Signs, Symptoms & Treatment for alcohol addiction

Alcohol is the most widely used drug in the world and the leading type of drug addiction. There are over 14 million Americans with some form of alcohol use disorder (AUD). 


The number of Americans for whom drinking has been a cause of trouble in their family

Alcohol may be a legal beverage, but it’s a powerful psychoactive drug and the second most common type of addiction (second only to nicotine). Approximately 5% of the U.S. population aged 12 and older struggles with alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction. Annually, there are over 95,000 alcohol-related deaths with this substance being one of the leading causes of premature death. Excessive alcohol consumption shortens lifespans by an average of 29 years.

Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, affects people of all walks of life, regardless of race or ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status. Read on to learn how to recognize the signs of alcoholism, what the long-term side effects are, and what to do about it.

Am I Addicted To Alcohol? 

It can be difficult to determine whether someone has alcohol use disorder based on behavior alone, especially if they’re a high-functioning alcoholic. One of the most reliable ways to determine an alcohol addiction is what happens when a person stops drinking. Alcohol withdrawal can occur as soon as a few hours after an alcoholic’s last drink. These can include: 

Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal

  • Anxiety
  • Shaky hands
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating

Complications Caused By Alcoholism

  • Delusions
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Racing heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Heavy sweating

Unfortunately, many alcoholics will attempt to stop drinking but continue once withdrawal effects begin, which continues to feed the cycle of addiction. This is why specialized drug rehab centers are crucial. An alcohol addiction treatment program’s first priority is getting through alcohol withdrawal symptoms safely. After being restored to stable physical health, patients can then fully focus on behavioral and psychological healing. 

What Happens In Alcohol Addiction Treatment?

Step 1: Detox

The first step of of alcohol addiction treatment is detox which involves removing all toxic substances from the body. This is the highest and most intensive level of addiction treatment; medical staff provide 24/7 monitoring to safely see patients through any withdrawal effects. How long detox takes will vary based on the severity of the addiction and whether any complications occur, which could be a few days to a few weeks.  


Step 2: Treatment

After detox is complete, patients will move on to treatment. This entails behavioral modification as well as psychiatric help which is conducted through group and individual therapy, pharmacotherapy (medication), counseling, and often alternative therapies such as yoga, meditation, or physical fitness. Again, the length of treatment will vary based on the individual; the severity of their addiction and progress they have made.


Step 3: Reassessing Progress

Most facilities conduct periodic evaluations to determine whether the current treatment plan needs to be modified and can involve a patient being recommended for additional treatment or exiting the program early.


Step 4: Aftercare/ Relapse Prevention

Most people that are successful recognize that addiction recovery is a lifelong process. This means continued participation in community services, 12-step groups, therapy, and other activities even after their program is complete. Completing an alcohol addiction treatment program is an important hurdle to overcome but just the first step in the long-term recovery from alcohol addiction.


Types of Medications Used In Alcohol Addiction Treatment


Primarily used as a drinking deterrent in outpatient withdrawal management programs for those who have experienced multiple relapses. Consuming alcohol after taking this medication will cause the person to become violently ill.


These calm the central nervous system and slow the heart rate and sometimes combined with benzodiazepines. Often used for management of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.


An antihypertensive medication that’s sometimes used as an adjunct treatment for minimizing some of the unpleasant symptoms experienced during acute withdrawal from alcohol.


 A muscle relaxant that helps reduce alcohol cravings. It is also administered sometimes during the process of withdrawal.


Often the first line of treatment for alcohol withdrawal. Types of benzos include Ativan, Valium, Klonopin, and Librium. Originally developed to help reduce anxiety, they are also effective in managing agitation, irritability, and seizures associated with withdrawal.

How Long Does Alcohol Addiction Treatment Take?

Alcohol rehab programs can be 30, 60, 90 days, or more. The precise amount of time treatment will take is ultimately determined by the severity of the alcohol addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends a minimum treatment duration of 90 days for maximum efficacy.

As to the actual time commitment for alcohol addiction treatment, that can take anywhere from 5 hours a week to more than 30 hours. This will entirely depend on the type of treatment program, whether it’s inpatient, outpatient, or some in-between level such as a partial hospitalization program (PHP) or intensive outpatient program (IOP). Keep in mind that less intensive the program, the longer the entire program will take.


Types of Drug and Alcohol Treatment Programs

Alcohol rehab is usually the only way for individuals struggling with addiction to get help. You will find rehab facilities throughout the country that provide individualized programs for treating drug and alcohol addiction irrespective of how long the disease has been present.

