What Types of Treatment are Available For Alcohol Use Disorder?
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If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol, it’s often perplexing to know where to look for help. But, in reality, there are more solutions than ever before—ranging from intensive inpatient care to support groups, and everything in between. There are also several distinct approaches to treatment which, in some cases, can be mixed and matched to your needs.
Choosing between these options means weighing a number of factors—including cost, your past experience, and your personal goals. Below, we’ll summarize some of the main treatment options that exist, what makes them different from each other, and how to figure out which will work best for you.
What Exactly Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a broad umbrella term encompassing a wide range of challenges with alcohol, ranging from “problem drinking” to full-fledged addiction. People impacted by AUD may face various physical, psychological, and emotional challenges linked to uncontrolled drinking, which may disrupt daily life for both them and their loved ones.
Read more: What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
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Common Alcohol Treatment Options
Alcohol use disorder looks different from person to person. Some people face comparatively minor issues, while others might find their personal and professional life decimated by AUD. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, different treatment programs for alcoholism or levels of care are called for.
When considering alcohol treatment options, it’s always best to consult with your primary care provider or an addiction specialist. They’ll be able to recommend the best approach for you based on your unique situation.
What Level of Care Do You Need?
To begin with, if you are addicted to alcohol and expect severe withdrawal symptoms, you may need to begin with medical detox (or detoxification). In some cases, withdrawal can be dangerous or even life-threatening, and you will need to be monitored and assisted by medical professionals for several days to a week. Not surprisingly, medical detox can be very expensive. Talk to your doctor about whether this step is necessary.
Inpatient rehabilitation (or rehab) is a well-known type of treatment program for alcoholism. In inpatient programs, patients remain at a residential facility for 30 days or more, as they adapt to life without alcohol and develop new coping skills. This can be a great choice for people who need to get out of an environment that may be triggering them to drink. It also requires a significant time commitment, and can be costly.
After completing medical detox or rehab, some people opt to live in transitional housing, where they can receive ongoing support as they reintegrate into daily life. Recovery housing often offers a range of support services to help people adapt to sobriety, and also gives them a community of others undergoing the same process who they can connect with.
Outpatient rehabilitation is a less intensive alternative to inpatient care. It allows people to continue living at home with their families or working their jobs while going through treatment. Often, outpatient programs will take place for several hours per day, which still gives people a high level of support. This option can be less disruptive and less expensive than inpatient care, but might still be too much (or too little) for some individuals.
For those who don’t have time in their schedules for traditional rehab, telemedicine is a growing alternative. This allows people to access support through a phone or personal device, from the comfort of home. Although medical detox cannot be delivered through this method, most other services can, and the flexibility of this approach can make it easier to stick with long-term. This is especially true for people with mild to moderate AUD.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the most popular treatment options for alcoholism. In this approach, people rely on their peers (fellow individuals dealing with AUD) to help them navigate the road to recovery. This includes sharing personal testimonials and following the 12 steps. AA is the best known support group, but it is not the only option. If you find that AA doesn’t match your perspective, SMART and LifeRing are two strong alternatives.
Quitting on Your Own
Some people eschew any type of alcohol treatment, preferring to go cold turkey and stop on their own. This option may work in some cases, but it is definitely not for everyone. Withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, especially if you are a heavy drinker, so this approach is best for those with milder forms of AUD. If you decide to go through detox at home and feel like something is not going right, reach out to your provider.
Different Treatment Methods
In addition to different levels of care, there are also several different methods of treating AUD. These may be used on their own or combined together, depending on the program you choose. No single approach works for everyone, but the diversity of solutions means there’s likely an alcohol treatment option that works for you. Here are some common types of alcohol treatment:
The 12-step approach, popularized by AA, is rooted in the work of Bill Wilson and the AA “Big Book” published in 1939. The 12 steps are meant as a road map to recovery, beginning with admitting that one is powerless over alcohol, and culminating with a commitment to help others overcome alcoholism. This approach also involves faith in a higher power. Outside of AA, the 12 steps are found in many inpatient and outpatient programs.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses FDA approved medication to help reduce alcohol cravings, and make it easier for people to change their drinking patterns or avoid relapse. This also involves some form of medical or counseling support. While this approach was initially less common, it is backed by evidence and gaining popularity. It may be especially helpful for those who find it too difficult to quit by sheer willpower, or who don’t agree with 12 step philosophy.
