New and Proven Treatments for Alcoholism

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Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic relapsing brain disease defined by an impaired capacity to quit or limit heavy alcohol use despite negative effects. Consuming alcohol in large amounts results in muscle spasms, heart, brain, pancreas, and liver problems. These maladaptive habits of drinking and drug abuse can lead to several serious health consequences not just for the addicts but also for their family and friends. Alcoholism can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. Read on to learn more about treatments for alcoholism.

Alcohol can cross the blood-brain barrier, allowing it to enter the brain and disturb normal functions. Alcohol binds to certain GABA receptors in the brain, where it mimics the GABA’s function. It results in poor sleep, sugar cravings, tired feelings, and long-winded hangover.

According to the previous studies, alcohol is a major contributor to mental health disorders and a primary cause of preventable death, accounting for nearly 88,000 deaths in the United States alone each year. The study participants report that alcohol use disorder affects roughly one-third of all adults in the United States at some time in their life.

It is a disease of body and brain function that requires both medical and psychosocial treatment to get control. The treatment options for alcohol abuse depend on the severity of your drinking and whether you’re attempting to drink less (moderation) or quit entirely (abstinence).

Graphic showing coping strategies taught in treatments for alcoholism

Effective Treatments for Alcoholism

If you are battling alcohol addiction, alcoholism treatment is an effective solution to help you quit drinking and recover control of your life. You do not have to continue to experience the harmful consequences of alcohol abuse. Following are some of the common treatment options used by substance abuse treatment professionals to address alcohol use disorders.

Alcohol Detoxification

Detoxification is the optimal first step toward recovery from an alcohol use disorder (AUD), but detoxification alone is rarely adequate to help a person achieve long-term sobriety. Detoxification is a collection of actions aimed to assist someone to withdraw from alcohol comfortably, helping them to transition into a formal and often longer-term treatment program.

To identify a patient’s withdrawal risk before joining a detoxification program, a health care provider must do a comprehensive evaluation of the patient’s history of alcohol misuse, past withdrawal experiences (if any), and medical and mental history.

Patients may get medications during the detoxification phase to facilitate a safe alcohol withdrawal. Examples of some of these drugs include:

  • Anticonvulsants, such carbamazepine, gabapentin, or topiramate. These drugs aid in reducing the consumption of alcohol and easing mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms. Topiramate has not yet been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), although it has shown potential in treating alcoholism.
  • Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam, chlordiazepoxide, oxazepam, or lorazepam. If benzodiazepines are provided early during alcohol withdrawal, they can lessen the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, so delaying a progression to potentially severe and fatal outcomes.
  • During alcohol withdrawal, antipsychotics, such as haloperidol, help lessen acute agitation, hallucinations, delusions, and delirium.

Residential or Inpatient Rehab Services

Inpatient or residential AUD treatment requires you to reside in a rehabilitation facility. Rehab stays are advantageous because they remove you from situations where people, places, or events can trigger cravings and relapse. Focusing primarily on rehabilitation and developing the essential coping skills to live a happy and fulfilling life, you receive care and monitoring around the clock, which aids in addressing any withdrawal symptoms.

Outpatient Rehab Services

Different types of outpatient treatment provide various levels of support. These levels can include:

  • A partial hospitalization program (PHP) is the most severe kind of outpatient treatment and involves patients staying at home while receiving treatment for up to 10 hours per day. This is an organized and very supportive outpatient program. It may well be advantageous for people who are unable to commit to an inpatient stay but still want a high level of care.
  • An intensive outpatient program (IOP) is a type of outpatient treatment in which patients live at home but attend treatment for three hours a day, five days a week at first, then less frequently. People who have completed PHP or inpatient therapy may transition to IOP.
  • Outpatient therapy (OP) is a type of treatment that varies in intensity and length depending on the needs of the patient and other circumstances. Outpatient treatment might mean going to treatment sessions many times a week or simply once a week, depending on the severity of the problem.

Medications (Best Possible Treatment)

The FDA has approved only three medications to treat alcoholism: Disulfiram (Antabuse), Naltrexone (ReVia pill, Vivitrol injections), and Acamprosate (Campral).

As shown by the COMBINE Study, no medication is beneficial in every case or for every addict. Some are more effective at reducing the strong desire for alcohol intake, while others are better at reducing the number of heavy drinking days or lowering the likelihood that someone who has been abstinent would drink again.

Naltrexone

During the detox stage, Naltrexone helps to lessen alcohol cravings. In the case of a relapse, Naltrexone helps by preventing the euphoric sensation caused by alcohol. Because the medicine might cause withdrawal symptoms, it is best to wait 7-10 days before taking it. It is available in two forms: tablet and injectable. The pill form of Naltrexone is marketed as ReVia and Depade, while the injectable form is marketed as Vivitrol.

Acamprosate (Campral)

Years of excessive drinking can severely affect the function of the brain. Acamprosate, which comes under the brand name Campral, is prescribed to assist your brain to resume normal function after you stop drinking. Acamprosate has also been the subject of new research. Researchers are trying to see if it might assist with PAWS symptoms such as sleeplessness, anxiety, and restlessness. It is also effective in reducing alcohol cravings, yet it will not produce an unwanted effect if alcohol is consumed.

Disulfiram (Antabuse)

Disulfiram was the first drug to be approved for the treatment of alcoholism, under the brand name Antabuse. Disulfiram works by causing severe reactions if alcohol is taken. If you drink while taking Disulfiram, you may encounter side effects such as facial flushing, nausea, headache, weakness, and low blood pressure. The negative consequences are intended to discourage you from maintaining your consuming alcoholic drinks. Disulfiram, unlike some other drugs, is not intended to diminish alcohol cravings or restore brain functioning.

