Overcoming Alcohol Addiction and Abuse
When someone shows signs of alcoholism, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by questions. You may wonder if you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol; whether your loved one will accept help; what treatment services are available; and what's the best way to ensure a friend or loved one gets the right kind of help. This guide will help you answer some of these questions and assist with getting help.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic and relapsing condition, diagnosed by professionals using a set of 11 criteria (shown below). These criteria come from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Meeting 2 or more of the criteria in a 12-month period indicates the presence of an alcohol use disorder. The more criteria met, the more severe the disorder. 1,2
In 2018, an estimated 11 million adults 26 years or older in the US met criteria for an alcohol use disorder. Over 3 million young adults between 18 and 25 had an AUD in the same time frame. The disease touches adolescents and teens, with more than 400,000 youths between 12 and 17 having an AUD that year.18
Detecting the Signs of Alcoholism
If you’re worried about yourself, a relative or other loved one, look for some diagnostic criteria of an alcohol use disorder:1
- A loss of the ability to set limits on drinking (how much or how long).
- Repeated attempts to quit drinking or to cut back without success.
- A great deal of time spent in getting alcohol, drinking, or being hungover.
- Cravings, or a strong desire to drink.
- Continued drinking despite relationship conflicts.
- Drinking interferes with professional, social, or domestic obligations.
- Important or interesting activities are abandoned in favor of drinking.
- Frequent intoxication in situations that could be hazardous (such as driving).
- Continued drinking even when it causes or worsens physical or mental health problems, or results in blackouts.
- Increased amounts of alcohol are needed to achieve the same degree of intoxication (i.e., tolerance).
- Withdrawal symptoms arise when alcohol use is stopped or reduced.
As pronounced as some of these signs and symptoms may be individuals may overlook or downplay them. Drinking is such a common social practice it is hard to tell if it has transitioned into alcohol abuse.
If you or your loved one is showing the signs of an alcohol use disorder, help may be need. Help and the support of others, including addiction treatment professionals, are ways to start recovery from alcoholism.
Potential Causes of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a complex condition that is not caused by a lack of willpower, but by a combination of contributing factors.3-8
Up to 60% of a person’s risk of alcoholism comes from genetics according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The home environment factors into alcoholism. These include:
- Alcohol abuse by a parent or family member.
- Poor connection with parents.
- Low levels of emotional support.
- Sibling alcohol use.
- Childhood trauma, such as child abuse or neglect.
- Long term stress
- Partner or roommates with alcoholism.
Experiencing trauma in adulthood — such as military combat, sexual assault, or homicide — have been associated with an increased risk of alcohol abuse. In fact, the US Department of Veterans Affairs says that up to 75% of abuse or violent trauma survivors develop problems with alcohol use.
Mental health and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand.
Substance abuse very commonly co-occurs with mental illness. According to the 2014 SAMHSA data, roughly 39% of all Americans with a substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental illness. People may drink in an attempt to relieve symptoms associated with their mental health issues. Doing so may actually worsen the condition over time.
Not every person who experiences mental illness, trauma, or other risk factors for alcoholism will go on to abuse alcohol. The disease of addiction is complicated. It is not possible to predict who will be impacted.9
Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive, and multifaceted disease. As alcohol use disorder itself is a complex condition, so is recovering from it. It is not just a matter of deciding to put the bottle down. Very often, professional treatment is needed to get and stay sober.9
Talking About Drinking
Convincing yourself or a loved one to get help can be extremely challenging. Denial is common among people struggling with alcoholism.
It may take many attempts before you or your loved one accepts help.10 Don’t get discouraged if you or you loved one thinks about getting help but backs out. Changes are hard for everyone.
I am struggling with alcohol
If it is you who is abusing alcohol, talk to your loved ones. They are most likely already aware of your struggle and want to help you. The support you receive from family and friends will be a huge help in your recovery. We are also available to help 24/7 – give us a call at .
My loved one is struggling with alcohol
The most effective approach to discuss alcohol abuse is usually to be as objective, caring, and nonjudgmental as possible.
Approaches like those seen on television that are confrontational, may cause the individual to withdraw instead of bringing them closer to treatment. It may even result in violence.
When talking to a loved one:11,12
- Schedule the talk for a time when your loved one is sober. Trying to get your loved one to calmly hear your concerns and consider recovery may be far too difficult when they are intoxicated. Tensions may also run higher when alcohol is involved.
- Find creative ways to get your loved one to visit a doctor. Here they maybe convinced that treatment will help them by a 3rd party – their doctor. Offer to go with them in support. Many healthcare professionals will notice signs of alcohol abuse right away. It never hurts for them to know that the family is concerned and willing to help. You can share your concerns confidently when your loved one checks in.
- Express your concerns lovingly. Tell your loved one you’re concerned about their health. Try using “I” statements (e.g., “I feel scared for your health when you drink”) to convey your feelings about their drinking. Avoid lectures or pleas. Don’t attack or provoke. If your loved one gets defensive, try a different line of conversation or try again at a later time.
- Provide examples. During your conversation, stick to facts and provide specific examples of ways your loved one’s drinking has had a negative impact.
