Alcohol use disorder is what doctors call it when you can’t control how much you drink and have trouble with your emotions when you’re not drinking. Some people may think the only way to deal with it is with willpower, as if it’s a problem they have to work through all on their own.
But alcohol use disorder is actually considered a brain disease. Alcohol causes changes in your brain that make it hard to quit. Trying to tough it out on your own can be like trying to cure appendicitis with cheerful thoughts. It’s not enough.
An important first step is to learn more about your treatments, and there are a lot to choose from.
Start With Your Doctor
Your doctor may say you have alcohol use disorder if you:
- Feel like you have to drink
- Can’t control how much you drink
- Feel bad when you can’t drink
When you meet with your doctor, talk about your goals. Are you trying to drink less or stop drinking completely? Together, you can start to make a treatment plan. You doctor also can refer you to a treatment center or experts who can help.
The one that’s right for you depends on your situation and your goals. Many people find that a combination of treatments works best, and you can get them together through a program. Some of these are inpatient or residential programs, where you stay at a treatment center for a while. Others are outpatient programs, where you live at home and go to the center for treatment.
Go to Detox
For people who have severe alcohol use disorder, this is a key step. The goal is to stop drinking and give your body time to get the alcohol out of your system. That usually takes a few days to a week.
Most people go to a hospital or treatment center because of withdrawal symptoms like:
Doctors and other experts can keep an eye on you and give you medicine to help with your symptoms.
See a Counselor or Therapist
With alcohol use disorder, controlling your drinking is only part of the answer. You also need to learn new skills and strategies to use in everyday life. Psychologists, social workers, or alcohol counselors can teach you how to:
- Change the behaviors that make you want to drink
- Deal with stress and other triggers
- Build a strong support system
- Set goals and reach them
Some people just need a short, focused counseling session. Others may want one-on-one therapy for a longer time to deal with issues like anxiety or depression. Alcohol use can have a big effect on the people close to you, so couples or family therapy can help, too.
No medicine can “cure” alcohol use disorder, but some can help as you recover. They can make drinking less enjoyable so you don’t want to do it as much:
- Disulfiram (Antabuse) will make you feel sick or throw up if you drink.
- Acamprosate (Campral) can help with cravings.
- Naltrexone (Revia) blocks the high you get from drinking.
Join a Group
Group therapy or a support group can help during rehab and help you stay on track as life gets back to normal.
Group therapy, led by a therapist, can give you the benefits of therapy along with the support of other members.
Support groups aren’t led by therapists. Instead, these are groups of people who have alcohol use disorder. Examples include Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, and other programs. Your peers can offer understanding and advice and help keep you accountable. Many people stay in groups for years.
What to Expect
Recovery can take a long time, so you may need ongoing treatment. And some people in recovery do relapse and drink again. But less than half of people who’ve stayed sober at least a year relapse.
If you do, don’t think you’ve failed. It’s often a stage in the process, and recovery gets easier. After 5 years, only 1 out of 7 people have issues with drinking. Treatment can work -- just give yourself time.