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Alcohol Abuse Treatment: Know Your Options

By  Ali Pantony
Know your options for alcohol abuse treatment, from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to peer support groups.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic condition characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not drinking. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately 17 million U.S. adults have an alcohol use disorder.

"If a person starts feeling concerned or guilty about their drinking habits, that can be a sign that they would benefit from additional support," says Heather LeCasse, Residential Clinician at Mountainside Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Center. "It's often difficult for people to see their own behaviors as problematic. So, if their family or friends have commented on their alcohol consumption, that can also be a way to distinguish whether they are struggling with alcoholism."

However severe the problem may seem, most people with an AUD can benefit from some form of treatment.

Alcohol Abuse Treatment Options

According to the NIAAA, research shows that about one third of those treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms one year later. Many others substantially reduce their alcohol consumption and report fewer alcohol-related issues.

The first step is to speak to your health care provider, who can help decide which treatment is best for you.

You will also need to consider your treatment setting. "Treatment is available through both inpatient (residential, at a facility) and outpatient (staying at home during treatment) programs," LeCasse says. "Which program a person chooses will depend on their personal situation, such as finance and childcare."

Behavioral treatments

Behavioral treatments, also known as alcohol counseling, for alcohol use disorder aim to identify and change the behaviors that lead to heavy drinking including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy will help you recognize the feelings and situations (also called 'cues') that make you drink heavily, and manage the stress that can trigger relapse. It changes the thought processes that lead to drinking and to develop the skills to cope with triggers. CBT for alcohol use disorder can take place in a group or one-to-one with a therapist.

  • Motivational enhancement therapy (MET)

Motivational enhancement therapy is conducted over a short period of time to build and strengthen motivation to change drinking behavior. The therapy focuses on identifying the pros and cons of seeking treatment, forming a plan for making changes in your drinking, building confidence, and developing the skills needed to stick to the plan.

  • Marital and family counseling

Family support can help you maintain abstinence (stopping drinking). This type of therapy incorporates spouses and other family members in the treatment process.

  • Brief interventions

Short counseling sessions that happen one-on-one or in a small group. The counselor provides personalized feedback about your drinking and helps you set goals to change your drinking behaviors.

Medication

Medication prescribed by a primary care physician or other health professional helps to stop or reduce drinking and prevent relapse. They can be used alone or in combination with counseling.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve three medications for alcohol dependence⁠—naltrexone, acamprosate and disulfiram.

Ongoing research into other medicine could lead to future breakthroughs in AUD treatment. For example, research suggests that anti-epileptic medication topiramate could be effective.

Mutual-support groups

12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), provide peer support to help you quit drinking. They are combined with treatment led by health professionals.