Stacy Mosel, L.M.S.W.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, treatment for alcoholism is an effective way to help you stop drinking and reclaim control of your life. You don’t need to continue to suffer from the negative effects of alcohol misuse. Continue reading to learn more about the signs, symptoms, and treatment methods that substance abuse treatment professionals commonly used to treat alcohol use disorders, and how you or a loved one can get help and start the path to recovery. Or call our alcohol hotline at
or get a textfor information on various treatment options.
What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism, commonly referred to as an alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control unhealthy alcohol use despite adverse consequences. Instances of alcoholism are frequently referred to as an alcohol use disorder, alcohol dependence, and alcohol addiction as well. This condition may cause downstream mental health and physical health issues as well as social issues and daily life problems. Brain changes resulting from long-term alcohol use or misuse perpetuate AUDs. Fortunately, there are many effective evidence-based treatment approaches to help a person recover from alcoholism which can range from a combination of rehab treatment, behavioral therapies, and medications to reduce or remove the urge to drink.1
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder
A person is diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder by a medical or mental health professional (such as a psychiatrist). The criteria for mild, moderate, and severe AUD are created and published by the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). A physician may diagnose someone with a mild AUD if they meet 2–3 criteria—or signs and symptoms—for an AUD, 4–5 criteria for a moderate AUD, and 6 or more criteria for a severe AUD occurring within a 12-month period.1
The APA’s diagnostic signs and symptoms of an AUD include:2,3
- Using alcohol more frequently or in higher amounts than intended.
- Being unable to stop drinking or control alcohol intake despite attempts.
- Spending significant amounts of time getting, drinking, and recovering from the effects of alcohol.
- Experiencing strong urges to drink (also known as cravings).
- Failing to fulfill obligations at work, home, or school due to recurrent alcohol use.
- Continuing to drink alcohol even after experiencing social or relationship problems that are caused or worsened by alcohol use.
- Giving up or reducing the amount of time spent at work or school or on social and recreational activities that a person once enjoyed due to alcohol use.
- Repeated episodes of drinking during times when it is physically dangerous to do so (such as while driving or operating machinery).
- Continuing to drink despite recurring physical or psychological problems related to alcohol use.
- Experiencing tolerance, which is when someone must drink increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve previous desired effects.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop or cut back on drinking, such as shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, racing heart, seizures, or hallucinations (seeing or sensing things that aren’t there).
Unsure of Whether You Have an AUD? Take Our Alcoholism Self-Assessment
Take our free, 5-minute alcohol abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. This evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are designed to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result. Please be aware that this evaluation is not a substitute for advice from a medical doctor
What are the Causes of Alcohol Addiction?
Some of a person’s risk in developing an AUD depends on how much, how often, and how quickly they consume alcohol. Certain biological, psychological, and social influences are also believed to play a role in the development of AUDs. Some risks factors that may lead to someone developing an AUD may include:1,4
- A family history of alcoholism.
- Parental drinking patterns.
- Exposure to trauma and stress during childhood.
- Drinking alcohol at an early age. Scientists have found that people who began drinking at age 15 or younger were 5 times more likely to develop an AUD than those who started drinking at age 21 or older. In addition, the risk for females in this group is higher than for males.
Certain psychiatric disorders, including major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and anti-social personality disorder are commonly associated with alcoholism, although whether or not these co-occurring disorders are a result of the alcoholism or contributed to the development of an alcohol use disorder is unclear and may differ per individual. Some studies suggest that schizophrenia, depression, and personality disorders are also predisposing factors for AUDs. This means that if a person has one or more of these psychiatric conditions, they may have an increased risk of alcoholism.
Alcoholism Treatment Programs
Although there is currently no cure for alcohol use disorders, AUDs (much like many other chronic, relapsing diseases) can be successfully managed and treated.1Professional treatment in a rehabilitation center can help people suffering with AUDs recover from substance abuse issues and remain sober. If you or someone you care about is struggling with an AUD, you will likely benefit from some form of treatment.
