Alcohol dependence; Alcohol abuse
Standard forms of therapy for alcoholism include:
Comparison studies have reported that these approaches are equally effective when the program is competently administered. Specific people may do better with one program than another.
AA, founded in 1935, is an excellent example of interactional group psychotherapy and remains the most well-known program for helping people with alcoholism. It offers a very strong support network using group meetings open 7 days a week in locations all over the world. A buddy system, group understanding of alcoholism, and forgiveness for relapses are AA's standard methods for building self-worth and alleviating feelings of isolation.
AA's 12-step approach to recovery includes a spiritual component that might deter people who lack religious convictions. Prayer and meditation, however, have been known to be of great value in the healing process of many diseases, even in people with no particular religious assignation. AA emphasizes that the "higher power" component of its program need not refer to any specific belief system. Associated membership programs, Al-Anon and Alateen, offer help for family members and friends.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) uses a structured teaching approach and may be better than AA for people with severe alcoholism. Patients are given instruction and homework assignments intended to improve their ability to cope with basic living situations, control their behavior, and change the way they think about drinking. The following are examples of approaches:
CBT may be especially effective when used in combination with opioid antagonists, such as naltrexone. CBT that addresses alcoholism and depression also may be an important treatment for patients with both conditions.
Combined behavioral intervention (CBI) is a new form of therapy that uses special counseling techniques to help motivate people with alcoholism to change their drinking behavior. CBI combines elements from other psychotherapy treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and 12-step programs. Patients are taught how to cope with drinking triggers. Patients also learn stregies for refusing alcohol so that they can achieve and maintain abstinence. In a well-designed study, CBI -- combined with regular doctorâ ' s office visits (medical management) -- worked as well as naltrexone in successfully treating alcoholism.
Partners of people with alcoholism can also benefit greatly from behavioral approaches that help them cope with their mate. Children of an alcoholic mother or father may do better if both parents participate in couples-based therapy, rather than just treating the parent with alcoholism.
Nearly all patients who are alcohol dependent suffer from insomnia and sleep problems, which can last months to years after abstinence. Sleep disturbances may even be important factors in relapse. Available therapies include sleep hygiene, bright light therapy, meditation, relaxation methods, and other nondrug approaches. Many medications for inducing sleep are not recommended in people with alcoholism. [For more information, see In-Depth Report #27: Insomnia.]
Some people try alternative methods, such as acupuncture or hypnosis. Such approaches are not harmful. In one study, acupuncture reduced the desire for alcohol in nearly half of people, although it was not significantly more helpful than conventional treatments.
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