab for Alcohol

woman looking at beer knowing she needs to make the choice to enter treatmentOften, an addiction to alcohol is confused with alcohol dependence. A person who is dependent on alcohol requires it to feel physically normal and avoid withdrawal.4 Alcohol dependence is one of many potential symptoms of alcohol use disorder but not the same thing as having an addiction to alcohol. A person who is addicted to alcohol drinks compulsively knowing it causes or worsens problems in their lives.

In lieu of the terms “alcoholism” or “alcohol addiction,” psychiatrists and other medical and mental health professionals use the term alcohol use disorder (AUD). When diagnosing an AUD, they rely on a core set of criteria that are reflective of both an uncontrollable desire to drink and an adaption of the body to alcohol. These criteria include:2

  • Wanting to stop drinking but being unable to do so.
  • Drinking for longer periods of time or in higher amounts than originally intended.
  • Cravings, or wanting to drink to the point where you cannot think about anything else.
  • Continuing to drink even though you have relationship or work problems that are probably caused or worsened by your alcohol use.
  • No longer participating in activities you once enjoyed so you can drink.
  • Needing to drink more to get intoxicated or feel the desired effects (i.e., tolerance).
  • Experiencing withdrawal when attempting to cut back on alcohol or get sober.

View the full list of criteria for an AUD, along with other signs of symptoms of alcohol abuse.

Treatment for Alcoholism: Your Options

Alcohol use disorder treatment often involves multiple forms of care. Treatment for alcohol addiction may include one or more of the following:

  • Medical detox
  • Inpatient rehabilitation
  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)
  • Outpatient therapy

Medical Detox for Alcohol

Medical detox is often the first step in the alcohol abuse recovery process. Medical detox is an intervention designed to help a person withdraw from alcohol while keeping them as safe and comfortable as possible through medical supervision, medications, and support. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) advises hospitalization or another form of inpatient detox for people withdrawing from alcohol due to humanitarian and safety concerns.7 Withdrawal symptoms may start anywhere from 6 to 24 hours after a person’s last drink and symptoms can range from mild and uncomfortable (e.g., insomnia, tremors) to severe and life-threatening (e.g., seizures, delirium).7

Inpatient Alcohol Rehabilitation

For people with a severe alcohol use disorder, inpatient rehabilitation is often the next step after detox, as it provides the highest level of support and care. Inpatient rehab offers 24/7 medical care and support, often in non-hospital settings. Different forms of inpatient alcohol rehab have different lengths of stay but as a general rule, patients will stay anywhere from 7 to 30 days. During inpatient rehab, you will receive a wide range of services including individual and group therapy, educational classes, and case management providing assistance in accessing other necessary resources.8

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) is a form of alcoholism treatment designed for people who do not need the constant 24/7 support of inpatient rehab for alcoholism. It is often used as a step-down from a live-in program. PHPs generally involve attending treatment for a minimum of 20 hours per week in an outpatient setting. It is sometimes also referred to as day treatment.9

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)

IOPs are a step down from PHPs in terms of intensity but there is increased frequency of contact and services compared with traditional outpatient therapy. Participants attend alcohol abuse treatment at an outpatient facility for 9 hours per week.9

Outpatient Alcohol Rehab

Outpatient alcohol rehab usually means attending therapy fewer than 9 hours per week.9 People generally attend outpatient alcohol rehab if they do not have severe addictions or if they have stepped down from more intensive types of treatment.

AdCare offers the full range of alcohol addiction treatment. To learn more about our programs in RI and MA, please call us today at .

Alcohol Use Disorder Medications

Medications are used as a part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in the long-term treatment of alcoholism. Medications alone do not constitute MAT and are not a cure for alcoholism. Per SAMSHA, medication-assisted treatment means medication PLUS therapy, a “whole patient” approach for the treatment of substance use disorders.10

Treatment medication options for individuals in recovery from an AUD include:10

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse). This is generally used to treat people who have already gone through detox. This medication, taken once per day, discourages drinking by bringing about unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, headache and vomiting should the person drink while on the medication.
  • Acamprosate (Campral). This medication helps support recovery from alcohol by alleviating alcohol cravings and reducing the positive reinforcing effects of alcohol.11
  • This medication helps reduce cravings and also blocks the euphoric, intoxicating effects associated with drinking.

After Rehab: Alcohol Recovery Groups

People attending a alcoholic recovery group after leaving treatmentSince AUD is a chronic, relapsing disorder, it’s important to have ongoing recovery support during and after rehab in order to prevent a relapse to alcohol use. Support networks are also available for those whose lives have been impacted by a loved one’s drinking. Some of the available mutual-help recovery support groups for alcoholics and their family members include:12,13

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Based on the founders of AA’s 12 Steps, this is a support group for people in recovery from alcoholism. It involves surrendering to a higher power (as defined by each individual) and working with a sponsor (someone who has been in recovery for a certain period of time).
  • SMART Recovery: This secular alternative to AA stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. SMART emphasizes a practical, science-based approach to addiction recovery and offers mutual support groups around the globe.
  • Al-Anon. Alcoholism doesn’t just affect the person with the addiction; it also impacts everyone around them. Al-anon is also based on the 12 steps of AA and is designed to provide mutual support to family and friends of people struggling with alcohol addiction.
  • Ala-teen. Teens aged 13 to 18 who have struggled with the effects of alcoholism in their family may benefit by participating in Ala-teen support groups. These groups are specifically designed to help teens cope with a loved one’s alcoholism and to allow them to share their experiences with others who are going through similar circumstances.

American Addiction Centers (the parent company of AdCare) hosts virtual 12-step support meetings to help you stay sober and continue your recovery journey throughout the pandemic, when in-person meetings are not a viable option.