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Alcoholism and Treatment

Overview of Alcoholism

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) defines alcoholism in the following terms:

Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial

Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that is marked by the body’s dependence upon alcohol and the individual’s loss of control over the amount and frequency of his or her drinking.

Often also referred to as alcohol addiction and alcohol dependency, alcohol is one of the most common forms of addiction in the United States. However, even though a number of campaigns throughout the decades have increased awareness and understanding of this disease, many misperceptions remain about the true nature and severity of this potentially devastating disorder.

Among the most common misperceptions about alcoholism is that the disease is a failure of will power or unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s actions. These beliefs have been decisively proven to be incorrect. Alcoholism is neither a moral failure nor evidence of a character flaw. As stated above, alcoholism is a very real disease.

The good news about alcoholism is that with proper intervention, it can be controlled. Tens of thousands of men and women who were once at the mercy of the disease of alcoholism have been able to regain control over their lives and achieve long-term sobriety.

Causes of Alcoholism

There is no one cause or risk factor that leads directly to alcoholism. However, in addition to having a genetic predisposition to becoming dependent upon alcohol, the following may increase the likelihood that a person will become an alcoholic:

  • Family history of alcoholism — Individuals whose family members have struggled with alcoholism are at increased risk for suffering from this disease themselves.
  • Frequent drinking over time — Regular exposure to alcohol (for example, a beer or two every night after dinner, or a stop at the bar every night before heading home from work) can lead to a dependence upon alcohol.
  • Depression and/or other mental health problems — Many people who are suffering from depression, anxiety or a range of other mental health challenges turn to alcohol in a misguided attempt to self-medicate their symptoms. This practice can quickly progress from alcohol abuse to alcoholism.

Symptoms of Alcoholism

The primary symptom of alcoholism is an inability to control the frequency and amount with which one drinks alcohol — including an inability to stop drinking even after experience significant negative repercussions (such as failed relationships, legal problems and job losses) due to continued alcohol abuse.

As is also the case with other forms of addiction, a person who has become dependent upon alcohol is likely to experience many or all of the following symptoms:

  • Tolerance — It takes increasingly larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the same level of intoxication.
  • Withdrawal symptoms — Physical and psychological pain that occurs when a person stops drinking.
  • Negative consequences — Personal, financial, professional, legal and/or social problems that are directly attributable to alcohol abuse.
  • Loss of control — Inability to reduce or stop the amount and/or frequency with which one drinks alcohol.
  • Obsession — Constantly thinking about or planning to drink, and placing a greater importance on alcohol than on friends, family members, work, hobbies and other obligations and/or leisure activities.

Alcoholism Treatment

Depending upon the duration, nature and severity of a person’s alcoholism, treatment options may include outpatient therapy, partial hospitalization, enrollment in a residential program, and/or participation in a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Many alcohol treatment centers incorporate the 12-Step programs that originated with AA in the 1930s. The 12 Steps provide guidance and direction in the early stages of recovery as well as for those who are pursuing lifelong sobriety.

Other common elements in alcoholism treatment programs include the following:

  • Alternative Therapies — such as experiential therapy, art therapy and spirituality groups
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Family Therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Individual Therapy
  • Medications — for the alcoholism itself, to treat the physical damage resulting from the addiction, and/or for co-occurring disorders such as depression and other mental health issues
  • Yoga, Meditation & Related Techniques