Therapy and Counseling
Most people with AUD benefit from some type of psychosocial support. Approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps people identify and replace negative thought patterns, and motivational interviewing, which helps people identify goals and reasons for change. Aside from seeing a conventional therapist, many individuals find it helpful to meet with a recovery coach for skill building and addiction-specific support.
The Sinclair Method
The Sinclair Method (TSM) is a medication-based approach that uses the drug naltrexone to help people unlearn their drinking behavior. It is noteworthy for allowing moderate drinking as an option, although many on TSM eventually choose to quit drinking completely. Unlike 12 step programs, people following TSM actually continue drinking while taking medication, thereby retraining their brain’s reward system. By doing this, many eventually lose interest in alcohol.
There are a growing number of alternative treatments offered for alcohol use disorder. Most are not standalone approaches, but are instead used in conjunction with the treatments described above. Popular examples include herbal supplements, CBD, and acupuncture. When considering an alternative treatment for AUD, remember that not all are evidence-based, and some could even be bad for your health. Acupuncture, however, has research to support it.
Factors to Consider When Looking at Rehab Options
Choosing between the many alcohol treatment options can feel intimidating, and each has clear benefits and drawbacks. In making a decision, take into account your own unique situation and needs. In addition to the severity of your dependence on alcohol, take a close look at the following factors:
Alcohol treatment is not cheap. The good news is that many insurance companies cover some or all of the cost of the better-known treatment options. But the bad news is that, if you do not have good insurance coverage, you may be left scrambling to pay your bill. This means you may have to weigh the treatment you want versus the one you can afford. As a rule, inpatient treatment will be more costly. Telemedicine is generally much cheaper, while groups like AA are free.
Read more: How Much Should Alcohol Treatment Cost?
Do you want to quit immediately or gradually? Do you want to quit completely, or merely cut back? Most mainstream programs are focused on helping a person achieve a lifetime of abstinence. However, other approaches like TSM can help you moderate your drinking. Some rehab programs may also take a “harm-reduction” approach, helping you cut back enough to reduce the worst impacts of drinking on your personal life. Research each treatment option to ensure it aligns with your goals.
Read more: Moderation as an Option
Some rehab options and treatments are more time-intensive than other ones. For example, if you choose medical detox or inpatient rehab, you will have to take a time-out from your daily life. This means that if you have young children, you may need to find alternative care for them. You may also have to negotiate with your work for a leave of absence. Other treatment options, such as telemedicine and support group meetings, can be scheduled at your convenience, or even from the comfort of home.
If you’ve ever tried to quit or cut back on drinking in the past, take into account what did and didn’t work. What aspects of the program or approach felt supportive and helpful, and which were not a good fit? If you’ve experienced relapse in the past, what brought it on, and what type of support could help you in a similar situation in the future? If one approach hasn’t worked for you previously, consider something new.
Start Your Journey Towards Recovery Today
It can feel overwhelming to research rehab options for alcohol use disorder. The good news is that, within all of the different choices, there is bound to be an approach that works for you.
If you’ve previously tried rehab or AA and found it was not effective for you, get in contact with the team at Ria Health. Our online program offers medication, counseling, digital tools, and both abstinence and moderation as options. We tailor care to each individual based on their personal history, and can adjust treatment if one approach isn’t doing the trick. Best of all, the program is covered by many insurance providers, and is much cheaper out-of-pocket than most forms of rehab.
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