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Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the most common addiction in the US. More people suffer from alcohol abuse than any other substance.
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In the U.S. in 2018, over 14 million adults and 400,000 youths (age 12 to 17) had AUD. However, only about 1 million of them received treatment.— 2018 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)
Luckily, there are thousands of treatment options available for people with alcohol use disorders (AUD). Effective alcohol addiction treatment guides an individual through the process of detoxification, helps them prepare for a sober life, and provides them with consistent aftercare.
According to the 2018 NSDUH, the majority of Americans (86 percent of adults) have drunk alcohol in their life. Over one-quarter of the population said they engaged in binge drinking during the last month.
Because alcohol is so commonplace, it can be difficult to tell the difference between frequent enjoyment, alcohol abuse, and AUD. This confusion may be one of the reasons less than 8 percent of Americans suffering from alcohol addiction seek treatment.
Here is how the CDC defines drinking patterns and how to recognize patterns of alcohol abuse or addiction:
The definition of a standard drink is:
Moderate drinking is one drink for women or two drinks for men on any given day. It is not intended as an average over an extended length of time. Also known as “social drinking” or “responsible drinking.”
For men, heavy drinking is 15 or more drinks per week. Or eight drinks per week, for women.
Binge drinking is a pattern of alcohol consumption that raises the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .08 percent or more. This generally takes about five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within 2 hours.
Excessive drinking includes heavy drinking, binge drinking, any alcohol use by people under the legal drinking age of 21, and any alcohol use by pregnant women.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM-5, is the primary authority for mental disorders. The previous edition, DSM-IV, separated alcohol misuse into two distinct disorders: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.
The DSM-5 has combined the two disorders into a single diagnosis called alcohol use disorder (AUD), with subclassifications of mild, moderate, and severe.
The DSM-5 defines an AUD as having at least two of the following symptoms in the last year:
Overcoming AUD is a serious and challenging task. The best way to increase your chances of recovery is to seek treatment at a qualified treatment center that can help you identify underlying causes and treat co-occurring disorders, if necessary.
There are several treatment options for individuals suffering from AUD. However, there are five stages that patients enrolling in a comprehensive treatment program should expect:
During the first step of treatment, nurses, therapists, or a combination of the two will assess the severity of your alcohol use disorder. This may include questionnaires, interviews, and a medical examination if necessary.
During these assessments, they will check for co-occurring disorders and evaluate you for multiple addictions. The results of these assessments will provide the basis for the treatment plan that they, or your case manager, will coordinate.
The next step in recovery is detoxification. Detoxing your body doesn’t cure you; it only prepares you for treatment. When alcohol leaves your body, you will experience withdrawal symptoms, typically six to 24 hours after your last drink.
Detoxification is often the most challenging part of alcohol rehab. Withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe and include:
The safest way to go through the detox process is under the supervision of a treatment center. Depending on the severity of the patient’s AUD, medical supervision and medication may be necessary. They can also provide nutritious food to avoid malnourishment during this difficult time.
Once the patient has undergone detox, they will begin a variety of treatment practices. These include, but are not limited to:
Each patient will receive personalized care based on the severity of their AUD, their mental and physical health, and a variety of other factors that the medical professionals treating them will analyze. This stage may take weeks or months, depending on the rate of recovery.
Once a patient has learned the proper skills, gained the necessary education, and built a solid support system, the next step is for them to take these new behaviors and begin applying them in real-world scenarios.
Support groups and 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, and other outside resources may be utilized to provide patients with a safe place to practice their new skills and prepare to live a healthy and sober life.
Aftercare is a crucial part of recovery. Just because an individual has completed an alcohol rehab program, doesn’t mean they are cured. The world is filled with triggers and opportunities for relapse.
Peer counseling and support groups are often a part of aftercare treatment. This part of the recovery process may last for years or even a lifetime.
Alcohol treatment programs vary according to intensity. The more severe a patient’s AUD is, the more intensive their treatment program should be.
The three most common types of alcohol rehabilitation treatment programs are:
Outpatient programs help people with mild to moderate AUDs. They are good options for people with a high level of motivation, a support system at home, and school, work, or family responsibilities they must take care of throughout their recovery.
PHPs are the most intensive level of outpatient care available. They benefit people with a moderate to severe AUD or co-occurring disorder. They provide a high level of care and require the patient to spend several hours each day at the facility (typically a Monday to Friday schedule). However, patients return home at the end of the day.
Inpatient programs are for people with severe AUD, multiple addictions, or co-occurring disorders. Patients live on-site at the treatment facility, where they receive their treatments, meals, and sleep. These are typically 30, 60, or 90-day programs. However, they may take longer if necessary.
When considering a timeline for recovery from AUD, the most important thing to remember is that everyone’s rehabilitation and recovery process will be unique. Therefore, everyone’s timeline will be different.
Most treatment programs happen in 30, 60, or 90-day increments. However they can be lengthened or (rarely) shortened based on the individual’s progress through the recovery process.
It’s important to keep in mind that treatment programs do not provide a cure. Many people consider recovery to be a life-long process and attend peer counseling groups or other aftercare programs for the rest of their lives.
Doctors prescribe medications to treat AUD in a small percent of (usually severe) cases. Many people with AUD may already be prescribed medications, suffering from a co-occurring disorder, or have an additional addiction. Therefore, it is crucial to exercise extreme caution when taking medications for alcohol addiction.
Currently, there are three medications that the FDA has approved to treat alcohol addiction:
These medications must be a part of a larger treatment program that includes behavioral therapy or other AUD treatment services.
In addition, doctors may prescribe other medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms, such as Topamax or Valium to help manage withdrawal symptoms. These are not meant to help treat alcoholism, only to provide relief during detoxification.
If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol abuse or dependency, contact a medical professional today to review your treatment options.
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“Alcohol Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Jan. 2020, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm.
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