Treatment for Alcoholism

Treating alcohol addiction

Is alcoholism an incurable disease­ or not? It's a debate that rages both sides of the Atlantic . Some people believe that drinking is a matter of choice which leads to addiction whilst others claim that people are genetically disposed to alcoholism.

According to the American based Jude Thaddeus Home Recovery Program the idea that alcoholism is a disease is a "nonsensical assertion." The organisation claims that there is no scientific evidence to prove such a theory which just gives an alcoholic an easy cop out from taking responsibility for themselves and the effect their drinking has on others. In other words it's not a disease which starts you on the road to alcoholism but simply personal choice.

However, the USA 's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says alcoholism is genetic and people are predisposed to it before birth. It cites the fact that alcoholism often runs in families. NIAA regards alcoholism as a chronic disease which has symptoms and follows a predictable course. The organisation says the disease is treatable but not curable. This view is shared by many professional healthcare agencies whose mantra is "once an alcoholic always an alcoholic." In other words you can never recover from the "disease" but you can learn to deal with it.

The world's most famous treatment program, Alcoholics Anonymous, is based on the firm belief that alcoholism is a disease and it's not the fault of victims that they become dependent. The disease should be treated like any other, says AA, and sufferers require treatment and counselling to stop drinking and lead a normal life.

Within the medical world it's generally accepted that alcohol addiction needs to be treated professionally, either on an outpatient or inpatient basis depending on the circumstances. Hospital based detox and rehab programs are normally used for the more severe cases involving medical and sometimes psychiatric problems. Some addicts are treated in detox units within psychiatric hospitals.

Other residential centres are used, either on a short or long term basis, for people who don't need such intensive medical care. In both cases the treatment relies on the person accepting they have a problem and working towards a healthy, sober lifestyle through behavioural therapy and counselling. This involves learning to resist social pressures, managing the craving and challenging traditional alcoholic thinking (e.g. "I need a drink to have fun.")

After residential treatment most people join a support network for group or one to one counselling.

Group therapy, such as the Alcoholics Anonymous programme, is a widely used treatment regime which has proved successful for many alcoholics. With the help of the 12 step program people accept that they have a problem, that it has had a detrimental effect on others and that they need to make amends by stopping drinking.

Outpatient treatment clinics often provide what the experts call "motivational enhancement therapy" and "cognitive behavioural coping skills" - both are designed to make a person feel better about themselves and give them confidence to become part of society without the prop of alcohol.

Several medications are also available. Antabuse makes a person feel sick as soon as they touch a drop of alcohol, even if it's contained in foodstuffs such as vinegar and sauces. It's available as an implant under the skin so an alcoholic can't succumb to the temptation to stop their medication. Acomprosate is a drug which can help reduce the desire to drink and is commonly used in the treatment of alcoholism.


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