alcohol disorder treatment

alcohol treatment and alcohol use disorders

Addiction recovery & mental health counseling for young adults in Raleigh, NC

What is Alcohol Treatment?

Alcohol-related problems are prevalent across the United States. Alcohol problems tend to stem from drinking too much, too fast, or too often. Problems with drinking can cause an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorders (AUD) are characterized by an inability to stop or control alcohol use, even when there is negative social, occupational, or health consequences due to alcohol use. This problem is where alcohol treatment comes into play.

Is Treatment Successful?

“Research shows that about one-third of people who are treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms one year later. Many others substantially reduce their drinking and report fewer alcohol-related problems.”

While it can be a complicated process, recovery is possible, and you can maintain sobriety long term.
Treatment for AUD typically consists of detox, support groups, behavioral therapy, and at times the use of medications to prevent relapse (medication-assisted treatment). There are many different treatment options, such as 12-step programs, 28-day inpatient treatment, and outpatient treatment. If you’re unsure where to start, speaking to a medical professional is often a good first step.

What is an Alcohol Use Disorder?

An alcohol use disorder is generally known as an inability to stop or control alcohol use, especially if alcohol use hurts other areas of life. AUD’s can have negative consequences, such as poor work performance, problems in relationships, distancing from social interactions, and the numerous health risks associated with alcohol abuse.

AUD vs. Alcoholism

The term AUD encompasses a wide range of alcohol-related problems that range from mild to severe. These include conditions such as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and alcoholism.2 The main difference between AUD and alcoholism is that AUD is a medical term used to diagnose an alcohol-related problem. In contrast, alcoholism is a non-medical term used in everyday language. The term alcoholism typically stems from 12-step programs, such as alcoholics anonymous (AA), support groups for alcoholism treatment and recovery.

Diagnosis of AUD


The DSM-5 is typically known as one of the standard tests used in an alcohol evaluation. Alcohol use disorder in the DSM-5 consists of eleven criteria. Anyone who meets two of the eleven criteria within the same twelve-month period receives a diagnosis of AUD. The severity of the disorder is generally based on the number of criteria met through the DSM-5.


ICD-10 is the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). The ICD-10 helps medical professionals classify an AUD diagnosis based on severity and other factors that affect treatment. Since the term AUD encompasses a wide range of severity, it’s vital to determine how severe the condition is in an alcohol evaluation. Classifications like the ICD-10 help medical professionals provide an alcohol treatment plan that will work best for your needs.

Tests and Exams

Another AUD test is the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT). This test involves a questionnaire that can be answered to determine an AUD and how severe their symptoms may be. If you think you or someone you know may be struggling with AUD, speaking to a medical professional and getting a comprehensive alcohol evaluation can be an excellent first step.

Signs of an Alcohol Problem

AUD can negatively affect life in numerous ways, and anyone struggling must get the proper help and alcohol treatment they need. You can look for common signs to tell if you or someone you know may be struggling with AUD. Signs of an alcohol problem can be physical or behavioral.3


Common behavioral signs of an alcohol problem may include:

  • Neglecting work, relationships, or self-care
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Giving up once enjoyed activities to drink
  • Trying to quit drinking but not being able to stop


Common physical signs of an alcohol problem may include:

  • Building a tolerance, needing to drink more to receive the same effect
  • Feeling nauseous or shaky if you quit drinking
  • Numbness in hands and feet
  • Ulcers or upset stomach
  • Erectile dysfunction or menstrual disruptions

Causes of AUD


Scientific Research has shown that alcohol use disorders can be genetic. Research has shown that up to 51 genes can be passed down from generation to generation, making someone more likely to have a drinking problem. A comprehensive alcohol evaluation can often be a good idea to understand underlying causes, the severity of the problem, and what alcohol treatment options are the best for your needs.


Research has also shown that traumatic events significantly increase the likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder. The severity of the trauma has also shown to be directly linked to how severe the addiction is. This connection is why therapy is an integral part of an alcohol treatment plan. Therapy can uncover these underlying issues and help you deal with the trauma healthily and sustainably.

Mental Health Problems

According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), roughly one-third of individuals struggling with alcohol abuse also have a mental illness.4 Alcohol abuse is a common form of self-medication that people may try to cope with mental illness. However, if you’re struggling with a mental health problem, alcohol abuse will only make things worse.

In alcohol treatment, it’s essential to look for a possible dual diagnosis of AUD and a mental health problem. It’s necessary to treat both of these problems at the same time. If only one of the problems is treated, issues will likely continue over the long term.


Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs

Most alcohol treatment centers offer some form of outpatient treatment. Outpatient alcohol treatment is often useful for people with family or work commitments, which prevents them from doing full-time inpatient treatment.

An intensive outpatient treatment program allows you to remain living at home while you report to a treatment center at designated times. It’s crucial if you choose outpatient alcohol treatment that you have a safe and supportive home environment, as well as the determination to remain committed to a program with less supervision.

Therapies Used

Alcohol treatment centers offer therapy as an integral part of the treatment program. Therapy is vital for discovering underlying issues and developing coping mechanisms to help deal with life stresses without using alcohol or other substances.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a common form of talk therapy where you work with a mental health counselor in a structured way. CBT helps you discover and work through underlying issues and develop coping mechanisms to manage addiction and maintain sobriety long term.

Motivational Enhancement

Many people have their doubts when they first begin an alcoholism treatment program. It can seem like a daunting process and a problem that’s difficult to overcome. Motivational enhancement therapy can be beneficial to address these feelings in an alcoholism treatment program.5

Motivational enhancement therapy aims to evoke an internally motivated desire for change. Motivational interviewing principles are often utilized in these sessions that help strengthen someone’s recovery plan and help them develop coping strategies for high-risk situations.

Medication Used

Alcohol withdrawal treatment can be a complicated process. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the individual and the severity of the addiction. Alcohol treatment centers aim to do everything they can to make the detox and withdrawal process as comfortable as possible. During alcohol withdrawal treatment, medications may be used to help ease the withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse.

Common medications used in alcohol withdrawal treatment are Disulfiram, Naltrexone, and Acamprosate.

Support Groups

Support groups are often used as part of the treatment process at alcohol treatment centers and as a form of aftercare to maintain sobriety and have a support system outside the treatment center. A typical support group for alcoholism treatment is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

AA is a 12-step program that provides a support system for people who also deal with AUD. This group can provide a supportive structure and a group of people you feel comfortable talking to about cravings and temptations. There are resources available, and nobody has to go through it alone.

The Sinclair Method of Treating Alcoholism

The Sinclair Method for treating alcoholism is an evidence-based approach that Dr. John D. Sinclair developed. Unlike other treatment programs that preach complete abstinence from alcohol, the Sinclair method allows you to continue drinking at the beginning of treatment.

Treatment in this program is also combined with the prescription drug Naltrexone. Naltrexone blocks the effects or “buzz” that you would typically get from drinking alcohol. Over time, your brain stops associating alcohol use with feelings of pleasure that would drive you to drink excessively.

The Sinclair Method has been shown to be effective in more than 90 clinical trials around the world. The success rate of this method is 78%. This method is considered the standard treatment for alcohol dependence in several European countries. This approach does go against the more common abstinence-based approach that most treatment centers and specialists currently endorse. However, with these scientific studies’ success, it bodes well for the Sinclair method to become more relevant in the future.


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