The Lowdown on Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Thursday, September 17, 2020
You’ve told yourself dozens of times it’s time to cut back on alcohol, yet there you are popping into a liquor store again. You know drinking too much is harmful to your health, and that you’re not fully present in your life when you’re buzzed. You’re tired of waking up groggy. You’re afraid to tally up how much you’ve spent on booze. But still…
“When you want to stop drinking and have made the decision to stop drinking, but are still drinking, it’s time for treatment,” NewBridge Services Director of Addiction Services Derk Replogle said. “The first step is often is the hardest, and that’s asking for help.”
For National Recovery Month, Replogle offers insight into the various types of treatment.
Alcohol abuse has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, with people imbibing more frequently at home out of stress, anxiety, or even boredom, Replogle said. When drinking becomes a habit or a means of suppressing emotions, it can indicate addiction. Replogle said people in recovery have relapsed over the past six months.
Addiction statistics were already worrisome before the pandemic. According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted in 2018, more than 21 million people in the U.S. aged 12 or older — one in 13 —needed substance use treatment. Only 11% received treatment at a specialty facility, the report said.
Heavy drinking — that’s having more than four drinks on a single day or 14 a week for men and more than three drinks in a day or seven a week for women — has serious health ramifications, raising risks for liver disease, heart disease, a number of cancers, and accidents. Because alcohol suppresses the immune system, drinkers are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19, and experiencing more severe effects of the virus, Replogle said.
Abusing alcohol can also damage close relationships, affect careers, and result in costly legal problems, he said.
You likely have a drinking problem if you answer yes to two or more of the following questions, taken from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. In the past year, have you…
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
- Experienced a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of being harmed?
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?
Addiction and mental illness often go hand-in-hand, Replogle noted. About a third of people who have a mental illness also have a substance abuse problem, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Among people living with a severe mental illness, the rate of co-occurring disorders is 50%. Those statistics are mirrored among people with substance abuse problems, NAMI reported.
If you are ready for treatment or have questions about treatment, contact 1-844 ReachNJ (1-844-732-2465). Alternatively, start by speaking to your primary physician, who can help you develop a plan of action and make referrals. Professional treatment for alcohol addiction begins with a clinical assessment. Treatment needs to be tailored to the individual to be successful, Replogle said. Treatment will likely involve a combination of approaches.
Detoxification, the process of eliminating alcohol or other drug from the body, is a pre-treatment step that can take several days to more than a week. People whose brain and central nervous system have developed a dependence on alcohol may experience severe withdrawal symptoms and need to detox under medical supervision due to the risk of seizures and/or possible death, Replogle said.
Outpatient treatment is most appropriate for people who have a stable home environment and are willing and able to attend counseling sessions. NewBridge Services provides this type of treatment, with clients attending one-on-one and/or group sessions two to three hours a week, Replogle said. NewBridge uses evidence-based practices to help clients alter harmful behaviors and prevent relapse. Individuals can continue working and living at home. Medication and support groups may be part of outpatient treatment.
An intensive outpatient program is geared for people who need more supervision in their recovery. It provides at least nine hours of service a week, usually broken into three-hour sessions. It can be a stepping stone from inpatient treatment to outpatient care.
Residential treatment is suitable for individuals who face a host of drinking triggers at home and need a more structured living environment. Providing 24-hour supervision, residential treatment is an option for those who were not successful in outpatient programs. People in short-term facilities typically stay for one to three months. Long-term residential treatment is more intense, with residents enrolled for up to a year. In addition to addiction treatment, they learn skills to manage day-to-day life and participate successfully in their community.
The NIAAA website, Rethinking Drinking, offers a wealth of resources for gauging your situation and figuring out the best treatment approach for you.
Medication-Assisted Treatment is a growing field for treating alcohol abuse as well as other addictions, Replogle said. Medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration can be used in conjunction with evidence-based treatment options to reduce the likelihood of drinking alcohol. Naltrexone, for example, blocks the euphoric effects and feelings of intoxication, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Another, Disulfiram, causes unpleasant reactions to alcohol.
No matter the treatment option, all require follow-up care to prevent relapse. Peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs can play an important role.
“People can and do recover from addiction,” Replogle said. “If you are struggling, start the process of recovery now. Your future you will thank you.” To schedule an evaluation with NewBridge, call (973) 316-9333.
This is NewBridge’s second article for National Recovery Month. Click here for a story about dialing down drinking for people who may be over-imbibing during the pandemic.