- Don’t use guilt, bribes, or threats. Your loved one is in charge of the decision to get help. You can offer support and ask that they consider it, but you cannot control them. Continuing to offer support while also setting boundaries on what you’ll accept is the best you can do.
Above all, remember that alcoholism is a disease that should be treated with as much compassion and understanding as any other serious medical condition. It can be extremely frustrating, or even frightening, to watch a loved one abuse alcohol. Especially when you see the obvious harm to themselves and the people they love. An effective alcohol treatment program can help prevent further harm and get your loved one back on the path to a healthy, rewarding life..13
Finding an Alcohol Treatment Center
When you think of addiction treatment, you might default to inpatient rehab. However, there are many types, or levels, of care in the continuum of substance abuse treatment.14
People may start out in a very intensive level of care such as inpatient rehab. They’ll gain more independence in an outpatient program.15 Outpatient rehab programs offer many of the same services and therapies as inpatient treatment centers. They give people the opportunity to live in the community, attend work or school, and take care of family obligations at the same time.
Questions to Ask an Alcohol Treatment Center
Making that first phone call to an alcohol treatment center may feel intimidating. This list of questions will help you structure your conversation with an admissions counselor and find a program that meets your loved one’s needs.
- What are your credentials and accreditations?
- What therapies and alcohol treatment services do you provide?
- Who are the professionals who make up your treatment team?
- What accommodations and amenities does your facility offer?
- Do you offer support and therapy for family members?
- Do you provide aftercare planning and services?
- What forms of payment do you accept?
- Do you offer transportation to your facility?
- How soon can my loved one get into treatment?
Types of Alcohol Treatment Programs
As a person moves through treatment, they may participate in one or more of the following levels of care:14,15,16
- Medical detox: In this phase of treatment, medical staff manage the patient’s withdrawal symptoms with medications and supportive care. This phase also includes helping the patient make the transition into either an inpatient or outpatient program for continued recovery work.
- Inpatient/residential alcohol rehab: People involved in inpatient alcohol programs benefit from the supervision and structure of a live-in treatment environment. Here they will have no access to alcohol or drugs. These programs tend to incorporate individual counseling, support groups, family therapy, 12-step meetings (AA/NA), and other services such as case management.
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs): Sometimes called “day treatment,” patients in a PHP attend 4-6 hours of therapy per day. Patients live at home or in a sober living residence during this time. These programs can often help people transition (or step-down) from rehab to life in the community in a safe, supportive environment.
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs): The IOP represents a step down from the partial hospitalization program, with even more flexibility. Patients still participate in recovery activities for several hours per day many times per week. They may live at home, work, and take care of family at the same time.
- Outpatient treatment: People who participate in more standard outpatient treatment may attend therapy 1-2 days per week and live at home. These are often less intense which make continuing day-to-day life easier. There is often push-back about inpatient care if obligations such as work or family care are primary concerns for an alcoholic.
Together, these programs form a spectrum of services that support long-term sobriety. Greenhouse Treatment Center provides this full continuum of care. We offer all levels of treatment in one place. Our patients don’t have to bounce around between treatment providers as they progress in their recovery.
The Alcohol Treatment Intake Process
The intake phase is a critical step in the early stages of alcohol treatment. A thorough intake assessment and evaluation will ensure that the course of treatment adequately addresses the patient’s needs. During an intake evaluation, staff may ask about the patient’s:17
- Medical history.
- History of alcohol use and withdrawal.
- Abuse of any other drugs.
- Previous detox attempts.
- Treatment history.
- Mental health history.
- History of personal trauma or abuse.
- Sources of social support.
This information helps the treatment team identify the right level of care for the patient and create a personalized care plan for recovery. We can discuss the right treatment plan for you, or your loved one. Call to discuss your options today at 972-848-0221.
Stages of Alcohol Recovery
As a person gets help for an alcohol use disorder, they will often go through several stages of treatment. Most often, the first stage is medical detox because alcohol withdrawal may be dangerous or in some cases life-threatening.16
In some cases, after the detox stage, additional medications may also be used to decrease continued drinking behavior in those with AUD. Such medications include acamprosate (Campral), disulfiram (Antabuse), and naltrexone (Vivitrol). The use of these medications may extend into the maintenance stage, as well.
Treatment may then focus on behavioral therapies and skills training in an inpatient or outpatient environment (or both).
Once treatment is complete, the maintenance stage starts which involves one or many of the following:
- Minimal hours of outpatient therapy
- Moving to a recovery residence
- Attending regular AA meetings
Taking other steps that help support recovery are also important. These can be moving, changing habits, attending church, returning to school, refocusing energy on new hobbies or other positive activities.
Finances ideally wouldn’t be a major concern for those seeking treatment for alcoholism. Reality is often not ideal and paying for recovery can be a stressor for those who need help. In many cases, however, paying for treatment may be less of a barrier than you think. Many programs offer financing, loans, or other ways to offset the burden of paying a large sum upfront.
For individuals with limited financial resources, options do exist in the form of:
- Publicly funded detox and rehab programs.
- Sliding scale payments (adjusted cost based on financial need).
Outpatient programs tend to be less expensive than inpatient programs, as well.
Many health insurance plans will also cover substance abuse treatment. For questions, you can contact the treatment center or call the number on your insurance card. For your convenience, Greenhouse also provides a free insurance benefits verification.