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Treating alcohol use disorder (AUD) has evolved significantly and includes much more than Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcohol abuse treatment options now include behavioral therapy treatment plans, web-based programs, prescription medications, and more. Despite the differences in how they provide rehabilitation, they each have one thing in common: the individual must participate in treatment.
According to a survey from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the majority of people with AUD in the United States do not receive treatment. Although some people do recover from AUD on their own without formal treatment, most people will deal with alcohol-related problems throughout their lives. Understanding treatment options as well as finding a way to provide more individuals with access to treatment and getting them involved is critical.
Alcohol Use Disorder, Alcohol Abuse, and Alcohol Dependence
If you’re confused as to the difference between these three terms, you’re not alone. Prior to 2013, the terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcohol dependence” were the diagnostic terms used by medical providers to assess an individual’s condition. In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders released its fifth edition (DSM–5), and it created the term Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), replacing both alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence as the official diagnostic term used by medical providers.
Medical providers use a list of symptoms written by the DSM-5 to determine whether someone has an AUD. If an individual has two or more symptoms on the list, they are diagnosed as having AUD. At that point, the severity of the AUD is diagnosed as mild (two to three symptoms), moderate (four to five symptoms), or severe (six or more symptoms).
Here is a sample of the symptoms doctors review when determining an AUD diagnosis:
- In the past year, have you had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
- In the past year, have you more than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, but couldn’t?
- In the past year, have you spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
*To view a complete list of symptoms, visit the DSM-5 list here.
An estimated 16.6 million American adults in 2013 had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), according to the NIAAA, and alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States (approximately 88,000 people each year die from an alcohol-related cause).
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Similar to other drugs, the more a person uses alcohol, the more tolerant to alcohol the body and brain become. When the effects of alcohol wear off, someone who is dependent on it may suffer from withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild to life-threatening.
The severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms depends on a variety of factors including the length of time drinking, the amount of alcohol typically consumed, other medical conditions, the use of other drugs, and mental health disorders among other things. The more dependent someone is to alcohol, he or she is more likely to have more severe withdrawal symptoms. Although withdrawal symptoms vary, there are stages that provide guidance for understanding the withdrawal process.
Stage 1, typically occurs within eight hours after the last drink. Symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, nausea, abdominal pain and/or vomiting, loss of appetite, and depression.
Stage 2, typically occurs between one to three days after the last drink. Symptoms include increased blood pressure, body temperature and respiration, irregular heart rate, mental confusion, sweating, mood swings.
Stage 3, typically occurs one week after the last drink. Symptoms are the most serious and may include hallucinations, fever, seizures, severe confusion, and agitation.
To avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, it’s common for those suffering from alcohol dependence to relapse and drinks again. This is one of the reasons why professional, supervised treatment is recommended. If left untreated, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can last for weeks and can be fatal if left untreated.
Alcohol Rehabilitation and Treatment Options
Treatment options for AUD continue to expand, and effective alcohol detox & rehab treatment can be administered in a variety of settings. Alcoholics Anonymous is no longer the only option for those seeking help with alcohol abuse.
Although doctors prescribe medications to treat a variety of illnesses, using medication to help treat AUD is not as common. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the following medications to treat alcohol dependence: disulfiram (Antabuse®), oral naltrexone, extended-release naltrexone (Vivitrol®), and acamprosate (Campral®). The best results occur when medications are used in conjunction with behavioral therapies, and when the doctor maintains close contact with the individual throughout the course of treatment.
Successful long-term therapy centers focus on helping an individual change his behavior and expectations about alcohol. They focus on self-change and use goal setting, self-monitoring, and learning new coping skills. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) use behavioral principles to help individuals make changes.
Mutual-Help Groups (MHGs)
MHGs are groups where two or more people share a problem and get together to provide help and support for that issue. MHGs are the most common source of help for AUDs in the United States. They’re popular because they are flexible, convenient, and typically free. People can attend when they want and for as long as they want without sharing personal information. AA is the largest of these groups, but there are others that cater to specific demographics.
Smartphones and the internet make access to support available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although this doesn’t replace in-person support, it does help provide access to tools that some who would normally not have. The tools are generally free and allow you to maintain anonymity. Tools include drinking diaries, goal-setting exercises, and relapse-prevention techniques.
How to Seek Treatment for Yourself or a Loved One
Only 15 to 25 percent of people with drinking problems seek help from doctors. Denial is common, as is a lack of knowledge that a problem exists. If you’re not sure if you have an issue, there are several people you can ask: your doctor, a trusted relative, a mental health professional, a support group like AA, or someone who used to drink but stopped.
If you’re concerned about someone who you think drinks too much, ask a professional experienced in alcohol rehab treatment for advice on how best to approach that person. Contact Beach House today and speak with an expert confidentially 24/7.