Drug and alcohol treatment programs usually take multiple factors into consideration, such as the person’s age and gender as well as the length of addiction. Most rehab facilities also offer aftercare options and recommendations for helping clients maintain sobriety such as group therapy. Let’s take a look at the two main types of treatment programs:


Inpatient Treatment Programs

Inpatient or residential alcohol treatment programs are where the addict undergoes treatment exclusively at the facility. These programs are where people that have relapsed before or those with severe addictions start their treatment. Round-the-clock care provides addicts with the accountability they need to maintain their sobriety. Addicts never have to worry about relapsing or straying from the program since they are in a controlled environment. Moreover, they spend more time with therapists and peers thus giving them a strong foundation from which they can establish lasting recovery.


Outpatient Alcohol Treatment Programs

Outpatient treatment programs are reserved for the people stepping down from inpatient treatment or those with strong support systems at home. With outpatient treatment programs, addicts still get the same treatment options as those that attend inpatient treatment programs.

The key difference between outpatient and inpatient treatment programs is that addicts get to go home at the end of the day with outpatient treatment programs. The amount of time spent at a rehab facility depends on several factors, but with outpatient programs, addicts can spend anywhere from several hours a day, 3 days a week to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week receiving treatment.


Guidelines for Picking An Alcohol Addiction Treatment Center

There are over 14,000 addiction treatment centers in the United States which can make choosing one, a challenging task. Rehabs can vary greatly in how the types of addictions they treat, the programs and therapies they offer, the levels of care they provide. Aside from actual treatment itself, they can vary in terms of amenities, environment, group-therapy sizes, and more. If you’re not sure where to start your search, here are the three important criteria to take into consideration when picking a treatment center:


Accreditation and Licensing

There are two major organizations involved with accreditations of rehabs: the Commission on Accreditation of Rehab Facilities (CARF), and The Joint Commission. A treatment center with either of these organizations’ stamp of approval means that the center has undergone a rigorous inspection of both their care and treatment options as well as their internal business practices. They indicate a commitment to delivering high quality services and providing individualized attention to each and every client.

How can you tell if a rehab is accredited? They’ll usually have the virtual gold badge displayed on their website (scroll down to the bottom of the page to see ours). 


Treatment Methods and Protocols

Different rehab facilities have their own protocols for carrying out treatment. Detoxification (also known by the shortened term of ‘detox’), therapy, and counseling are standard, but can vary on the length of time is devoted to them or whether they’re conducted in a group or individual setting. Further, treatment methods, types of group counseling offered, and styles of therapy can also vary depending on the facility. Although some facilities provide the gamut of inpatient, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, or outpatient treatment options, some may only offer one or two levels of care. 

This can make a huge difference depending in your entire recovery journey. If you feel that you’ll need support for an extended period of time, you may prefer to choose an addiction treatment center that offers all four treatment options. Some individuals may be willing to rotate between facilities that specialize in a specific type of care because they offer a unique therapy modality or have specific amenities. 


Relapse Prevention

One thing that has proven incredibly effective in ensuring that people keep off drugs and alcohol after completing treatment is aftercare. Some facilities offer alumni programs and special event programming to create a sober community for patients to take part of after their treatment is complete. Others conduct individual follow ups to check in with their previous patients while some might not offer anything at all. If the thought thought of your rehab offering accountability and support after you’ve left the program is a source of comfort, be sure to inquire what forms of relapse prevention they offer. 


Other Ways To Get Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, there are other options besides going to rehab . There are numerous organizations and peer-based groups that offer guidance for quitting drinking, navigating the world as a newly sober person, and getting your life back together. Some are open to all while others cater to specific populations. 


Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

This is probably one of the most well-known resources for people addicted to alcohol. AA is a program run by persons in recovery from alcohol addiction. It teaches addicts how to become and stay sober in the long-run. The 12-Steps program of AA act as the foundation for the organization and provide encouragement during the process of recovery.


Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

SOS meetings are held in cities across the United States and even in online groups. Besides helping people recovering from alcohol addiction, you will find SOS groups that support people overcoming compulsive eating disorders and drug abuse.


Women for Sobriety

Women for Sobriety is an organization targeted towards helping women that suffer from drug and alcohol addiction. Support meeting groups follow the 13 Statement Program, which is a “new life” acceptance program. Membership to the Women for Sobriety organizations depends on one’s commitment to continued abstinence. Members have access to various self-help tools such as DVDs, booklets, conferences, and online forums.


SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery is a support group for people suffering from addiction of varying types. Members can participate in face-to-face meetings and gain access to digital resources including daily online meetings, message boards, and 24/7 chat rooms. The organization even offers a 4-Point Program to empower participants to overcome alcoholism, teach participants ways to maintain sobriety in the long-run, and provide the tools required for living a balanced life.



Al-Anon is designed with the friends and family members of alcoholics in mind. It is an excellent resource for learning how to cope with a person’s drinking behavior. Individuals typically attend meetings online, in person, or via the phone to discuss the situations that they are facing currently. Members typically advise each other on how to encourage and support loved ones to seek the treatment that they need.


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