If you’re considering professional treatment for problematic alcohol use, you have a variety of options to treat your AUD, ranging from detoxification, to inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, behavioral therapies, medication, and peer support groups
Detox is an ideal first step toward recovery from an AUD, but detoxification alone is rarely sufficient in helping a person achieve long-term abstinence.7 Detoxification is a set of interventions that are designed to help someone safely and comfortably withdraw from alcohol, which will then position a person to transition into a formal and typically longer-lasting treatment program.
Before entering a detoxification center, a physician will need to perform a thorough assessment of a patient’s experience with alcohol abuse, previous withdrawal experiences (if any), and their medical and psychiatric history in order to determine their withdrawal risk. For the sake of this assessment, patients may also undergo blood tests and screening for the presence of any co-occurring mental or physical health issues.
Any person at risk of severe, life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, which include seizures and delirium tremens (DTs), should undergo detox in an inpatient facility, such as a hospital or other acute care facility, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).8
During the detox process, patients may receive medications to help them safely withdraw from alcohol. Some of these medications may include:8
- Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam, chlordiazepoxide, oxazepam, or lorazepam. If benzodiazepines are administered early during alcohol withdrawal, they may help reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms, preventing a progression to potentially serious, and fatal, consequences.
- Anticonvulsants like carbamazepine, gabapentin, or topiramate. These medications help reduce drinking behavior and treat mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms. Topiramate has not yet received FDA approval but has shown promise in treating alcohol addiction.
- Antipsychotics, like haloperidol, which can reduce extreme agitation, hallucinations, delusions, and delirium during alcohol withdrawal.
Once detox is complete, a patient may transition to a suitable substance abuse treatment program.8 Depending on the severity of a patient’s addiction, their level of social support at home, and other factors, they may undergo inpatient or outpatient treatment for an AUD following detoxification and withdrawal management.
If you or someone you know is currently attempting to quit using alcohol, help is only a phone call away. At American Addiction Centers (AAC) we can answer questions you have and share more information about our treatment options. Give us a call today at
Residential or Inpatient Rehab Services
Inpatient or residential AUD treatment entails patients living and residing in the rehabilitation center 24/7. Inpatient rehab may vary in duration, sometimes consisting of short stays of 3–6 weeks which may or may not be followed by attendance at an outpatient rehab. Some people require longer stays of 6–12 months at facilities known as therapeutic communities (TCs), which provide highly structured programming and offer assistance with reintegration into their community.
Inpatient and residential rehab stays are beneficial because they remove a person from distractions and environments where they may be surrounded by people, places, or events that can trigger an alcoholic relapse, allowing them to focus solely on their recovery and building the necessary coping skills to live life as a sober person. Here, patients also receive around-the-clock care and monitoring, which helps address any post-acute withdrawal symptoms and offers necessary support.7
Outpatient Rehab Services
Outpatient treatment types offer different levels of support. In some cases, people transition from inpatient to outpatient treatment. These levels can include:8,9,10
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHP), the most intensive form of outpatient care, is a level of care that entails patients living at home while attending treatment for up to 10 hours every day, most days of the week. This is a highly supportive and structured form of outpatient treatment. It can be beneficial for those unable to commit to an inpatient stay, but who still require a highly intensive level of care.
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) is a level of outpatient treatment where patients live at home but attend treatment 3 hours per day, initially for 5 days per week, then with decreasing intensity. People may step down to IOP from PHP or inpatient rehabilitation.
- Standard outpatient treatment (OP), which can vary in intensity and duration depending on patients’ needs and various other factors. Standard outpatient treatment may translate to attending treatment sessions several times per week or just once a week.
Find Alcohol Treatment Centers Near You
If you are searching for detoxification centers, inpatient treatment, or outpatient treatment, AAC offers various rehab centers across the United States.
Behavioral Therapies for Alcohol Abuse
Inpatient and outpatient treatment both provide various types of behavioral therapies that are commonly used to treat AUDs. These therapies may include individual and group therapy sessions as follows:11
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is an evidence-based form of therapy that focuses on helping people identify and change unhelpful, negative thoughts and behaviors that led or contributed to their addiction. In CBT, people learn healthier ways to cope with stress and develop skills they’ll need to prevent relapse.
- Motivational enhancement therapy is a short-term therapy designed to help motivate patients to reduce or stop drinking and to encourage them to make positive changes. It helps patients identify the pros and cons of treatment, make a plan to change, increase their confidence, and ] develop the skills they’ll need to stick to their recovery-related goals.
