Know Your Alcohol Treatment Options

By The Fix staff 12/13/14
Alcohol Treatment Options

The statistics and information behind alcohol use are truly shocking. More than half of all adults in the US use alcohol on a regular basis, and 6.6% of adults meet criteria for an alcohol use disorder. In 2013, 136.9 million people ages 12 and older used alcohol, 22.9% met criteria for binge drinkers, and 6.3% met criteria for heavy drinkers.

Excessive Alcohol Use

Excessive alcohol use includes underage drinking and binge drinking -- 5 or more drinks at one time for men and 4 or more drinks at one time for women. Furthermore, excessive alcohol use adversely affects a person's physical and mental health. The CDC estimates that 88,000 people die each year from excessive alcohol use. It's important to differentiate between excessive alcohol use and heavy drinking. Heavy drinking means that consuming at least 8 drinks per week for women, and consuming at least 15 drinks per week for men.

What Is Considered One Drink?

A drink contains 0.6-ounces of alcohol. This translates into the following: 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor.

Excessive Alcohol Use Health Risks.

Excessive alcohol use possesses some specific health risks in both the short-term and long-term. Excessive alcohol use results in the following short-term health risks:

  • Injuries from automobile accidents, falls, burns, or even drowning
  • Violence in the form of homicide, suicide, sexual assault, or domestic violence
  • Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, unplanned pregnancy, or infection with sexually transmitted diseases
  • Miscarriage and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders when used by pregnant women
  • Alcohol poisoning, which can cause permanent brain, liver, kidney, lung, other organ damage, or death if medical attention is not received immediately.

Alcohol use can have much more detrimental problems when used over long periods of time excessively. Excessive alcohol use carries the following risks to the body in the long-term:

  • Negative effect on the cardiovascular system, including high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease
  • Cancer in portions of the body in contact with alcohol (breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon)
  • Problems with the central nervous systems including learning and memory problems, dementia, or poor performance in an educational setting
  • Problems in productivity, familial relationships, and unemployment in social settings
  • Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism
  • Psychological problems including depression, anxiety, or other mental health illnesses, especially when a pre-existing mental health condition exists

Alcohol Dependence and Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a chronic disease that results from experiencing problems trying to control drinking, obsessing over alcohol, continuing to use alcohol, and an increased tolerance to alcohol, which means that a person would have to drink more each time in order to achieve an equivalent mind-altering effect. Furthermore, stopping drinking can be a life-threatening process for alcohol abuse as the withdrawal symptoms have the potential to cause permanent injury or death.

Although the majority of our conversation focuses on alcoholism, it's important to remember that heavy alcohol use can still cause many problems without making a person dependent upon it.

Alcohol and Other Mental Health Disorders

For many people suffering with mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or borderline personality disorder, alcohol can be a simple, yet ill-informed treatment option. Alcohol's euphoric effects have the illusion of reducing the problems a person is experiencing; however, the problems are actually growing throughout the period of alcohol use.

In addition, many medications for the treatment of mental health disorders have adverse reactions when combined with alcohol. For example, anti-anxiety medications and alcohol can result in difficulty breathing, reduction in cardiovascular capability, or even stroke. Psychotropic medications for the treatment of severe mental health disorders lose their ability to control the mental illness when used with alcohol. Ultimately, alcohol is a depressant, and when used in a person with depression, the risk of suicidal thoughts or actions increases.

The Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

It can be difficult to determine if symptoms are actually representative of alcohol abuse; however, many of these symptoms require first-hand knowledge of a person's drinking habits. As a result, immediate family and friends are the primary persons able to recognize a problem aside from the person with the problem.

The predominant symptom of alcohol abuse is the inability to limit the amount of alcohol a person drinks. He will feel a strong desire or be compelled to drink alcohol in excessive volumes. A person will need additional amounts of alcohol to overcome his own developed tolerance. Another primary symptom of alcoholism is when a person hides his alcohol consumption. A person with alcohol dependency will develop a set drinking pattern and become irritated or angry when this pattern changes. The person may be unable to recall certain events or memories. In addition, he may lose interest in once-enjoyed activities or experience legal or social problems. In addition to these symptoms, a person may begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to abstain from alcohol through his own decisions or financial reasons.

What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Alcohol Dependency?

The withdrawal symptoms from alcohol vary greatly depending upon the degree of dependence, age, and other psychological factors. Furthermore, severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include severe seizures, hallucinations, delusions, extreme paranoia, or death.

Minor withdrawal from alcohol symptoms include the following immediate symptoms (usually within 24-hours).

  • Uncontrollable shaking or tremors
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Vivid, unusual dreams
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Excessive sweating, especially while sleeping

Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be much more damaging and life-threatening. Delirium tremens (DTs) cause the death of 5% of patients going through severe alcohol withdrawal. DTs occur within 2 to 4 days from the time of cessation of alcohol consumption, and include disorientation, auditory or visual hallucinations, agitation, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and increased body temperature..

Furthermore, severe alcohol withdrawal side effects include seizures, and 25% of those going through severe withdrawal symptoms experience Grand Mal seizures, which occur within 24 hours of alcohol cessation.

Alcohol Treatment Options

In the past, alcohol treatment was limited to a few meetings within a group capacity to try to gain a hold on the disease. However, the modern world's dedication to coming to the aid of those who ask has seen an increase in the number of available alcohol treatment programs, alcohol treatment facilities, and in-patient or out-patient alcohol treatment centers. In order to fully understand how each of these entities can help with alcoholism or excessive alcohol use, you need to see how each entity functions.

Alcohol Treatment Programs

Perhaps the most common resource for addressing alcohol dependence is the well-known support group Alcoholics Annonymous as well as a host of online forums to obtain support from others going through alcohol treatment. However, severe cases of alcohol dependence and alcoholism can require hospitalization or a stay in a short-term treatment facility.

Alcohol Treatment Centers

An alcohol treatment center includes both alcohol treatment facilities and community support centers. In an alcohol treatment center, a person suffering from alcohol dependence will be able to attain the support necessary to gain control over his or her affliction. In addition, alcohol treatment centers can assist in referral or possibly treat other substance abuse issues, such as cocaine, THC, or prescription drug abuse.

Alcohol Treatment Facilities

Alcohol treatment facilities include any facility in which a person can stay short-term while going through the initial detox phase. In most cases, this could involve an inpatient psychiatric facility with the capability of administering medications that will control the severe symptoms of withdrawal, such as benzodiazepines. Most commonly, Librium is used to control the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, and Anatabuse can be used to deter future drinking through taste-aversion -- it will make a person severely ill when drinking alcohol.


Similar to many other mental health conditions, cognitive-behavioral therapy can assist in learning to control alcohol dependency. Cognitive-behavioral therapy seeks to change the thought patterns and reasoning that leads a person to feel he or she is compelled to drink. In addition to treatment of alcohol dependence with medications, a person needs to be able to understand how his actions affect himself as well as others. For example, the therapist, who may be a psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist -- will provide education on the long-term and short-term effects of excessive alcohol use

In addition to helping to gain an understanding of a person's alcoholism, therapy will assist in the development of healthy coping skills. Many people tend to drink in response to a perceived threat to themselves, and coping skills can prevent that person from reaching for another alcoholic drink or even other substances.

Alcohol is responsible for untold damage to the lives of millions of people each year in the US alone, and making the decision to obtain alcohol treatment can be a frightening process. However, many different treatment options exist for alcohol dependency, alcoholism, or excessive alcohol use. These treatment options have the ability to drastically change a person's drinking habits permanently, but the first step towards sobriety begins with the decision to admit fault and ask for assistance.

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