The Sinclair Method

The Sinclair Method is the primary treatment protocol for alcoholism in Finland; it is also used in the United Kingdom, but it has yet to catch on in the United States.

People who follow the Sinclair Method take ReVia or Vivitrol solely before drinking and never otherwise. ReVia and Vivitrol are not like other anti-alcohol medications that produce severe nausea, hangover, and depressive symptoms when used with alcohol. ReVia and Vivitrol block the feel-good endorphins. The change in behavior takes time to manifest.

New Medications on the Horizon

Topamax and Neurontin

Some anticonvulsants, especially Topiramate (Topamax) and Gabapentin (Neurontin) have shown promising benefits in studies. Following the approved AUD medicines, the APA practice guidelines for AUD therapy prescribe topiramate or gabapentin as second-line treatment. Topiramate may be effective for people who are still actively drinking, even though it might have negative side effects.

Chantix

In a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism-sponsored (NIAAA) study, the antismoking medicine, Varenicline (Chantix), reduced the weekly proportion of heavy drinking days, the number of drinks per drinking day, and alcohol cravings compared to a placebo in people with AUD. Common varenicline side effects include nausea, strange dreams, and constipation.

Zofran

Ondansetron (Zofran), an antinausea medication, is said to lower drinking and cravings while increasing abstinence in people with early-onset AUD (those aged 25 or younger). Ondansetron commonly causes headaches, constipation, and tiredness.

Selincro

In 2013, the European Union approved the drug Nalmefene (Selincro) for the treatment of AUD. The medicine, which is similar to naltrexone, is to be given as needed when patients feel they are at high risk of drinking.

Further analysis of Nalmefene clinical trials discovered that none of the studies produced sufficient evidence that the treatment decreased alcohol consumption in patients with AUD.

Image explaining the three stages of and matching treatments for alcoholism

Alcoholism Therapy Options

An inpatient or outpatient alcoholism rehabilitation program includes several effective treatment therapies. Following is an overview of the most common drug therapy approaches you may experience at a rehabilitation center.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a good option for easing alcoholism’s burdens. The core tenet of CBT is the importance of identifying negative thoughts and actions and replacing them with good ones. A CBT session will consist of a chat between a psychologist and a patient. CBT is a therapeutic strategy that places less emphasis on diagnosis and more on constructive action. CBT is often successful after only five sessions.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

DBT teaches individuals how to manage their emotions so that they do not participate in self-destructive actions as a result of intense emotions. DBT can help you reduce cravings, avoid situations or possibilities for relapse, and acquire healthy coping skills by supporting you to stop engaging in behaviors that lead to substance use disorders. DBT includes four major tactics that the addiction specialists teach to the patient.

  • Emotion regulation
  • Core mindfulness
  • Interpersonal effectiveness
  • Distress tolerance

Self-Help Groups

Attending self-help organizations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), is beneficial for many people with alcohol dependence issues.

A core belief of AA is that alcoholism is a chronic disease for which the only treatment is absolute abstinence. AA promotes a treatment plan based on a 12-step program meant to help you overcome your addiction.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Motivational enhancement therapy is a brief therapy aimed at urging patients to reduce or quit drinking and encouraging them to make good choices. It assists patients in identifying the advantages and disadvantages of therapy, formulating a strategy for change, boosting their confidence, and acquiring the necessary skills to stick to their recovery-related targets.

12-Step Facilitation Therapy

The 12-step facilitation treatment is based on the AA program. The significant difference is that you work through the phases individually with a psychotherapist, as compared to in a group.

If you are uncomfortable or unable to disclose your difficulties in a group environment, this therapy may be the best treatment choice for you.

Family Therapy

The effects of alcoholism are not limited to the individual but can extend to the whole family. Family therapy gives the chance for family members to learn about the nature of alcoholism and assist the family member who is attempting to refrain from alcohol.

Support is also offered for family members in their own right. Living with a person who abuses alcohol can be unpleasant, therefore help is usually quite useful.

Join a Group

Group therapy or a support group can be helpful throughout rehabilitation and as you transition back to normal life.

Group therapy sessions are led by health care professionals. You can get the advantages of therapy as well as the support of other group members. Support groups aren’t led by therapists. Instead, these groups consist of individuals with alcohol use disorders. Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are examples of support groups.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are some treatment options for someone who is suffering from alcoholism?

There are a variety of treatment methods currently available. Behavioral treatments, medications, and support groups are the most common types of alcoholism treatments. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and what works for one person may not be a good fit for someone else.

Is there a pill to replace alcohol?

The best alternatives to alcohol consumption are nonalcoholic beverages, such as sparkling juices or club soda, or changes in lifestyle, such as exercise, meditation, or progressive relaxation. 

What are two programs for treating alcoholism?

Healthcare professionals provide up-to-date treatments backed by science. Talk therapy and medications are the two most effective and proven treatments for alcoholism. The basic level of care for alcohol treatment includes outpatient, partial hospitalization, residential, and intensive patient programs.

The Recovery Team Makes it Easy to Quit Drinking

No matter how hopeless alcohol use disorder may seem, treatment can help. If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, let The Recovery Team help you.

Our healthcare professionals and primary care doctors can help you cope, make a treatment plan, prescribe medications, and refer you to support programs.

For any questions, contact our helpline at (800) 817-1247. We are available 24/7 to provide medical advice and information on proven treatment options for alcohol addiction.