Alcohol dependence; Alcohol abuse
Once a diagnosis of alcoholism is made, the next major step is getting the patient to seek treatment. The main reasons alcoholics do not seek treatment are:
The alcoholic patient and everyone involved should fully understand that alcoholism is a disease. Furthermore, the responses to this disease (need, craving, fear of withdrawal) are not character flaws but symptoms, just as pain or discomfort are symptoms of other illnesses. They should also realize that treatment is difficult and sometimes painful, just as are treatments for other life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, but that treatment is the only hope for a cure.
Interventions by family members, employers, and therapists can be very effective in motivating a person to quit and in reducing drinking over the short term. Even brief interventions from a primary care doctor and self-help information can be helpful in reducing harmful drinking. Studies report, however, that only regular follow-up and reinforcement will sustain quit rates and possibly even improve survival rates.
Personal Intervention Meetings. The best approaches for motivating a patient to seek treatment are interventional group meetings between people with alcoholism and their friends and family members who have been affected by the alcoholic behavior. Using this approach, each person affected offers a compassionate but direct and honest report describing specifically how they have been hurt by their loved one's alcoholism. The family and friends should express their affection for the patient and their intentions for supporting the patient through recovery, but they must strongly and consistently demand that the patient seek treatment. Children may even be involved in this process, depending on their level of maturity and ability to handle the situation.
Employer Intervention. Employers can be particularly effective. Their approach should also be compassionate but strong, threatening the employee with loss of employment if they do not seek help. Some large companies provide access to inexpensive or free treatment programs for their workers. Studies suggest that such interventions are effective at helping the worker at least to cut back on drinking.
The ideal goals of long-term treatment by many doctors and organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are total abstinence. Patients who secure total abstinence have better survival rates, mental health, and marriages, and they are more responsible parents and employees than those who continue to drink or relapse. To achieve this, the patient aims to avoid high-risk situations and replace the addictive patterns with satisfying, time-filling behaviors.
Because abstinence is so difficult to attain, however, many professionals choose to treat alcoholism as a chronic disease. In other words, patients should expect and accept relapse but should aim for as long a remission period as possible. Even merely reducing alcohol intake can lower the risk for alcohol-related medical problems.
AA and other alcoholic treatment groups are greatly worried by treatment approaches that do not aim for strict abstinence, however. Many people with alcoholism are eager for any excuse to start drinking again. There is also no way to determine which people can stop after one drink and which ones cannot.
Evidence strongly suggests that seeking total abstinence and avoiding high-risk situations are the optimal goal for people with alcoholism.
A number of treatment options now exist for alcoholism. It is first important to determine whether inpatient or outpatient care would best benefit the individual. A variety of treatment options exist that do not require overnight stay in a hospital. Structured programs exist that involve anywhere from a couple of hours a day for several days a week to 20 or more hours per week (sometimes called partial hospitalization) of monitoring. Withdrawal and subsequent abstinence monitoring using outpatient visits to a doctor is occasionally tried for select, low-risk patients.
Inpatient care may also be performed in a general or psychiatric hospital or in a center dedicated to treatment of alcohol and other substance abuse. Factors that indicate a need for this type of treatment include:
A typical inpatient regimen may include the following stages:
Some -- but not all -- studies have reported better success rates with inpatient treatment of patients with alcoholism. However, newer studies strongly suggest that alcoholism can be effectively treated in outpatient settings.
The new approach to outpatient treatment uses â€śmedical managementâ€ť -- a disease management approach that is used for chronic illnesses such as diabetes. With medical management, patients receive regular 20-minute sessions with a health care provider. The provider monitors the patientâ ' s medical condition, medication, and alcohol consumption.
A medical management approach generally involves one or both of the following:
Outpatient Treatment Options. People with mild-to-moderate withdrawal symptoms are usually treated as outpatients. Treatments are similar to those in inpatient situations and include:
After-Care and Work Therapy. After-care employs services that help alcoholics maintain sobriety. For example, in some cities, sober-living houses provide residences for people who are trying to stay sober. They do not offer formal treatment services, but the people living there offer each other support and maintain an abstinent environment.
About 25% of people are continuously abstinent following treatment, and another 10% use alcohol moderately and without problems. Relapse is common and intensive and prolonged treatment is important for successful recovery, whether the patient is treated within or outside a treatment center.
Certain factors play a role in success or failure. Patients from low-income groups tend to have worse results in general. Their difficulties are often intensified by lack of insurance, low self-esteem, and minimal social support.
Severe alcoholism is often complicated by the presence of serious medical illnesses. People with alcoholism should try at least to maintain a healthy diet and take vitamin supplements. Such deficiencies are a major cause of health problems in people with alcoholism. Women are particularly endangered.
A program called integrated outpatient treatment (IOT) may be specifically helpful for medically ill alcoholics. The patient visits a clinic once a month and receives both intensive alcohol treatment and a physical check-up, which includes tracking factors, such as liver function, that are affected by drinking.
Treatment for patients with both alcoholism and mental illness is particularly difficult. The greater the psychiatric distress a person is experiencing, the more the person is tempted to drink, particularly in negative situations.
There has been some concern that self-help programs, such as AA, are not effective for patients with dual diagnoses of mental illness and alcoholism, because the focus of the organization is on addiction, not psychiatric problems. Studies, however, have reported that they are also effective in many of these patients. (AA may not be as helpful for people with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.)
Newer antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are proving to be very useful complements to AA or counseling sessions. Anti-anxiety medications are also available for people with anxiety. People with alcoholism and more severe problems such as schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorder may require other types of medications.
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