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- Treatment Overview
Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment Overview
First steps to consider
- Discuss your drinking habits with people you trust to help you identify problematic drinking patterns.
- Check online for a validated screening test for alcohol use disorder like AUDIT-C.
When you may need a provider
- You screen positive for alcohol use disorder.
- You or people in your life are concerned that your drinking pattern is problematic.
- You feel in-person support and treatment may help you.
Go to the ER if you have any of these symptoms of a more serious condition:
- Alcohol withdrawal, including visual hallucinations, seizures, severe confusion with agitation, racing heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, fever, and excessive sweating.
- If you over consume alcohol to the point of having slurred speech, confusion, loss of consciousness, memory impairment, or difficulty walking, you are at risk for acute alcohol intoxication and should go to the ER.
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When to see a healthcare provider
Alcohol use disorder is often treated with a combination of counseling, group support programs, and sometimes medication prescribed by a doctor.
See a healthcare provider if you or people you are close to think you may have problematic drinking habits or if you have a positive result on an alcohol use disorder online screening test. A doctor may refer you to an addiction medicine specialist, who can help you figure out a safe and effective way to treat your problematic drinking.
Problematic alcohol use can also lead to a wide range of medical problems. Consider seeing a primary care doctor to be evaluated for medical problems related to alcohol use.
There are many types of support for people with alcohol use disorder including mutual support groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous), therapists, residential treatment centers, primary care doctors, psychiatrists, and addiction medicine specialists.
You can take a validated screening test for alcohol use disorder such as the CAGE questions, AUDIT or AUDIT-C. These screening tests are available online and consist of answering questions on a form about your drinking habit. You can bring your results to your healthcare provider, who can help determine if you have alcohol use disorder and how severe it is.
If your doctor is concerned about the physical symptoms related to your alcohol use, they may order blood tests to check for related disorders.
What to expect from your visit
Your doctor will discuss your drinking patterns, your family history, and any medical conditions you have, including mental health disorders.
They will work with you to develop a treatment plan. Treatment for alcohol use disorder often includes different forms of counseling, group support such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and medications.
Your doctor will also discuss withdrawal symptoms and how to prevent them. Mild symptoms typically go away within the first 1–2 days after your last drink. But if you have been drinking heavily on a regular basis, symptoms may be more intense and potentially serious.
It’s often helpful to see a therapist. Therapy can help you address underlying psychological issues that relate to your alcohol use. It also offers strategies for handling any cravings, difficult situations, and issues with people you are close to. Couples or family therapy can also help with your relationships if your drinking patterns are harmful for your loved ones.
After you’ve kept to your treatment goals for at least 12 months, ongoing maintenance therapy with medications or counseling or both can be helpful to prevent relapse.
There are several options for medications.
- Most medications for alcohol use disorder reduce cravings for alcohol, making it easier to abstain from it.
- Some medications can be deterrents to drinking by causing nausea, vomiting, or other uncomfortable side effects when taken with alcohol.
- Some medications reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms or treat withdrawal symptoms.
Prescription alcohol use disorder medications
- Naltrexone (Revia)
- Disulfiram (Antabuse)
- Acamprosate (Campral)
- Gabapentin (Neurontin)
- Topiramate (Topamax)
- Naltrexone (intramuscular injection, Vivitrol)
Types of providers
- A primary care provider can help diagnose alcohol use disorder and treat mild to moderate symptoms with medications.
- A therapist can be a psychologist, licensed counselor, or a social worker. They can help diagnose you and provide therapy.
- A psychiatrist is a medical doctor that can help with diagnosis, offer therapy, and prescribe medications to reduce alcohol consumption and reduce cravings for alcohol. Psychiatrists can also help with other mental health disorders like depression or bipolar disorder.
- An addiction medicine specialist is a medical doctor trained in substance use disorders. They can offer some types of therapy and prescribe medications to reduce alcohol consumption. They can be especially helpful if you are struggling with other substances besides alcohol.
How to help your treatment plan at home
Recovering from alcohol use disorder can be difficult to do on your own. Many of the most effective treatment plans include counseling, group programs, and medication prescribed by a doctor.
But therapy and group programs will often have cognitive and behavioral strategies that you can do at home.
It is important to define your treatment goals. For most people, total abstinence from alcohol is the most effective treatment goal because even small amounts of alcohol can cause you to fall back into problematic drinking patterns.
For mild alcohol use disorder, addiction counseling with a professional can have positive results in the first 6 months. For moderate or severe cases, it may be necessary to take medications and to participate in more intensive forms of treatment like a rehabilitation program.
Tips for treating alcohol use disorder
- Recognize that patience is an important part of the treatment process. It can take weeks, months, or even years to reach your desired goals.
- Look for support early and often, so that you are not trying to do this alone.
- Lean on your social support network, your healthy relationships, and your treatment team when you are struggling.
- Have compassion for yourself and recognize that you are capable of change.
- Identify what your triggers are for problematic drinking patterns. Do your best to avoid these triggers, which may include people or environments that promote excessive drinking.
- Self-care is important. Try to maintain lifestyle habits such as exercise, meditation or mindfulness, and healthy eating.
- Focus on your healthy social connections and relationships with friends and family.
- Be open to accepting help. Professional support is often needed as alcohol use disorder can be difficult to overcome on your own.