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Alcoholism Treatment Flaws: Where the 12 Steps Stumble

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People have sought to free themselves from the grip of alcohol addiction for as long as humans have consumed alcohol. But despite enormous scientific advances over millennia, today’s most popular alcoholism treatment options still aren’t getting the job done for many people who want to change their drinking habits. Let’s examine some of the reasons for most alcohol addiction treatment options’ ineffectiveness. We’ll also look at more user-friendly approaches and how they can better help people control their drinking.

12-Step Programs Have a Very Low Success Rate

Alcoholism treatment flaws - where the 12 steps stumble
Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

When people think of alcohol addiction treatment methods, 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) usually come to mind. These programs emphasize a set of self-appraisal and self-improvement steps as the key to getting over an addiction. They’ve become synonymous with alcohol rehabilitation, but the actual success rate of the 12-step approach doesn’t match its reputation.

AA doesn’t track its members’ drinking, so there’s no way of knowing for sure how successful it is at keeping cravings at bay. But according to psychiatrist Dr. Lance Dodes, co-author of The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind Twelve-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry, AA only works for 5 to 10 percent of all participants. Dodes argues that because AA is so embedded in our culture as the one and only treatment option—it’s often court-mandated for those who violate drinking laws, for example—the 90 percent of people who don’t succeed in AA may then give up on all other forms of treatment. They’re convinced that they’ve failed at the only “real” recovery method.

Why do 12-step programs fail to help so many problem drinkers? Not everyone can handle quitting alcohol cold turkey, since there’s a serious risk of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, research tells us that it can take two to three months for a new habit to form—if you’re motivated enough to keep it up—and not everyone can white-knuckle it for that long without relapsing. Plus, AA’s “Big Book” emphasizes believing in a higher power, a notion that might not work for non-religious drinkers.

When Deterrence Isn’t Enough

An alcohol abuser who wants to quit drinking but isn’t getting results from a 12-step program might want to turn to a drug to enforce total abstinence. Disulfiram, commonly marketed as Antabuse, causes violent illness when combined with alcohol. So some might think it’s an effective drinking deterrent. But there’s one fatal weak spot in this approach: forget to take disulfiram one day, and you might end up drinking just as much as before you started on the medication. Some might even want to drink so much that they’ll risk drinking on disulfiram, despite the horrendous side effects.

Alcoholism Treatment Beyond Abstinence 

Alcoholism treatment - drink less without white knuckling
Photo by Free-Photos on Pixabay.

Another weakness of both 12-step programs and drugs like disulfiram is that they require total abstinence. There are a lot of “gray area” drinkers. They’re people who drink more than they want to, but whose lives haven’t fallen apart to the point of complete powerlessness. These drinkers might want to change their drinking habits without quitting alcohol entirely. As a result, many problem drinkers may feel totally baffled as to what kind of treatment could possibly suit their needs.

Luckily, there is an option where you can drink and still feel in control.

Home-Based Telemedicine: Reducing Cravings, Restoring Free Will

Clearly, the field of alcoholism treatment needs more options than the ancient 12-step approach. That’s where Ria Health comes in. Ria’s home-based telemedicine program uses medications like naltrexone, acamprosate, and others to reduce alcohol cravings and modify drinking habits. Participants don’t have to believe in God or consider themselves helpless in the face of alcohol—on the contrary, they learn just how much control they really have over their drinking. Best of all, Ria’s system works for people who want to cut down their drinking without becoming tee-totalers. It’s a smart new approach in a field that desperately needs one.

Think you might want to try Ria Health for yourself? Become a member today.

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