Treating Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the most common type of substance use disorder. It makes you feel unable to stop drinking alcohol despite negative consequences, such as damaged relationships, job loss, and health problems like depression and liver disease.
Fortunately, AUD is treatable. The type of alcoholism treatment you need depends on the severity of your condition.
Diagnosing Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder always starts with alcohol abuse.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are two main types of alcohol abuse or problematic drinking behavior: binge drinking and heavy drinking.
Binge drinking occurs when a woman consumes four or more drinks in about 2 hours and when a man consumes five or more drinks in about 2 hours.
Heavy drinking occurs when a woman consumes more than three drinks in one day or more than seven drinks per week and when a man consumes more than four drinks in one day or more than fourteen drinks per week.
If you engage in binge drinking or heavy drinking, or if you feel unable to control your alcohol consumption, visit your primary care physician.
They can perform psychological and physical exams to determine the severity of your alcohol problem. They may conclude, via criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), that you have a diagnosable condition.
Then, they can recommend the appropriate way for you to treat alcohol use disorder.
Treating Alcohol Use Disorder
If your doctor determines that your alcohol abuse is mild or hasn’t yet turned into alcohol use disorder, they may suggest a brief intervention.
A brief intervention is a short counseling session designed to help you manage harmful alcohol consumption. Depending on your situation, your counselor may want you to stop drinking entirely. In other cases, they may just want you to drink less frequently.
Your counselor will likely recommend at least one follow-up session to ensure you’re meeting your goals and offer additional advice if needed.
If your doctor determines that you have alcohol use disorder, or if brief interventions don’t work, they’ll suggest formal addiction treatment.
Your doctor or a treatment specialist may recommend inpatient care (meaning you live at the treatment center for a few weeks or months) or outpatient care (meaning you regularly attend the treatment center while living at home). Outpatient care is recommended only for mild cases.
When you enter a substance abuse treatment program, whether inpatient or outpatient, a team of health care providers will help you create a personalized treatment plan. Most treatment plans for alcohol use disorder include an initial service that addresses alcohol dependence.
Medical detox is usually the first phase of treatment. During detox, you’ll receive 24/7 care and supervision as you slowly get alcohol out of your system. You may also be given medications to treat certain alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The most common withdrawal symptoms include:
- mood swings
- trouble thinking clearly
In therapy, you can learn how to identify and manage triggers. Triggers are people, places, situations, or feelings that make you want to abuse alcohol.
Therapy can also help you treat mental health problems that contribute to your alcohol abuse, such as depression or schizophrenia.
The most common types of therapy for alcohol use disorder include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), where you can learn to change unhealthy behaviors that lead to alcohol abuse and develop effective coping skills to manage stress
- motivational enhancement therapy (MET), where you can improve your motivation for getting help and staying sober
- contingency management (CM), where you can receive rewards, such as cash or gift cards, for staying sober and making other positive changes in your life
- family therapy, where you and your family members can learn to resolve conflicts, improve relationships, and support your recovery
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
In medication-assisted treatment, also called pharmacotherapy, doctors use medications to help treat opioid or alcohol addictions. Currently, there are three medications approved for the treatment of alcohol use disorder:
- acamprosate (Campral), which reduces alcohol cravings
- disulfiram (Antabuse), which discourages alcohol use by causing unpleasant symptoms like nausea and headache when you drink alcohol
- naltrexone (Vivitrol), which discourages alcohol use by blocking the pleasant effects of alcohol
Alcohol use disorder can make you feel isolated and alone. That’s why so many people benefit from support groups, where you can connect with other people who struggle with alcohol.
The most popular support group for people with alcohol use disorder is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Group members share their experiences and coping strategies to support each other through the ups and downs of recovery.
AA asks you to put your faith in a higher power (whether that’s a religious god or gods or a meaningful concept like love, nature, or the universe). Some people dislike this spiritual element.
Fortunately, there are a number of non-spiritual alternatives to AA, including:
Because support groups can help you maintain recovery, many people continue attending them long after treatment ends.
Self-care is an essential part of recovery from alcohol use disorder. When you take care of your mind and body, you’re much less likely to relapse (start drinking again).
That’s why most treatment programs offer activities to boost your sense of well-being. These activities may include:
- arts and crafts
- nutritional guidance
If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol, please contact an Ark Behavioral Health specialist to learn about our comprehensive treatment options.
Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
This page does not provide medical advice.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - NIAAA Publications
U.S. National Library of Medicine - Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
U.S. National Library of Medicine - Alcohol withdrawal
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