- Marital and family counseling, is a form of talk therapy that incorporates a patient’s loved ones into their therapy sessions, if appropriate for a patient. Those who suffer from substance use disorders often directly or indirectly impact their closest relationships, so this form of treatment can help repair and rebuild relationships with patients’ loved ones, while also addressing issues that may have developed as a result of a person’s drinking.
- Brief interventions may include short, individual counseling sessions that provide people with personalized feedback on their progress with specific goals.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of alcohol rehab programs across the nation. We offer a wide range of tailored, customized programs that are designed to address your specific needs. This includes programs to address co-occurring psychiatric disorders (like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder) as well as alcohol addiction. Some of our research-backed and innovative therapies include CBT, motivational interviewing (MI), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and more.
What Medications Are Used To Treat Alcohol Use & Abuse?
Some medications can help patients quit drinking, treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and prevent relapse. Patients may also receive different medications while in the care of an addiction treatment professional to help address symptoms of co-occurring disorders if necessary.
Some of the medications patients may receive in the care an inpatient or outpatient treatment provider include:8,12
- Naltrexone, which can help reduce the urge to drink and help to curb problem drinking. It blocks the receptors in the brain that make people feel good when they drink, and it may help to reduce cravings.
- Acamprosate, (Campral) which is designed to decrease cravings and urges to drink alcohol.
- Disulfiram, (Antabuse), which discourages people from drinking. It blocks the metabolism of alcohol in a person’s body so that they experience unpleasant symptoms, like nausea, if they decide to drink.
Aftercare and Long-Term Health
Recovery from alcohol addiction is a lifelong process that does not end when treatment has been completed. After completing a rehabilitation program, many people choose to participate in some form of aftercare. Many of the aftercare methods below are extensions of similar or even the same types of therapy a person receives in primary treatment. Aftercare is of the word used to describe long-term, ongoing treatment that begins once intensive forms of rehabilitation end and is designed to provide additional support and help prevent relapse.13
Patients may choose to participate in one or many different types of aftercare, such as:13
- A stay at a therapeutic community (TC), where patients can live with others who are in recovery as a way of gaining support as they re-enter sober daily life.
- Individual counseling to help patients develop insight into the issues that can lead to relapse, and learn alternative coping mechanisms so they do not return to drinking.
- Group therapy, which is led by a counselor and includes other people who are also in recovery.
- Mutual support groups, such as 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or non-12 step groups like SMART Recovery.
- Complementary or alternative treatments, such as art therapy or music therapy, which are typically beneficial for people who are also participating in another form of aftercare.
- Couples or family counseling can help address underlying issues and continue to work on the relationship.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Understanding alcohol use disorder.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. What are symptoms of alcohol use disorder?
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2019). Mental health and substance use disorders.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2002). Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders.
- Yang, P., Tao, R., He, C., Liu, S., Wang, Y., & Zhang, X. (2018). The risk factors of the alcohol use disorders—through review of its comorbidities. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, 303.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: a research-based guide (third edition): types of treatment programs.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2015). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) series, No. 45. HHS publication no.(SMA) 15-4131. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.
- McCarty, D., Braude, L., Lyman, D. R., Dougherty, R. H., Daniels, A. S. & Delphin-Rittmon, M. E. (2014). Substance abuse intensive outpatient programs: assessing the evidence. Psychiatric Services, 65(6), 718–726.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Substance abuse: Clinical issues in intensive outpatient treatment. (Treatment Improvement Protocol [TIP] series, no. 47.) Chapter 4. Services in intensive outpatient treatment programs. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Treatment for alcohol problems: finding and getting help.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: a research-based guide (third edition): alcohol addiction.
- McKay, J. R. (2009). Continuing care research: what we have learned and where we are going. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 36(2), 131–145.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Alcohol facts and statistics.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2004). Alcohol’s damaging effects on the brain.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Drugs, brains, and behavior: the science of addiction: drug misuse and addiction.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Alcohol and public health: frequently asked questions.
- Di Chiara, G. (1997). Alcohol and dopamine. Alcohol Health and Research World, 21(2), 108–114.